Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Caroline Sharpe Annual Pupils Concert 2014

Some years ago the Queen in her Christmas broadcast described her 'Annus Horriblis' after a particularly turbulent year for the Royal family. Well, that bit of Latin could definitely be used to describe 2014 for my family. There has been little, if anything to commend this year to be perfectly honest, but thank God for singing!
If anything has kept us all going it is this innocent pastime (with good company?). Most of the year has got lost within the endless battles we have had to fight, staggering from one crisis to another.  Singing lessons with Caroline rather fell by the wayside, but Saturday morning rehearsals with Caroline Sharpe Singers were largely maintained.  It hardly seems 12 months since I stepped up to sing Ich Grolle Nicht with a throat full of phlegm, and yet it seems like 2014 has been endless - strange how the perception of time can be so contradictory. But last night saw the 2014 Annual Pupil Concert at Trinity Methodist Church Centre and it proved to be perhaps the best yet - certainly of the ones I've been involved with.
With a lack of lessons, my contribution in terms of solo singing would just be a light hearted song with CSS. More of that later. Firstly, let's look back at the programme as it played out last night. I hesitate to go through everyone, but feel I simply must as literally everyone needs a special mention. So hang in there with me - this could be a long one.....
Okay, kicking off the night was Caroline Sharpe Singers accompanied on the organ by Chris Hill with the dramatic Let All the World In Every Corner Sing. Now this piece has been labelled 'tenor abuse' by us tenors because of its brutal abundance of top 'A's. In truth true tenors should cope with 'A's okay and we chaps CAN get up there, but when you are working at the very top of your range it becomes a confidence thing. I think I hit the first few of them but it all started to crumble thereafter. But hey, any bum notes will have been hidden by the sopranos and that fabulous organ!
Next, in stark contrast to the opener, came the beautiful Seal Lullaby,  an Eric Whitacre composition that won us an award at the recent Leicester Festival. I think this piece has become my favourite and one I would love to listen to in the audience to see if we really do sing it as beautifully as I think we do. Fabulous - more of this kinda stuff please Caz!
The first solo section was four songs from Films & Musicals, featuring Katie Cooper with Colours of the Wind; Rebekah Kirkwood with Where is Love; Mirren Mecathum with When You Believe and my wife Ruth Coward with Someone to Watch Over Me. It was Katie's third pupil concert I think, but it was the first for Rebekah and Mirren and they were all excellent. In fact, Rebekah is a pupil of Wendy Burns, so it is worth noting that this was the first time that this annual showcase  has featured a 'pupil of a pupil!

While my wife has done a fair bit of singing in these concerts as part of choirs, she has always declined the opportunity to sing solo.  Her inclusion here was very much a late, late decision. So impressed was Nest Harris with Ruth's singing when accompanying her at her Grade 6 exam two days before, she said that she MUST sing one of her exam pieces at the pupil concert. To say I was familiar with the piece would be an understatement. On our weekly trips up to Bury these last few months it has become traditional for Ruth to rehearse her pieces on the return home. As many times as I have heard this song, I've never heard her sing it better than she did last night. Brought a tear to the eye, I have to admit!
Time for some Handel next with Liz Jenkinson and O thou that tellest followed by Judith Sismey with How Beautiful are the Feet. Liz has sung at several pupil concerts now and seems to take them in her stride brilliantly. I know Liz is Ruth's personal favourite singer and the piece she sang was technically very difficult, but she 'nailed it'. Judith was making her debut and I believe was feeling the nerves somewhat beforehand. Well she conquered them superbly as did all of the debutants on the night.
Next up were a selection of Italian songs. First was Maisie Ramsey with Donizetti's La Conocchia, then another debutant and the youngest performer of the night, Yasmin Wilbram with Santa Lucia. Then we had Honor Neale with Handel's Non lo diro col lobro and then Olivia Thornber wrapping up this slot with Verdi's La Seduzione. It was good to see Maisie - it's been a while since Enchanted! Yasmin gave a performance that was way in advance of her years and brought a tear to the eye of at least one audience member. Honor showed how much she has progressed with a confident performance (though she will probably say otherwise!). Olivia showed in her performance how much she has gained already from her time at Birmingham Conservatoire. Who knows how far she can go with that talent.
To draw the first half to a close we had a bit of humour. Jane Giddings delivered an hilarious piece called Poisoning Pigeons which was about, err, poisoning pigeons and was really well done by Jane. Finally,  dressed in appropriate costume were Sid Perry and Dorothy Murray performing I Remember it Well. What a wonderful couple they make - almost had me in tears - again!
So, that was half time. No time for a brew alas as it was time for a costume change for moi. Goodbye Alyn Coward, hello Freddie Mercury. Regular attendees of these annual showcases may recall four years ago, a bloke standing up front, looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights, legs shaking in terror, nervously delivering Where e're You Walk and almost collapsing with relief when it was all over. Well that frightened rabbit was me and this year I had allowed myself to get roped into taking on that icon of pop music Freddie Mercury. Not only that, but singing the highly risqué classic Queen song Fat Bottomed Girls. In a church? Wearing leather trousers and Freddie T-shirt?
I must admit I initially had grave misgivings about the whole idea. It was originally supposed to be shared between three Freddies, but as two likely 'volunteers' mysteriously left the choir, it was down to yours truly to grasp the baton and keep hold of it. The key here was to 'perform' the song not just stand there and sing it, as I would just look a complete prat. I'll leave others to judge as to whether I came anywhere close to doing that, (performing it, not looking like a prat!) but it was a right laugh. Unbeknown to Caroline, Vic had acquired a load of stick-on moustaches for my backing singers - the Caroline Sharpe Singers to wear! That was inspired Vic, though I believe it was Gilly Higgins who first mooted the idea! David Concannon thought the song would work best with a microphone and made the suggestion a few weeks before and this allowed me on the night to introduce it with "ARE YOU READY TO ROCK"? followed by "LET'S DO IT"! There followed 3 minutes of madness that will live long in the memory. Not sure I've got the stomach to watch the video to be honest, but we'll see!
Pity the poor beggar that had to follow that craziness but that role befell another newbie Nick Munns with the first of three Musical Theatre numbers, Bring Him Home. This is a particular fave of mine having sung it a couple of years ago. Nick did a particularly fine rendition of it and was then followed by Katie Muller with I'll Know and then Harrie Taylor with When Will Someone Hear. Both of these girls have come on leaps and bounds and it was great to see and hear. That is the wonderful thing about these annual showcases - to see how people improve in confidence and in technique with each passing year.
Sacred songs next with Caroline Jones (who now studies under Bridget Budge), singing O Rest in the Lord and then Gillian Smith with Panis Angelicus. These were both fine performances with Caroline clearly having gained a lot of confidence from her September recital in Sileby.
Opera was next on the menu and a very lively and expressive performance by Lynn Stainsby of Habanera from Carmen.  Lynn was followed by Anna-Ruth Gray. I'm sure  you will all forgive a little family bias here, but Anna was without any doubt, the class act of the night. If she doesn't go on to have a major career as an operatic singer then it will have been a travesty. Anna has recently started having lessons with acclaimed opera star Johnny Graham-Hall. Johnny sings regularly with all the major British opera companies and has a huge reputation. For someone like him to be wanting to teach her says everything about Anna's potential. Her performance of  Sophia's Waltz Song was simply breathtaking.
The final solo section of the evening was a set of Popular Songs. Another singer making her first appearance was Caroline Hartshorn singing Cry Me a River, which was a very assured performance I thought, followed by my ol' CSS tenor colleague Sid Perry with You Raise Me Up. Nice one Sid!
Wendy Burns followed with a performance of Brown Eyes Blue that made pianist Chris Hill blush a little I think. Finally, Nick and Lynn returned to do a splendid duet of  How do you Like Your Eggs in the Morning. Great stuff and that was that!
To round off the evening it was the turn of Music In Me to sing Rhythm of Life and the Barlow/Lloyd Webber song Sing. It was  'lump in the throat time again as Amy Sharpe took to the stage with the girls again. After the year she's had it was an emotional moment for us all just to see her up there and enjoying it! The girls certainly made a better job of Rhythm of Life than the Loughborough Male Voice Choir did at the Christmas Tree Festival concert the previous night. Excellent stuff from the gals!
So there you have it! Special thanks must be sent the way of the 'living legend' that is Caroline Sharpe, without whom obviously, none of this would've happened. The amount of time she devotes to us all is way beyond the call and the obvious improvement of her pupils year on year is testament to her undoubted skills. Much gratitude to Chris Hill whose ivory tinkling skills are well documented but his organ playing is something else. And despite his best efforts I still managed to mess up the start of verse three of Fat Bottomed Girls. Sorry Chris, my fault, not yours!
Finally, a word to the late great Freddie Mercury. One of the biggest regrets in my life was felt on that sad day in 1991 when I learnt of the death of the single greatest pop vocalist that ever walked this earth. I had never taken the opportunity (and there were many) to go to see the man 'live' in the great band Queen and his loss to the music world was and still is immense.
Well Freddie, if you were looking down on Trinity Methodist Church last night, I hope you approved.
See you all next year!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Concert with the Hathern band - an audience member's review

Well it says it all about the way my life is these days, that this is my first blog post of 2014 and it is April 6th. Shocking!
As some readers will be aware, I have had to take a break from the Loughborough Male Voice Choir for several reasons. Firstly, there's the demands of  my Open University study which started in October 2013. It was becoming increasingly evident that fitting study into work lunchtimes was going to be woefully inadequate. Add into the mix a couple of family crises that have turned our world upside down and it was becoming clear that something had to give. So a 'timeout' has been called  and it's merely au revoir LMVC for just a few months.
As sad as this move is, it at least  gives me the opportunity to attend a concert as a member of the audience for the first time since that night in 2011 in Kegworth when I got my arm twisted by Chris Hill to come along and give singing a go. I did toy with the idea of just turning up in Hathern and singing, but with several new numbers to be sung with the band, that was always a non-starter. Anyway, I was quite looking forward to just listening for a change.
The thing I have found about singing in a choir is that one cannot fully appreciate what the overall sound of the choir is actually like. I hear my fellow second tenors and the first tenors a bit too, but how we fit in with the basses and baritones is always a bit lost on me. So this promised to be and indeed did prove to be very, very interesting.
So, All in the April Evening was the title for this concert with the excellent Hathern Band, at St Peter & St Paul's Church, Hathern. Ruth and I decided to go just in time as only 7 tickets remained on Friday and was a sell-out on the night. We got there early to find quite a lot of folks already in their seats. The Hathern Band kicked off proceedings, led by the enthusiastic and witty David Newman. A Broadway medley followed by Lord of the Dance and the Bond movie theme Skyfall were all very impressive. I just love the sound of brass - fabulous!
Then it was the turn of the chaps. Blimey, it was weird sitting in my seat and watching them assemble at the front virtually on top of the front row of the audience. Their first four pieces, Speed Your Journey; He Ain't Heavy; Panis Angelicus and Gwahoddiad were very good. Panis particularly was a vast improvement on the last time I attempted to sing it with the choir that's for sure. During Gwahoddiad, I just couldn't help but join in and neither could Don Clarke sitting behind me. It is definitely my favourite LMVC piece if only for it's 'Amen' climax. Breathtaking to sing and, I'm happy to report, listen to. Well done guys - bloody marvellous!
To round off the first half the band and choir joined together for the concert title song, All in the April Evening followed by a new one to me, Comrades in Arms. For these we had the impressive spectacle of tandem conducting - Mr Hill conducting the choir with David Newman watching him and simultaneously conducting the band. What could have been something of a car crash actually worked very well and with the choir standing in front of the band, this prevented the lads from being drowned out by music.
So, half time refreshments and a chance to chat with some of the guys who were keen to know why the hell I was sitting in the audience rather than singing with them.
Hathern Band started part two with Doh-re-mi from the Sound of Music, followed by two pieces, Frolic for Trombones, described as a trombone trio for 4 (wonder where they stole that idea from eh Lyndon?) and Something Stupid with two cornets. Their second set was rounded off with a medley of tunes from the film Oh What a Lovely War. All fabulous stuff - loved it!

Next we had some West Side Story from the Male Voice Choir with Lyndon Gardner singing Maria followed by the choir with Tonight. Then the choir sang The Way We Were and rounded things off with good ol' Amarillo. Ruth reckoned that The Way We Were was the best she had ever heard it. As for Amarillo, well....

Okay, at the risk of offending our dear MD, I need to say this. This particular performance of this much maligned piece said to me at least, that Amarillo has had its day. The choir looked fed up of it and it showed as it nearly ground to a halt at a couple of points. The clapping lacked any real enthusiasm and it kinda fell apart a bit. The chaps just looked fed up of it to me, so maybe it is time to look elsewhere for comic relief? Time perhaps to find another light hearted, audience participation piece? Over to you Mr Hill. I'm sure you've got spmething up your sleeve!

On a more positive note was the appearance of the choir, who have certainly moved on from the 'Grumpy Old Men' personna of days gone by. This  has been helped in no small part by the likes of Derrick Jackson whose bright expressive singing was a joy to behold. I can certainly learn a thing or two about using expression when singing as Caroline will I'm sure agree. And the lack of copies is a massive step forward and looks so much better.

All that was left was for the choir and band to join again for the grand finale, Jerusalem which got me, Don and much of the audience joining in. Indeed shouts of 'more' meant a hasty re-run of the song. Chris Hill commented in an email to all the choir on Sunday morning that he can't remember the last time an audience has demanded an encore from us. Apparently, Hathern Band are keen to repeat this gig next year. So that's all good!

Well there you have it. A fascinating evening for me to see and hear my beloved choir from the audience. There might be another concert or two that I miss out on before I leap back aboard the 'Good Ship LMVC'. That said, 'Songs in the Park' in May might see an appearance....

Cheers for now,