Monday, 28 January 2013

The Joy of Singing

If anyone needs to know why myself and others like me sing in a choir they needed only to be in the audience at the Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton last Saturday night.

The Loughborough Male Voice Choir performed with Enchanted at the same venue in January last year and jumped at the opportunity to return in 2013. This time, as well as the Caroline Sharpe led Enchanted, we would share the stage with the staff and pupils of Stanton Vale School.
The programme for the concert entitled 'Sing Away the Winter Blues', looked to be packed with a varied mix of musical styles. Too packed as it turned out, but more about that later.

The drive over to Long Eaton was err, interesting? On arriving in Long Eaton, my i-phone satnav threw something of a 'wobbler' and directed us in completely the wrong direction. She gradually got herself together, albeit after having to stop twice at a level crossing. Maybe the humble road map would be a good idea?

On arrival at the theatre, Ruth, Anna-Ruth, Amy, Olivia Thornber and myself were met by a somewhat stressed Chris Higgins who had had a struggle or two getting the stage set-up organised. Anyway, Stanton Vale were up there rehearsing as we got in and at least we weren't subjected to the sub-zero temperatures of last year.

Again, attempts to organise a large bunch of men to get from two rows of seats backstage to two rows on stage bordered on the down-right comical. Mr Hill's instructions regarding standing up, turning, walking to our places, opening music folders and then the reverse was straight forward, but it all went 'out the window' come performance time!

Now this concert was to be my first on the front row of the choir. There are good and bad sides to this. The good is that you can hear your fellow second tenors behind you and get more help, providing John and Jim get it right of course! No worries there eh gents? The down side is that one can be seen by the audience more easily as can one's embarrassing habit of tapping one's foot in time to the music. However, up there on stage you can barely see the audience for the penetrating glare of the spot lights. Blimey, they were blinding me!

This time last year you may recall was the debut of the bow-tie, handkerchief and cummerbund combo. It seems after variable feedback, the cummerbunds have been confined to history, but the bow-tie and hanky would appear again in the second half, much to John Holt's delight I'm sure!

Sitting at the back of the stage I could see a pretty good audience assembled which was great and it was us blokes who started the programme with Stout Hearted Men. No George to compere this time as he was unwell, but in stood Gerry with a suitably witty 'performance'.

This turned out to  be a concert to warm the heart on a cold winter day with some great performances. Enchanted performed with the new 'core 6' for the first time and sounded beautifully well balanced. 
A great contrast to us and Enchanted were the Staff and pupils of Stanton Vale School. The sheer of joy of singing simply oozed out of all of them and their penultimate
 song Be Happy was magical and brought a tear to my eye. Sometimes we singers (especially me) get caught up in the stress of performing and of having to get it 'just right'. These kids showed that the simple joy of singing is all that really matters. They were wonderful and provided a lesson to us all I think.

What else? Well our Lyndon did his stuff with his usual panache and Dave Weston again accompanied him on guitar for one delightful piece which is a great contrast to his more serious operatic arias. Gerry and The Duke then did their stuff and the piece of political satire was just brilliant.

At half time it became apparent that the concert was likely to seriously over-run so we cut Let it Be Me from our second half set but managed a brief run thru as the audience began to re-take their seats. Enchanted also cut one of theirs and I think Lyndon too which was a shame for all really. Such was the quality and entertainment, time wasn't dragging and I for one hadn't noticed the time at all. Mind you, I didn't have a watch on!

As for highlights - for the male voice choir, personally it was Pleasant and Delightful. I had taken a piece of advice from Anna-Ruth regarding learning words. She suggested reading the words through and understand the story first, which enables you to better remember the words as well as sing them with meaning and expression. So I took a step back and read through this one and realised that I needed a slight pause between Nancy asking 'Saying may I go along with you'? and William's dismissive response 'Oh no my love, farewell'. The result in practice was a laugh from some in the audience which was what I as looking for. Result! Additionally I thought Gwahoddiad was absolutely superb. I think the traditional welsh male voice choir pieces are by far my favourites.

For Enchanted I thought The Rose sounded just beautiful and the overall sound of the girls seemed even better with the new line-up. Special mention must be made here of the stirling efforts of my wife Ruth for working through the pain barrier to organise the Enchanted girls. A dodgy left knee was to finally give up the ghost on Sunday morning requiring the emergency acquisition of a pair of crutches from a Facebook friend. Torn ligament it seems, requiring weeks of rest. Nasty!

I think it pointless to single out one highlight of Stanton Vale School Choir's performances as they were the highlight of the night. Just the look on the kids faces was priceless. Their rendition of Be Happy was something that will stay in the memory for many a year. Fantastic!

There now follows a relatively quiet period, concert-wise for the LMVC so this will enable us to get to grips with the revised core repertoire. Also, me and Terry Jones will have some time to get to grips with our new Caroline Sharpe Singers songs, Masquerade and Locus Iste, after a somewhat traumatic rehearsal last Saturday morning. 

And then, there's the small matter of a Grade 5 singing exam in March? No rest for the wicked!

Cheers for now,

Monday, 21 January 2013

And we're off!

Fear ye not, the title of this post is not a warning of impending horse puns following the Tesco burger outrage. No, I simply refer to the fact that 2013 is off and running, naay galloping towards our first singing engagement of the new year.

But whoa! What else has happened since Christmas? Well, changes are afoot with regard to Loughborough Male Voice Choir publicity. After about four years of producing the choir's website, Jeff Berrisford has asked me if I would like to take up the reins. He rather feels it needs a fresh pair of eyes and with a bit of web-design behind me during my days as a reflexologist I thought I would give it a go. But, handling that as well as publicity might prove too much. So into the saddle steps Ruth!

In truth, Ruth (struth?) has already written one or two concert reviews for the Echo when I  have been too busy, so it shouldn't prove too difficult a transition. Indeed websites and publicity do go hand-in-hand so the two of us working together should work quite well. I am now on a steep web-design learning curve but hope to have the new look LMVC website up in a few weeks in some shape or form.

As for actual singing, we are rapidly approaching our first concert of the year with a return visit to the Duchess Theatre in Long Eaton, where Enchanted will again be our guests with the addition of the Stanton Vale School Choir. It should be great providing the somewhat iffy weather relents a bit, allowing Joe Public to tear himself away from Dancing on Ice! 

We chaps are making a slow transition to a different repertoire for 2012-13 which will bring a few songs from the back catalogue back to the fore. For example a song called Swansea Town was apparently sung by the choir quite a few years ago and has been reintroduced for the next season or two. Be warned though - if you are apt to suffer from sea-sickness, you may be well advised to leave the hall for this one ;-) You will know what I mean when you hear it.

Meanwhile, the choir continues to enjoy an extraordinary surge in membership with Derrick, Peter, Jeff, Barry, Dai and Tim all hopping aboard the good ship LMVC. I'm not entirely sure why it is happening but long may it continue. Peter's addition has been particularly welcome as it must have slashed the choir's average age by about 20 years! Hopefully it will encourage other younger guys to come along and have a go too.

And so to the Caroline Sharpe Singers. This eclectic mix of souls goes from strength to strength and following the triumph of the Woodhouse Eaves concert, the Caz-meister has lined up some exciting new stuff for us such as the wonderful Masquerade from Phantom of the Opera. In the stage show it requires a big choir to give it plenty of 'welly' (technical singing term), but given our magnificent rendition of I Believe, I think we will be fabulous. And masks are a must I think!

Saturdays first rehearsal of 2013 also saw us have a crack at a piece called Locus Iste by Anton Bruckner. This couldn't be more different from Masquerade that's for sure so I'm looking forward to seeing how this one develops over the next few weeks.

But what plans for Al the soloist I hear you cry? Well, in March I have ABRSM Grade 5 to 'look forward to'. At least I now know what to expect after last year. Fingers crossed I don't get Mr Grumpy this time. I'm fortunate in that in two of the categories I am able to sing songs that I've covered before: Where e're You Walk and On the Street Where You Live. This takes away some of the donkey work out of learning words. I could also try Pleasant and Delightful for the unaccompanied folk song, but the jury is still out on that one. The one song that is completely new to me is Like to a Linden Tree Am I by Dvorak, which is a lovely little song. So I have about eight weeks to perfect that little lot, plus the dreaded aural questions. Eeeeeck!?!

So it's busy, busy, busy at Chateau Knightthorpe right now. See y'all in Long Eaton next Saturday? Miss it if you dare!

Cheers for now,