A silly pseudo-medieval Christmas ditty

Christmas Garland

 

Winter is icumen in

Loudly sing ‘By heck’

Winter chills

And tinkling tills

And lots of halls to deck

 

Winter is icumen in

Carols two by two

Shepherds, Kings

And Dongs and Dings

Instead of ‘Fixing You’

 

Christmas is icumen in

Latin words are scary

But can you say

Your Gaudete?

Without your crib sheet fairy?

 

Yorkshire is icumen in

Now don’t get in a flap

Sheffield rules

In all things Yule

So get tha self a cap

 

Winter is icumen in

We’re into black and red

Churches, Halls

And shopping malls

We go where we are led

 

But hear us welcome Christmas in

With rousing song and cheer

And beer and wine

At the Test Match so fine

Thus ends our singing year

 

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Return to the North

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‘On Friday 1st June, drivers on the M1 and A1 going north were astonished at the number of cars which passed them with the strains of Coldplay and Robbie Williams emanating from windows, open to the summer breeze. On further investigation, it would seem that this was a cavalcade of Social Singers from West Bridgford in Nottingham, making their way up to the North East to entertain the people of Whitley Bay and Newcastle over a packed weekend. Drivers listening to the melodic sounds from the cars commented on the passion and clarity of the singing and some even wondered whether Robbie himself was in the car! All those we spoke to were envious of the treat in store for the inhabitants of Whitley Bay and some even changed their route to join in. Many also commented that the singers appeared very disciplined and well-trained, so must be blessed with a talented director. We eagerly await news of the next appearance of this choir, which may be as soon as 2021.’
(Reported in the Yorkshire Trumpet, Friday 1st June 2018 by Algernon Thompson, Music and Traffic)

So we all arrived safely and as you will have seen from the frenetic activity on Facebook, we had ‘a reet canny good time’. We stayed at the relatively new Premier Inn, overlooking the sea, and much as we loved the B&Bs in Whitley Bay (well most of them), it was good to be together with a Beefeater next door! Great place and great staff.

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On Friday evening, we strolled along the coast and over the Links to the Briar Dene restaurant, where we ate, chatted, laughed and – yes, you guessed it, sang! The meal was good, although those indulging in the sharing platter, looked enviously at the other plates and mentally logged where the nearest chip shop was.

 

 

Of course, the Prosecco girls were enjoying the evening, as usual and what about Teddy’s shirt? Star of the show – a wonderful combination of 70s chic and eastern style. Kind of mystical Cat Stevens! Simon was sporting an embryonic beard – much commented on (“Did you mean to grow a beard, or are you just lazy?”). Apparently Hardip likes it, but it had disappeared by Sunday morning!
It was great to welcome Fiona’s mum and dad to the meal and also, Peter, the vicar of St Peter’s and his partner. Having never heard WBSS in full post-prandial singing mode before, I think Peter was rather overwhelmed – but in a good way – and clearly went away thinking that Saturday evening was going to be OK!

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Saturday dawned rather overcast, but still warm and after a good breakfast, we all set off in our own ways to travel to the Sage in Newcastle. So many new experiences. Some had never been to Newcastle before (what have you missed all these years?); some had never seen the Tyne; many had never used the Metro before and most had not visited the Sage. I think I can say with relative confidence that no-one had sung there before and Simon was slightly over-excited. It is an amazing building in terms of architecture and also acclaimed for its acoustics. We sang in the Concourse with a glorious view over the bridges of the Tyne. The staff at the Sage were really helpful and welcoming and gave us a practice room for our warm up. And as you can see from the sign, they had been accurate with our average age!20180602_114500

The warm up was an experience in itself as Simon attempted to use sign language to relay the words to us, so that no-one needed the music. I have never seen such bizarre interpretations of the words of Tears in Heaven and on occasion, my brain was so busy figuring out what the word was, that I forgot to sing. FaceHowever, I think we all did pretty well with the words, especially since we didn’t sing ‘Never weather beaten sail’ at this event.
After a bit of a technical hitch in the first part, we sang to an audience mainly of friends and family, but also a fair number of visitors having coffee and lunch. The air circulation in the Concourse seemed to result in drawing in warm air so we were rather hot and needing plenty of water. I would like to say that we raised the roof, but the roof was very high and it was rather like singing in a cavernous cathedral. Quite challenging for us and also for Joan, but what an experience! Also challenging for Joan, was the fact that Simon kept changing the programme! But Joan coped magnificently with everything as usual. The Bling Singers, despite being 2 members down, did a great job and they added a new song to the repertoire ‘Follow the Heron’ which was beautiful.
The audience was very appreciative and even a Norwegian speaker in the café seemed very happy with our rendering of Har du Fyr. So now, you can all tell your family, friends and people in the street that you sang at the Sage. I think WBSS publicity should now say ‘recently appeared at the Sage Gateshead’. We left on a high to enjoy some free time in Newcastle or the Coast before gathering again at St Peters in Monkseaton for our evening concert.

Some of us had been at St Peter’s three years’ ago for Fiona and Jason’s 10th wedding anniversary celebration, so we knew that we would be welcomed warmly. It was a pretty full house including Simon’s two new besties and some family members. Penny’s twin sister caused a few double takes and my niece was also there to listen to me sing for the first time – other than raucous family parties. She was well impressed!
We loved it, didn’t we? We sang our socks off and I think everyone felt more confident. The church acoustics were great and Joan’s playing was wonderful. Didn’t we do a good job of ‘Fix You’? I know one should not blow one’s own trumpet, but I was buzzing and feeling that I had made a good contribution to a great sound. From the audience response, it seemed they felt the same.
Our programme was enhanced by Michael and Julie singing some beautiful classic numbers and we all got to sing ‘Moon River’, although we left the high notes to Julie (speaking for the altos, here!). Our very own Bling Singers were again in good voice with a lovely mix of soft, emotional and cheeky and including ‘Dance to your daddy’ as a tribute to the North East. Thankfully, they had retrieved their tiaras, which were sadly missing on Saturday lunchtime. Not that this affected their singing at the Sage, but I felt oddly proud when they donned the bling. If you’ve got it, flaunt it, ladies!
It was nice to chat and mingle at the interval and the church had provided refreshments including alcohol. I partook of a glass of red wine and was publicly rebuked by our leader! I know I’m a Methodist, but I haven’t taken the pledge and I’m sure the wine contributed to a relaxed second half. It might have improved my singing! Well there’s always hope! And most of us paid for our drinks!red wine

We emerged from the Church even more exhilarated than the morning and I do believe that Peter, in his thanks, was genuine in his invitation to us to return! We retired to the Beefeater for more drinks and food and yes – no surprise – more singing! By this point of the weekend, some of our members were flagging but determined to carry on. Val had virtually lost her voice; Joan was struggling a little; and Lyn had a painful foot. So the evening singing was relatively short, but since our two new ‘fans’ were there, Simon was keen to reward them with a performance. I went to bed before ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ but I’m sure it was a fitting end to a wonderful day.

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It may be hard to top singing at Sandringham, but I think Seaton Delaval Hall was just as magnificent. Because the weather was threatening to be rainy, we were directed to the Stables. Now ‘stables’ may conjure up something smelly and full of straw, but the stables at Seaton Delaval are amazing. They were built as part of the new hall in 1768 by Sir Francis Blake Delaval and consist of very grand stone stalls, each with the name of the horse carved above. Apparently, Delaval based them on a design by Robert Adam and he was so pleased with them, that he held dinner parties there! So singing in the stables is not so strange after all and the acoustics were good.

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Simon was in a very strange mood; kind of manic euphoria. Questions were muttered about whether he had mushrooms for breakfast. I suspect he was just very relaxed – having sung at the Sage and given a good performance at St Peters, this Sunday trip to Seaton Delaval was the icing on the cake – whether we had an audience or not. And it did, indeed, look as if we might not have an audience, as it approached 12 noon and our meagre audience was increased by Val whose voice had not improved overnight. Then people started coming in – from the courtyard and from the café – drawn in by the music. We had a family with young children and a couple from Switzerland and then lots of others. Even after the first half, they stayed or returned until all the seats were full.
It wasn’t warm in the stables – as you can imagine – so most of us kept on jackets or jumpers. But Lizzie was resplendent in her red short sleeved polo shirt. When I asked her whether she was not a bit chilly, she replied, with typical charm, that she couldn’t wear her ‘woolie’ as it was pink and would clash with the red. Remarkable commitment to choir identity, Lizzie!

Whilst we were having a break, I was chatting to the couple from Switzerland, who come to England every year to visit a different region. They were telling me that Swiss people are great Midsomer Murder fans (I always liked the Swiss) and quite often come over for tours of the locations. There is a very popular book in Switzerland which lists all the locations for each episode and appears to be a kind of ‘bible’ for the fans. Midsomer-Murders I was very quick to point out that we were also in ’Vera’ country and that I watched each episode of that with the constant comment ‘I’ve been there!’ Even my daughter, who went to Tynemouth every year with us from the age of 3 to 18 and who didn’t know there was anywhere else to go on holiday until her teens, joins me in location spotting. This delightful Swiss couple loved our music and joined in the songs. I loved talking to them and I felt I did a little to compensate for Simon’s ever-so-slightly weird audience engagement!
And, at last, we sang ‘Never weather beaten sail’. I had almost torn up my crib sheet, when Simon said we weren’t singing it, so I was really glad I had not – as were, several altos around me!
Wow, what a weekend! It really encapsulated the true essence of WBSS: community, companionship, good humour, commitment and a joy and pride in singing. Thank you to all who helped to organise the trip and especial thanks to Fiona and her parents for being so welcoming. Simon was brilliant (when not being weird), Joan was amazing and Elizabeth and the Bling Singers gave us beautiful melodies and a bit of a rest!
And I offer you this image as a representation of Simon conquering ‘Fix You’!

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Celebrating the WI way

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What a great afternoon we had on Monday at the WI hut in Bingham. The hut was beautifully decorated inside and out, with bunting and balloons, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Bingham branch of the Women’s Institute. And what a warm reception we had. Everyone was welcoming and clearly the event was going to be joyous with a full house of current and former members and visiting dignitaries such as the Mayor and members of the Town Council. It is clear that the WI is a valued organisation in Bingham.

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My favourite welcome was from ‘the gentleman in the waistcoat and matching bow tie’, who clearly was married to someone important in the WI as he was put in charge of the drinks. He told me that he has 3 festive waistcoats, all made by his daughter and with matching ties. As you can see from the photo, his attire this week was totally in keeping with a spring occasion and even matched the balloons. As someone who enjoys a bit of dressing up (no really!) I completely appreciated his approach to celebration! And I apologise for not remembering his name.

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Around 25 Social Singers gathered at the hut. (Because I hadn’t counted specifically, I was about to write 25 odd singers, and then realised that was probably not the best phrasing!). Anyway, we had a good representation from all the parts of the choir. The hut was set up with tables and stands, so there was not much room for us to practise before singing, so we did our warm up outside. Yes, OUTSIDE, on a chilly afternoon. Robin said it was so we would all feel so much warmer when we got inside. And we did!! Our singing also attracted the attention of the mortgage advisers next door to the hut; one of whom was taking photos or videos from the balcony. Obviously, outdoor singing is not common on Station St in Bingham. We did speculate as to whether they might use face recognition to offer us special mortgage deals, but I haven’t had a phone call yet.
The afternoon began with a welcome to members and guests and good wishes from the Nottinghamshire Federation. The President and a colleague then gave us a fascinating insight into the history of the WI in Bingham. The first WI in England was set up in 1915, under the auspices of the Board of Agriculture and its main purpose was to encourage women to be involved in ‘feeding the nation’ during the 1st World War. Bingham WI was established in 1918, by which time there were 199 institutes across the country. wi hutApparently membership subs were 2 shillings, which caused a deal of mirth in the room and not a few nostalgic sighs.

I have never been involved in the WI, so it was interesting to follow up the history, by looking at the work done by Pauline Marston in conjunction with the WW1 Home Front Legacy project (her book was on display in the hut). It is likely that the actual hut came from Clipstone Camp near Mansfield. Clipstone Camp was a vast wooden hutted military camp established to train the men of Kitchener’s New Army. Opened in May 1915, it housed upwards of twenty to thirty thousand soldiers at any one time. When the camp was no longer needed, the huts were sold (or possibly given?) to organisations across the county. This possibly explains why some of us commented on the familiarity of the design and construction compared with scout/guide huts we have known.

The historical display in the hut evidenced how the WI has grown and developed over the 2 World Wars and into the present, with a broad range of activities including arts, craft, cooking and education. Bingham also has a sub-group called the Bingham Belles, which looks, from the posters, to offer very lively meetings on a Wednesday!

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Our programme began with the traditional singing of ‘Jerusalem’ and very rousing it was too. Simon then revealed to the guests that our next song was dear to our hearts – and ages! – ‘When I’m 64’. Just watch your back, Simon! There then followed flirting (Dream a little dream), whistle pulling (Chattanooga), posturing (Supertrouper) and pure emotion (Run). Our audience was very appreciative and did join in some of the songs.

You know how children sometimes get words wrong when singing e.g. wise men gliding on a star? Well, I was convinced for ages that Abba sang ‘When I called you last night from Tesco’ and it was only when I sang it with WBSS and saw the words, that I realised my mistake. I admit I had always struggled with the image of Benny and Bjorn in a Tesco phone box. Never seemed very rock and roll! But you listen to it sometime and see if you can understand my mistake.

Anyway, we then had a welcome break – with food and alcohol (if taken). The buffet was amazing and you could see the truth of the WI cake-making reputation. Someone had also baked an amazing celebration cake, with beautiful iced flowers and a flounced icing frill. I didn’t see the cutting of the cake, but I’m sure it tasted as good as it looked.

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Having been fed and watered, we launched into ‘Hallelujah’ feeling relaxed, happy and appreciated. One of our songs was particularly popular as evidenced by the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as Simon introduced it. You guessed – ‘Over the Rainbow’ – always a classic, even though I still can’t remember the words! We finished our programme with a bit of choreographical swaying in ‘Fish gotta swim’ and a lot of  hand waving in ‘Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat’. Robin was superb and you could see the guests really warming to the song and the humour. A great finish for the event and a great finish for us. The vote of thanks was sincere, and apparently Simon was surroundeweeping womend by weeping women in the interval imploring us to return. That’s the kind of pressure we like!
So I think we spread some happiness and I hope we helped the Bingham WI to celebrate their 100th year in style. Here’s to the next 100!

 

100

 

Bjorn Again

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Well, I’m supposed to be writing a blog about our workshops with Bjorn, but so far this afternoon, I have spent my time watching You Tube videos of Fjorten grise i snor – with and without pig noises – and researching Alf Proysen, the composer, who was also an author, poet and cultural guru and wrote the Mrs Pepperpot stories. I have also strayed into Jamaican folk music (thank you Joan) and listened to versions of Linstead Market by the Kings Singers and the Spinners. I also heard Elizabeth mention a hymn version, which I think I have tracked down to lyrics by Fred Kaan  ‘Let our tongues and talents employ’ (nice version here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAJhFTS_k68 with drum and flute). Phew! Who would have thought that a song about taking pigs to market could be so inspiring! Thank you very much, Bjorn. (For any Myers Briggs aficionados in the choir, you will see that I am very much a P! Explanation available on request)

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Any road up (as we say where I come from), back to the wonderful workshops. I only managed to make the Saturday one, but I can see from the FB videos of Thursday that the ladies had a great time and made good progress with the songs. There is total secrecy surrounding the men’s Friday session; no photos, no videos, but enticing rumours about Ken and ‘tingel tangel’ were spread on Saturday. Subtle probing of the issue with his male colleagues gave little away, but reference was made to interpretative dance interp - Copy– or at least, I think that was what was implied! Hmm! They shouldn’t really be left on their own.

 

So, on Saturday, we all got together and started with a vocal, physical and mental warm up with Bjorn. I love singing; I love singing in choirs and workshops; I love Simon’s musical direction; I love the songs we sing. But I have to use a well-known phrase for these precious hours with Bjorn – ‘now for something completely different’! How many facial expressions does this man have? I was taking a few photos for FB and within the space of 5 minutes, I captured about 10 different expressions – mouth, eyebrows, eyes, smiles, top of head. And as to the rest of him! Singing is a bodily function for Bjorn.

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Simon often tells us to sing with our eyebrows – especially when reaching high notes – and you could see this very clearly with Bjorn. He also urged the sopranos to sing as if they had nails on their seats and urged us all to be aware of our stomachs when breathing and singing. Apparently, Bjorn always wears slightly baggy shirts to disguise the ‘earthquakes’ visible in his stomach when he sings and breathes deeply. I was talking to my daughter, Jo, about the workshop on Saturday night and she was, coincidentally, revising breathing function for her Pilates training. I was describing the visible chest movements which accompanied some of Bjorn’s warm up exercises and saying that I could not imitate or emulate this movement, as my upper body is so ‘fixed’. And we were discussing the fact (and there is research to back this up) that over 50% of the adult population in UK and USA use chest (thoracic) breathing rather than abdominal (diaphragmatic) breathing. For many people, it is really hard to breathe deeply into the abdomen and I, certainly, have lost much of my capacity to do this. I would be very interested to know why this is so. breathing - CopyClearly, there are implications for singers but also broader health issues. So it was amazing to see Bjorn’s body moving. That is not meant to be as creepy as it sounds!

We learned a new Norwegian folk song ‘Fjorten grise i snor’ and forgive my ignorance, as I was not present on Thursday evening, but thanks to Jill’s notes and Google Translate, I believe this is about taking a string of pigs to market, seeing the elderflowers blooming, tingle-tangling at night and being blamed for it! There are other verses on the t’internet, which mention ‘catching Red Lise’ and ‘going to see the priest’ so maybe Ken’s interpretation has some merit! I don’t know what Bjorn’s exact translation was, so it is probably completely unnecessary to point out that a ‘Tingle Tangle’ used to refer to a raucous night club/side show (Sideshow Bob was also called Tingle Tangle Bob). tingel
But if you prefer a more romantic interpretation, it can also refer to ‘shining’ – so it may mean the shining white flowers in the moonlight. Take your pick or just believe what Bjorn said! Whatever the lyrics meant, we all enjoyed the ‘Tja tja tja’ at the end!

Our two English songs were ‘Take a chance on me’ and ‘Angels’. You could tell which of the altos and men had been present on the Thursday or Friday, as they had mastered the refrain.rabbit The rest of us had a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ panic stare as our heads bobbed frantically, trying to get the rhythm of ‘take a take a chance chance’ – I can’t even write it, never mind sing it! Fortunately, Bjorn couldn’t get it right either, so it felt OK. Great song to add to our repertoire.
I think the one, which is probably going to capture our hearts, though, is ‘Angels’. I really don’t like Robbie Williams, but I do like this song. The lyrics and the music are beautiful and will give us a classic for concerts and singalongs. It’s not often I have experienced a ‘bridge’ – technical term – in a song, which creates a complete break between the verses. Bjorn’s verdict was that we needed to spend more time on the bridge. I’m not sure which one he had in mind – Trent or Trondheim – but I don’t mind being there with the rest of you.
Because we will be taking these songs forward in our own rehearsals, it was really useful that Bjorn gave his summary of our progress and performance and a few pointers for development. Just a thought too, about Bjorn’s own development – can someone explain to him about 2 fingers!
And then it was time for us to sing to Bjorn, which we did heartily, with emotion and with joy. I hope our Norwegian choir friends enjoy the videos and particularly our enthusiasm for their language. And what better way to end than with a joyful, rumbustious, but tuneful, rendering of ‘Sit down you’re rocking the boat’ with Robin in excellent form and most of us remembering the hand movements.20180106_162559 - Copy It felt really good to give back to Bjorn the passion and enthusiasm which he had given to us over the 3 days. Simon, in his thank you remarks, talked about Bjorn’s enthusiasm, positivity and professionalism and judging from the number of people smiling and energised at the end of Saturday afternoon and the number queuing up to say goodbye to him, we all felt the same. I’m sure there was a lively gathering on Saturday evening.

 

Can’t wait for next time!

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Christmas 2017. Aah, yes! I remember it well

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The great thing about Facebook is that you can relive events. I’ve been watching the videos and viewing the photos on our FB page and also on The Test Match and reminding myself of how much singing the choir has done over the last few weeks. So now the gigs have finished, we can relax and watch and remember and cringe over our hats and outfits (and behaviour, sometimes!). And we can put all the links in our Christmas cards to family and friends so they can truly appreciate our hard work and talent. What, you mean you don’t do that already?

It has been a busy time but also a really varied programme of events. Outdoors at Radcliffe and the Coop; indoors at churches, pubs, masonic lodges and hospitals. Always joyful; often emotional. But what a result in terms of donations – over £700 for our charities and a load of happy people, in the community and in the choir.

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It was also interesting to see how, by Tuesday night, most people were just using the word carol book, whereas 4 weeks ago, there were big white books, little white books and various bits of paper. I don’t think this indicates that we cared less, as the weeks went on, but more that we were increasingly confident each time. If you listen to the singing on the Test Match videos, I think you will agree that, occasional raucous note excepting, the harmonies are good and clear. I will have to admit that there are still some carols which I have to wing – or rather, I have to listen hard to Jill or Beth and then try to pitch occasional notes. But I suspect I am not alone in that!

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You will all have your own memories of the events, but let me tell you about a few of mine. Firstly, Robin excelled at the Test Match, didn’t he? He was engaging and funny and tuneful. It was great to sing the song again and we all seemed to rise to the occasion – even remembering the actions! In addition, we all enjoyed the Bling Singers and their funny Christmas songs. Loved the T-shirts too! (Now here’s a bit of overheard banter – ‘Well, I don’t know why it says ‘MAY contain prosecco’!) Each of these contributions made a nice contrast to the carols and they were winners for the pub listeners.prosecco

And what about the herd of reindeer at the Coop? Sorry, I mean the sopranos, who all seemed to have decided, totally independently, that Rudolph encapsulates the essence of ‘sopranoness’. According to an article online, female reindeer tend to group themselves into herds, whereas male reindeer are solitary. Well, that would explain the lack of antlers on our male singers.  Obviously, also, reindeer fur and furry antlers help to keep them warm, which was probably very useful outside the Coop on Central Avenue, when many of us were doing a Scandinavian Shuffle in order to feel our feet. However, there is one characteristic of the reindeer, which in no way can be attributed to our wonderful sopranos. The reindeer voice is usually described as ‘bellowing’ but our WBSS reindeers are finer tuned – sweet and melodious. (You all owe me a drink now!) And actually, not many of you had red noses!rudolph

 

Another highlight for me was singing with the Phoenix Signing Choir at the Willow Tree. I have never seen carols being signed before and it was really interesting to see the interpretation of the words. So much so, that I occasionally forgot to sing. That was also a memorable evening because of the audience participation – both from the young men drinking and the older man who seemed keen to perform a solo, accompanied by dance moves. I applaud his enthusiasm, even though I couldn’t understand a word and I suspect he had been in the pub for several weeks!

Elizabeth did a great job of directing us at Lings Bar. It was a quieter affair but the patients and staff who came to listen were very appreciative and it was lovely to chat to them during the break. There were two ladies who sat at the front, who sang every song and smiled the whole way through. One told me she was due to be discharged before Christmas and was obviously looking forward to being in her own home with family and friends. The other more sedate event was the evening with the Masons. I say sedate, but there was plenty of singing and laughter in the room – and lots of empty bottles on the tables! Simon did a great job of engaging with them and encouraged them to join in and occasionally to sing on their own. We were clapped into the room and clapped out again at the end. I always feel that it is like piping in the haggis on Burns Night. Special appreciation.clapping

So then we came to the Test Match. What can I say? It’s all there on the videos. The food was good, the staff were great and we had a brilliant sing. It really set me up for Christmas. And if you watch the videos, you will see a rocking band of altos (am I biased? No, not me!)

I cannot finish without mentioning a certain Tenor, who has been feeling neglected recently in my blogs, after a moment of fame as one of the Sandringham coach drivers! Well, Ken, you deserve special mention for your emotional and very sensitive approach to that wonderful romantic ballad ‘You’re just too good to be true’. It brought tears to my eyes. And the words ‘barbecue sauce’ and ‘beard’ will never cross the lips of Laura and me!

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Have a wonderful Christmas, everyone!

 

 

Christmas Rock

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Imagine a hall filled with rosy-cheeked, smiling people wearing colourful clothes and listening entranced to the beautiful music which swirls around them and makes them glad. The Ball in Cinderella? An evening dinner in Vienna? Perhaps a memory of the Strictly Final? No – it’s ECS Christmas at John Clifford School! Far more magical than any of the above.

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Excitement has built over the weeks. What will we sing? What shall we wear? Do I have time to make mince pies? So there we were at last – a week before Christmas and bursting to rock our hearts out to Slade and Wizzard. Christmas jumpers galore; jolly hats and earrings – and not a Bah Humbug in sight (you see some people learn from feedback!) – and Father Christmas came too, courtesy of Mike.
We started on a quiet note with ‘Mary’s Boy Child’, Boney M style, building to a rousing ‘Hark now hear’ chorus, which got everyone in the mood and introduced some harmony for those who wanted it. Then we moved on to ‘Winter Wonderland’.
I think it fair to say that there were a modest number of men in the room (not counting the band) so this song really proved the saying ‘quality not quantity’. In the chorus, Simon demonstrated the level of masculinity he wanted from the men by pretending to be a circus strong man. He had a willing follower in Alan who galvanised the others to produce a rousing ‘In the meadow we will build a snowman’ with suitably manly tones. I, in the role of admiring counterpart, lisped my response to my imaginary hero, which served to rouse them to even greater masculinity in the next chorus. I hope those men went home feeling strong and masterful!Strongman

I was looking at the origin of the song which dates back to the 1930s. It was written originally as a poem by Richard Smith who was, at the time, suffering from TB and pretty much bed-bound in a snowy Pennsylvania. Some writers say it was an escape from his dreary illness into a magical time and place. His poem was set to music by Felix Bernard in 1934, but sadly Dick Smith died shortly after it was published. So that’s cheered you up, hasn’t it? Who said education was uplifting!
Our afternoon then moved on to classic rocking songs which gave us the opportunity to let rip and have a great time. ‘A Fairytale of New York’ was ideal for great musical accompaniment from the band – and also for giving the ‘ladees’ a chance to ‘stick it to the men’. It was also the moment to introduce Tim and his little whistle. I think Simon’s innuendo went largely unnoticed would you say? Suffice it to say that Tim played his little whistle with his usual skill and really upped the tempo and got the feet tapping.

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I fully understand why this remains the UK’s favourite Christmas song. It is full of pathos but is actually joyful to sing – and also probably lends itself to karaoke and pub singing. Again, we had a male/female conversation (or slanging match) in the verses and poor old Tim had to take the female voice, so received the full blast of abuse in the line ‘you scumbag, you maggot etc’. You could see him flinch as we really embraced the emotion! Brilliant stuff!
And who could ask for more than our very own Wizzard and Slade concert? And during these two songs, not only was Santa in the room, but a strange rock chick elf appeared with a blow up guitar. You can’t keep her away! 20171216_163939

 

We rocked and danced but we also sang harmonies and if you listen to the clips and the videos, you can really hear them.
I have to mention break time, which is an essential element of an ECS workshop. Huge amounts of mince pies but also a lovely surprise from Shimmy in the form of samosas to celebrate her birthday. They were delicious. Thank you, Shimmy and Happy Birthday. After 20 minutes of admiring one another’s outfits and trying not to spill mince pie crumbs on the floor, we were ready to rock some more.

Of course, we had the chance to sing all the songs again at the end, so everyone went away on a high despite the dreary afternoon weather. I know I often say this in my blogs, but I so appreciate the chance to sing like this with other people and particularly to sing with such a talented group of musicians. It is a real joy and privilege. And Simon’s not bad either!
So Happy Christmas everyone. Keep on rocking and I’m looking forward to January already.

merry christmas

 

Accompanying the music

Santa piano

‘Great choirs have great accompanists. The extent of a choir’s success, to a large degree, is dependent upon its accompanist. The choir accompanist plays a vital role in the overall choral ensemble.’

 

Ever since Joan had her accident and was not able to play, I have been intrigued by the role of the accompanist. It is easy to take this role for granted and even though Joan is totally integrated into all aspects of the choir, it is worthwhile thinking about the special qualities essential to accompanying choirs. We are obviously very fortunate to have Elizabeth as well – and occasionally – both Elizabeth and Joan together but it has become increasingly clear to me that ‘playing the piano’ is significantly different from ‘accompanying’. Also that each accompanist is unique. This was brought home to me last night, when Bling Singers (wonderful, wonderful Bling Singers!) deprived us of both our accompanists and we had the pleasure of welcoming Mike for the evening.

I found a wonderful joke about accompanists online:

What’s the difference between a piano accompanist and a terrorist?  You can negotiate with a terrorist.

I wrote something a while ago about the joys and frustrations experienced by choir directors, so now it’s time to think about our accompanists who support, lead and guide us singers and who create the framework in which we can produce good sounds.Joan

 

 

I was brought up in Methodism South Yorkshire style. My dad was raised as a Prim and my mother was a Wesleyan in the days before the Methodist schism was healed by the Union in 1932. Fascinating stuff and there is even a Museum of Primitive Methodism near Crewe which has a chapel which takes me straight back to Sunday School (compulsory Sunday School!). Anyway, the Prims had a more ‘evangelical’ approach to worship which often included unaccompanied and loud hymn singing as well as extempore prayer. This practice lingered in my own Church in Doncaster and the organist would frequently just stop playing in the middle of a hymn and leave the congregation to their own devices – not always a success! And of course, we had lots of outdoor rallies, without the aid of the WBSS ‘nice bit of kit’, so singing unaccompanied is not unfamiliar to me. However, my enduring memory of this practice is the overwhelming sense of relief when the organist or pianist started playing again. It has left me with a huge respect for the skill and impact of a good accompanist.

hymn singing 2

So what are the essential skills and qualities of the role?

According to the American Pastor and composer, James Koerts, the following are key: flexibility and anticipation. He says The director may have an entirely different interpretation of a song than you’ and also ‘Over time you will have the opportunity to study your director and how they operate a rehearsal’. Yes, we all do that, Simon! In terms of the capacity to anticipate, he recommends mind-reading, but in the absence of that, ‘anticipation requires attentiveness to details, a clear knowledge of the director’s approach, and an alertness to all instructions’. Wow – Joan the mind reader! Respect! Apparently there is another skill called ‘voicing’ which is bringing out one voice when needed in rehearsal and this also requires the ability to play one finger louder than the others! I think we’ve all seen and heard Joan and Elizabeth do all these things but maybe not thought much about the impact on our mind readerlearning and singing.

 

There is one piece of advice which I am sure is essential to accompanist/director relationship: ‘be careful not to tread on the director’s toes’.  Mike, take note!tread on toes

 

‘More than anything else, the accompanist must exhibit a sense of self-sacrifice, strong character, and the flexibility of a master diplomat. Degrees in psychology and pedagogy might also come in handy when making “suggestions”’. This was obviously written to describe the relationship between the pianist and a solo – sometimes egotistical – singer but it does reinforce the sensitive partnership between singers, accompanist and director.

So how fortunate are we to have such amazing accompanists, who are also singers in the choir, brilliant pianists and who compose and transcribe music, and, most importantly, who understand and support both Simon and the choir. So much more than playing the piano. I hope they feel appreciated; I’m sure they do and I am also grateful to Simon for always applauding their work and reminding us of their importance.

A little poem by Dick Allen to finish https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51841/the-accompanist

 

Happy 25th Birthday to Us!

I like a good party. And I like a good birthday cake. We got both of those on Saturday night at St Paul’s. With a packed room of guests, most of whom had connections with the choir in some way, the atmosphere was warm, welcoming and positively buzzy. The sort of atmosphere that brings out the best in performers and I feel that we really rose to the occasion. I spoke to quite a few people at the interval and several said it was one of the best performances from the choir.
For me, the build-up started at the Tuesday rehearsal prior to the concert. Not only did we get a chance to work on the songs for the programme in choir formation, but there was a real confidence boost from not having to sing songs all the way through. Does that make any sense? When Simon waves his hands after a verse or an introduction, it feels like a validation of our efforts. My inner voice says ‘That one’s OK then’. And we, women’s parts (I won’t start that again!) were praised in very creative words. At one point, the altos were a ‘cushion’ for the sopranos and then I think the sopranos were described as a ‘bigger cushion’ – a futon, perhaps. And our director was in very descriptive mode; at one point, the altos were referred to as ‘stuffing the gaps’ and at another point as ‘hearty’. Although, I’m not sure that was a compliment so much as a hint that we were too loud! Then finally, we received a mega compliment – ‘magnificent’ – every alto heart was beating with a mixture of pride and a smidgeon of shock. But it certainly set us up for Saturday evening.Proud

I’ve talked mainly so far about the women, but on Saturday night, the men really came into their own. They were truly magnificent and again, several people in the audience commented to me on the great male voices. I was standing in front of the tenors and it was brilliant. Sometimes, I was drawn into the tenor part – so I apologise to my alto colleagues for this – but the men really shone and their voices give such a richness to the songs – and not only the ones with ‘dum di dum’ in them! We are very fortunate.

Men singing

The programme was obviously indicative of our preferences, having been chosen by members, and it also showcased the wide range of music that we sing. Big ballads, musicals, gospel, emotional and of course, Norwegian. The songs which opened each part – ‘Kom’ and ‘Kebale’ – were great for us to warm up, but also added something different and perhaps unexpected for the audience.
What made this concert unique for me was the stories attached to the individual songs and it was very moving to listen to choir members describing the significance of the music for them and recalling occasions, often quite emotional, when a particular song played a part in their lives. How lovely that individuals wanted to stand up and speak to express the importance of music. Surely that is a strong indication of a commitment to and affection for the experience of our choir.
But no party is complete without food and cake. What a spread we provided for ourselves and our guests. Amazing organisation and logistics. As you can see from the photos, the table was groaning at the start and relatively sparse at the end. People were very polite and queued patiently and were very complimentary about the buffet. This was clearly aided by the various and abundant bottles on some tables (naming no names). I wonder whether this could also explain the increased audience participation in the second half. When I say that the table was sparse at the end, this did not include my large bowl of salad, which was pretty much ignored! But there were much more exciting salads to sample, so I am not bitter!

 

And that cake! Rex did us proud again, even though he admitted that Sandra had been the decorator par excellence. It was lovely, Rex – thank you so much; you give so much support to the choir. Most importantly, it tasted good. Because I am polite, I held back from the buffet to let the guests go first, but this gave me ample opportunity to get at the cake and I will admit that I had more than one piece! The photos and memorabilia on the table were really interesting – I had never seen the Social Singers Songbook before.

20171104_182426

Our evening concluded with a showstopper – in true Bake Off tradition – Robin leading us in ‘Sit down you’re rocking the boat’. The arm and leg ‘ography’ was almost right, but where we lacked finesse, we made up for it in enthusiasm, good humour and the joy of singing. Obviously, the audience really did want an encore, even though they were too polite to ask for one, and Fiona was right in her reading of them. So a powerful and emotional rendering of ‘When you walk through a storm’ sent me, and I hope, everyone, home with a glow of celebration and achievement.
Happy Birthday to us!

Happy birthday

Beeston embraces the Summer of 69

van

  

I don’t know about you, but I woke up this morning with ‘Here comes the sun’ firmly wedged in my brain. What an afternoon! Even those in the room, who were not born in the late 60s (and I counted at least one!) joined the rest in the joyous rendition of some 60s classics. Although, of course, as you will no doubt know, ‘Summer of 69’ was written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance in 1984 as a reference to a typical late 60s teenage summer, but it fitted so well with the other songs that I felt totally immersed in my ‘yoof’. I remember arriving back from a French exchange visit at the port of Dover (we didn’t fly much in those days!) and hearing ‘Hey Jude’ everywhere on the radio. Heady days!

Anyway, enough of my nostalgia. The room was full of enthusiastic singers – quite of few of whom came, I gather, from the Spiegel Tent experience; including two very well-dressed men on the front row (one was Peter but I don’t know whether the other was Paul) who took to the singing with great gusto and also did some nifty footwork. They seemed to enjoy every minute – to the point of over-enthusiastic entries in ‘Here comes the sun’.

From the moving gentle introduction to ‘Hey Jude’, we gradually relaxed and built up to a wonderful chorus of ‘Na na na’ and ‘judey, judey, judey’ which set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. This was going to be a really good sing! As I have said in previous blogs, these workshops give a range of options to singers, so that it never turns into karaoke (well perhaps the last half hour). Simon and Tim introduce variations to allow for different voices and also to give a richness to the tunes. What I thought was brilliant on Saturday was that, even in the last run throughs of the song at the very end, people were still singing the harmonies – and managing to jig about at the same time!

dancing on table

 

We were again supported by great musicians and Mike was great in his Beeston ECS debut on the piano. The songs gave opportunities for amazing guitar work, piano work and drums, so we could really appreciate the music as well as the words of the songs. Simon even got his trumpet out. And if you think that might be a ‘double entendre’ you should have heard the references to his ‘little tool’!

‘Sweet Caroline’ swept us away and the promise of ‘Oh what a night’ and ‘Summer of 69’ sustained us through the trials of having to eat chocolate cake (who made that? It was so good!)

I have to say that Simon was on very good form and as you can see on the FB video, he occasionally went into full-blown air-guitar mode and had some wonderful instructions such as ‘Oom bang’ and ‘Watch my finger’ which made perfect sense at the time. But you would have struggled not to be carried along by the energy and emotion of ‘Oh what a night’ and ‘Summer of 69’. Everyone was moving and the back row were up on their chairs rocking away. A joy to behold – there were a lot of 60s rock divas in the room – and some of them were men (which I believe is divos).

diva dancing

I went home singing and feeling great – and I know that others were saying the same. If you meet anyone who is not convinced of the therapeutic effect of music and singing, drag them along to a Saturday ECS workshop – I would guarantee that they will become believers!

As a footnote, I didn’t blog the last ECS Saturday event, but I did take a couple of photos of some extremely talented musicians who supported the singing. Thank you to them!

Running towards Christmas

RoadrunnerWell, would you believe it – nearly the end of October already and I think I have managed to attend 3 rehearsals. Ho hum! But in my defence, I think about singing a lot and I’m sure that helps my mental preparation for the actual thing. I also think quite a lot about strategies for avoiding Simon’s eyes when I don’t know the words and also I think quite a lot about funky dance moves which may distract from my lack of vocal talent! But now that it is nearly Christmas, I am on a mission to attend every week until the end of term – I shall probably turn up next week and wonder where all you slackers are!Puzzled

 

So what is this thing about carols in October? I found a poem by David Jonathan Newell who sings with University of Kent choral society, which puts it all into perspective

A Singer’s November

‘Twas two months before Christmas,
Under towers and spires,
Singers were bringing out
Carols for Choirs.

Their friends all had bonfires,
Guy Fawkes to remember.
But when you’re in a Choir,
Christmas starts in November.

“But Advent is ages away”
Their friends cry.
“You can’t yet sing Ding Dong
Merrily on High”

Then the singers will turn
Like a great wounded beast.
“Do you want Christmas
To be a musical feast?”

Then we must take carol books
Down from the self,
‘Cos Christmas won’t sing
The damn carols itself.”

You look forward to Christmas
And I know that that’s true.
But remember the choirs
Get there much before you.

See for singers the year
Is two months ahead,
So do not be angry,
Think this way instead;

Lent in January,
All Saints in September,
Easter in February,
Christmas – November.

The two rehearsals which I have attended recently, have been very entertaining. Two weeks ago we had a glut of tenors – ten tenors to be precise – against a meagre 4 or 5 basses. A ratio which gave tremendous satisfaction to the tenors – you could tell from the smiles and the gusto! – but a ratio which also gave great incentive and challenge to the basses. As one writer put it – ‘most basses are tuba players at heart’ and we all know that you don’t mess with a tuba player. I love the competitive affection that reigns in that part of the hall and I pity the choirs which haven’t got such a strong male section – they don’t know what they are missing. Do you know, it is very difficult to find the right phrase for male singers, without inducing sniggers? I mean ‘male parts’, ‘men’s bits’ and ‘male members in the choir’ are a bit dodgy, aren’t they? I bet you’re all having a sneaky giggle now. I will try and stick with ‘The Men’ as this not only purports to denote gender but also carries the weightiness of ‘You’re the Man!’

The Man

Simon, however, has no problems with differentiating the ‘real men’ from the others when they divide into first and second basses. I will say no more; we all heard you say it, Simon! And it’s not so long ago that he praised the strength of our ladies’ section, whilst looking directly at the men! Do you remember that?

For those of you still struggling to understand the unique difference between the male and female parts (apologies!) IN THE CHOIR, have a read of this http://www.comedycorner.org/70.html which may contain some nuggets of enlightenment, but was written by someone who clearly doesn’t know West Bridgford Social Singers!

4 Parts

Last night we reprised ‘Sit down you’re rocking the boat’, which you would think would be still fresh in our minds. Robin was brilliant, even when singing the wrong verse! We were all so lost in admiration, that we forgot to ‘ooh’ for the waves and some of us prayed when we shouldn’t have been praying and as for the actions! The altos needed coaching from Diane on hand movements and direction of sway; the basses, apart from Robin, were a little tentative with their sitting down; and the jazz hands rose to the ceiling at varying times and speed. Gosh, we really enjoyed all that and the joy of singing and getting it wrong was liberating. As Goethe said “By seeking and blundering we learn.” No, Goethe, none of us blundered – we are amazing and we will sing it perfectly at the concert!

Hope you enjoy the week off and don’t forget to tell Joan how much we enjoyed the first part of ‘Adam lay a bounden’ – I think it’s coming along really well!

Sshh