Monday, 20 May 2013

Possibly the best birthday ever!

We are now in the midst of the peak singing season for both Caroline Sharpe Singers and the Loughborough Male Voice Choir. Last weekend was Coalville Festival and this Saturday it's LMVC's spring concert at Trinity Methodist Church. With my 53rd birthday (no, I really am 53!) falling on this day, celebrations would have to wait.

Well actually, they took place on the Friday night because I found out that I had been offered a job late on Friday afternoon. Such was the relief, wine was consumed to excess resulting in thumping headache upon awakening on Saturday morning. Nothing a couple of paracetamols couldn't sort out though, so on with the show!

First on the birthday agenda was a rehearsal with Caroline Sharpe Singers at Trinity. By now via the wonder that is Facebook, just about everyone knew it was my birthday. Well, I presume Gilly Higgins knew it was my birthday as she gave me a kiss on the cheek! Prior to kicking off the rehearsal, I was given a highly tuneful rendition of 'Happy Birthday' which was nice. Ta very much people! Right after the rehearsal we tucked into Al's Birthday 'Rocky Road' a scrumptious creation made up of chocolate, biscuit, chocolate, marshmallow and chocolate, and topped with err, chocolate. Mmmm, nice! Much thanks to Ruth for this gastronomic delight!

Okay, next we had a short break before a short drive to Wymeswold to sing in another wedding. Now I'm not the biggest fan of church weddings but this one was even more forgettable than most. I mean, honestly, All Things Bright and Beautiful for a wedding? Oh dear!

Let's move swiftly on to the day's main event, The LMVC spring concert 'Sounds of Spring' with our special guests, The Enderby Band. We had met these gals and guys last summer at the outdoor concert in the sunshine at Beaumanor Hall and we were all very impressed with them then. With black shoes polished and gleaming white shirt ironed I arrived at the church to find Lyndon Gardner near the point of spontaneous combustion. It seemed getting about thirty men to sit where he wanted was proving beyond him, while he seemed reluctant to admit that three rows was never going to work. Chris Hill eventually had his way and two rows was the result. That seemed painfully obvious to me but hey, what do I know.

The Enderby Band assembled, complete with a very impressive percussion section. Just listening to them warm up was awesome. We joined them for a quick run through Rule Britannia and I stood directly behind the two E-flat basses, which brought back happy memories of my school brass band days, when I played that massive instrument. The band's musical director Jonathon Mott was a lively chap who has a wonderfully confident conducting style and something of a sense of humour too. Anyway, that was that until kick off.

Now after the choir's warm-up which included another rendition of 'Happy Birthday', (thanks chaps!) we rather oddly dispensed with the orderly procession to our seats in favour of a somewhat disorganised amble to our positions. This was to be honest, a bit of a mess and shouldn't be repeated. Instead of the audience clapping us to our seats they sat there waiting and wondering what the heck was happening. After what seemed like an eternity, Chris got things going with Stout Hearted Men, before Gerry did his humourous introductions. Gerry seems to be growing into the compere role in the absence of George and has got together some great one liners! We then followed that up with He Ain't Heavy and Speed your Journey. The latter has become a firm favourite of mine. I just love the changes in dynamics.

 LMVC with the Enderby Band
(Photo by Ruth using my i-phone)

A new piece followed that  which was a quartet arranged by our own Paul Blakemore, called Summer Scenes and included the voices of Paul himself, Gerry, Lyndon and Chris Hill. Yes folks, our MD can indeed actually sing! If ever the man wants to hang up his invisible baton there's a place awaiting alongside us second tenors! It was an interesting piece that needs a second listen. I'm sure we'll hear some more in the near future. Next Sunday perhaps?

Michael Dukes then took to the piano as part of the now legendary partnership with Gerry Brennan. Now I can't for the life of me remember what they did in the first half. It was funny tho and when I remember I will amend this blog. Bear with me chaps!

Chris Hill conducts LMVC with the Enderby Band at the front 
(Photo by Ruth using my i-phone)

After another set from the choir including The Way We Were, Lyndon Gardner followed with a couple of I think Tosti arias. Then Gerry introduced our guests the Enderby Band for their first set. Oh boy! Where the heck do I start? I've been trying to select the most appropriate superlatives to describe this band: Sensational; inspirational; awesome; spine-tingling etc, etc. I think the band is probably best described as simply A CLASS ACT

I have a bit of a background in Brass Band music, having played initially the Tenor Horn and latterly the E Flat Bass for my school's brass band. Having been to concerts by the Eagly Mills Band and the Black Dyke Mills Band in my youth, I think I know a good Brass Band when I hear one and Enderby Band are very, very good! It's a very long time since I've heard such a quality of sound. The purity of tone was simply magical and sent a shiver down the spine. Their second piece, Concert Etude featured a breathtaking solo from Nick Smith. What was obvious from the outset was that all members of this band are very talented musicians. 

The end of their set saw us through to the interval and a chance to draw breath and for Gilly Higgins to thrust promo flyers into the hands of eager punters to encourage an audience in the park next Sunday. Well done Gilly, you will be rewarded in heaven.

The second half began with the choir and the ever popular Amarillo, Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water and the welcome return of Let It Be Me. This then signalled a quick costume change for the Shanty Group, introduced by Terry Jones a.k.a. Captain Jack Sparrow! One song featured solos from several of the guys. Well done Terry Jones, Jim Hannam, Jim Lacey; Chris Higgins, Mike Godwin and young Peter Herbert. Bravo!

The Shanty Group featuring Chris Higgins on guitar and Mike Godwin on Harmonica
(Photo by Ruth using my i-phone)

The Shanty Group L-R Jim Hannam, Jim Lacey, Chris Higgins, Mike Godwin, Peter Herbert,
Gerald Morling and Terry Jones.

Next we had two pieces from West Side Story - Maria sung by Lyndon Gardner followed by Tonight by the choir and this was followed by another couple of songs from Mike and Gerry - the hilarious piece of political satire Hole in My Budget and finishing off with Slow Train.

Next up was the one we in the choir feared the most, the new Paul Blakemore arranged Moon River. This has proved something of a challenge from Day One. Hear the melody  is split between each part interspersed with lots of 'oohs' and 'doos'. Not easy but we were assured by Paul and Chris that we were doing okay and it would sound fine if only we sing it with a bit more confidence. Not easy when you're not feeling at all confident in what you're singing. When I'm singing my part it sounds a complete mess, but it's one of those pieces that needs to be heard in the audience to fully appreciate what's going on. I think I'll try that next time we sing it in rehearsal. Anyway, feedback suggests it sounded really good!

Okay, time for the Enderby Band again. What's this? Fat Bottomed Girls? Hmm! How was this, the Queen classic, going to sound from a brass band? Absolutely brilliant is the answer. It took all my will power to remain in my seat and not jump up and strut around the stage like Freddie Mercury. I made do with just singing "fat bottomed girls will be riding today" etc, etc. I wanted to scream "Get on your bikes and ride" at the appropriate time, but thankfully didn't. Then they performed Spanish Dance followed by the Tijuana classic A Taste of Honey and rounded things off with a Oklahoma medley. 
Stupendous, awe-inspiring and all the other superlatives used above. I can't remember enjoying a concert as much as this and it was an honour and a privilege to share the evening with such a classy set of musicians as this. I had a brief chat with their bass trombone player Tom Chinnery who said they do quite a few concerts and to keep my eye on their website for details. I also mentioned my E flat Bass playing past and he said "you can always start again"! They have a training band apparently. Very tempting if I wasn't already in two choirs and about to restart OU study. I'll definitely get to one of their concerts though and soon.

All that remained was for the band and choir to join together to round off the evening with Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia with the audience singing along. What a fantastic concert! I loved it and maybe we should think about more joint concerts with talented bands such as this.

I've got to personally thank all the Enderby Band for reawakening my love of brass band music and making it a birthday to remember for me. Cheers!

Well that's all folks until Sunday, 2pm in Queen's Park Bandstand for another sing-song in the sunshine! Fingers crossed and see you there.

Cheers for now,

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Coalville Festival of Music 2013 - what a day!

There's something about music festivals that set them apart from concerts or singing exams. In essence they each involve an individual, a choir or a duet, standing up in front of a group of people and singing. Each one involves a degree of nervous anticipation that can inspire or otherwise those involved.

My own experience of a festival last November in Leicester saw both sides of the coin (read about it here if you wish). I made a mistake or two in my solo class and felt an 'eejit' at the time but on reflection it wasn't that bad at all really. With the male voice choir it was rather different. There we collectively rose to the occasion and won our class. That experience was fantastic and I wondered what Coalville Festival was going to be like when  Caroline entered Caroline Sharpe Singers for the 2013 festival. 

As you regular readers of this humble blog will already know, we won the darn thing. That said, half of you were singing in the choir so you obviously know!  Okay, in typical 'Nightingale Sang' fashion, let's rewind to the break of dawn. . . .

Awoke to the sound of my darling wife Ruth singing Schumman's Mailied, or at least one half of it. She was to be competing in the duet class with Michelle Oldale. The practising of this has been relentless for some weeks to a point where I could easily step in to deputise should the need arise! Still, I admire her guts. After my unfortunate experience at Leicester, I was in no hurry to enter any solo classes at Coalville and Caroline didn't press me on the issue.

10am was to be a final rehearsal at Trinity, in our 'blacks' for photographic purposes. The runs through of Locus Iste and One went very well and the results of these are doing the rounds on Facebook right now! The Locus Iste run-through saw something of a breakthrough too as we finally cracked the dreaded 'note'. Chris Hill, the LMVC MD and CSS (bloody acronyms!?!) accompanist pointed out that our first note of 'irreprehen. . .' was just a note above the soprano's preceding note. All we need do is listen out for their last note and start above that - if that makes any sense at all? Well it does to me and did to all us tenors thankfully. Thanks Mr Hill, nice one. The man's a genius, I've always said so! The duettists, Ruth/Michelle and Vic/Liz ran through their songs too with Gail Morgan accompanying and then after a brew, we were ready for the off.

We left Trinity suddenly confident that we were actually going to do all right. Off we went, a convoy of two little yellow Fiat Pandas and found our way remarkably easily to Newbridge High School, the venue for the festival. We were immediately alerted to the fact that things were running a bit late, but what the heck - there was a canteen full of CAKE! Yum, yum, in my tum!

Right, things were a tad late, but it was game on! We were to be first on in the Choir class. Or maybe not? For some reason that was not really explained, Jak's Academy went on first and sang two suitably contrasting pieces. I seem to have managed to lose my copy of thne programme so for now, can't tell you what the pieces were. But, they featured some cute soloists! Terry Jones sitting to my left commented "that's what we need - some cute kids"!

Next, it was our turn. Despite a slightly untidy entrance to the 'stage' we performed firstly Locus Iste and then One. Both I thought went really well, though as ever, it is difficult to assess how good things sound to the audience, or indeed to an adjudicator, but I think we all returned to our seats happy with our efforts.
Then came Concordia a mixed choir of rather more mature age. They were fine but indulged in the sort of stuff that makes me cringe - lots of jigging about and clapping. Sorry, not for me, but each to their own I guess.

Time then for the words from the adjudicator, Peter Wells, a man I was familiar with from Leicester last November. If ever this man gets bored with music festivals he could take up stand-up comedy I reckon. He is hilarious, but at the same time also very helpful and constructive in his comments about individual performances. Some entrants in other classes are clearly of quite limited ability but he recognises that however good you are, it takes courage to stand up and sing and that there are a multitude of reasons why people do it at all. Everyone needs encouragement and Peter hands it out in spades and that is to his enormous  credit. In assessing the three choirs, he highlighted the importance of getting the choreography of any movement absolutely right. He did emphasise that with the choir class it was invariably one particular song that wins it for a choir and so it was here. It was our rendition of One that won us the trophy. Damn good it was too, but to be honest we were a class above the other two choirs by some distance. He could've gone with the cute kids, rather like he did at Leicester last year, but frankly, that would've been a travesty. So Caroline now proudly holds onto the slightly bizarre trophy, a figure of a shepherd with a dog holding a lamb shown in yesterday's brief celebratory blog. Okay, so it's a slightly weird trophy, but hey, we're an award winning choir now! 

After all that excitement, it was the turn of the soloists and duettists to do their stuff. However, the delay had worsened to over an hour by the time Caroline Jones' solo class came around. Things weren't helped by the official accompanist being otherwise engaged in another class. Caroline eventually got up to sing The Enchantress, which was an extraordinary piece requiring something like a two octave range to sing. Caz did a fine job but what a shame it was that her singing class didn't have any more entrants! Maybe some other altos from CSS can join in next year to give her some competition?

One soloist who did have some competition was Liz Jenkinson who entered the folk song class and accompanied herself on guitar. Liz performed a quite fantastic rendition of Barbara Allen. This was a folk sang I sang for my Grade 4 exam so I was aware of the literally hundreds of versions of the song. Liz's performance was quite breathtaking -  confident and very moving, capturing the drama of the story quite superbly and she comfortably won the class.

Later on in the day - much, much later, the final class was for duets where Ruth and Michelle and also Vic and Liz were competing. After some variable rehearsals, Ruth and 'chelle performed brilliantly. It really did surprise me, though it shouldn't have given Ruth's performing background, just how well they performed it. Well done girls! I was so proud of Ruth, particularly after all she's had to struggle with lately. Bravo ladies!

Vic and Liz then had a very complex piece to sing - that if not nailed, could've gone horribly wrong. In the event they sang it superbly and won the class as a result. Both of the duets were accompanied by Gail Morgan who did an excellent job and got particular praise from the hilarious Mr Wells. 

So that was about it. On returning home and heading for Facebook, it seemed most of us had cracked open a bottle of vino to relax, unwind and celebrate a bit. Well deserved too I think. On a personal note, I was over the moon at the quality of our performance in winning our class, but I did have a few feelings of regret at not entering a solo class or two myself. Coalville Festival is clearly a smaller festival than Leicester and is perhaps struggling to attract a sufficient number of entrants in many categories. I think it would be an ideal venue for me to dip my toe back in the competitive waters of festival singing next year and gain some much needed confidence before maybe trying Leicester again. Over to you Caroline!

Next on the agenda? A small matter of Loughborough Male Voice Choir's Spring concert 'Sounds of Spring' with The Enderby Brass Band, next Saturday 18th May, at Trinity MC at 7.30pm. Miss it at your peril!

Until next time, 

Saturday, 11 May 2013

All Hail the Award Winning Caroline Sharpe Singers!

Today the Caroline Sharpe Singers competed in the Choir class at the
Coalville Festival of Music and WON the GLARAMARA TROPHY! 

It was our rendition of One that did the trick according to adjudicator Peter Wells.

Full details to follow soon!