An Evening of Song; A Collaborative Blast

What an evening! With over a hundred singers on stage and a ‘sold out’ audience, we really raised the roof on Saturday. And for such a good cause – or 6 good causes, to be exact, as the concert raised funds for 6 separate charities – Autism East Midlands, Newark Orchard School, MHA, 4th West Bridgford Scouts, Alzheimer’s Society and All We Can. Victoria Johnson from Autism East Midlands was with us and received a cheque for  … from the activities of the ECS Singers. It was great to have her there and to hear about the work that the charity is doing in our area, especially the Respite and Holiday Lets Service in Ravenshead. What a fantastic project. And we know that the proceeds from the concert will also support the other charities to engage in other amazing projects. Wonderful singing and charity is a match made in heaven!

singing together

This concert was all about collaboration. It was the first major concert which the two represented choirs – West Bridgford Social Singers and ECS Singers – had undertaken together. Both choirs had practised the Les Mis and Queen songs separately, but had had few opportunities to practise together in advance of the dress rehearsal on Thursday. So it was really satisfying to eventually join together in these well-known songs. The programme had been designed to encourage the audience to participate, if they chose to do so, and words were put on the screens. However, that did not turn the occasion into a karaoke night, as the harmonies from the choir could be clearly heard and added a richness to the audience singing. Speaking to people after the event, it was obvious that there was an appreciation of the choir’s harmonies as well as evident pleasure from being able to join in.

The programme had been mainly themed around Les Mis and Queen, and so we expected lots of people to want to participate. Who can resist ‘Bring Him Home’ or ‘We will Rock You’? From a show of hands at the start, it was clear that many in the audience had seen Les Mis (the musical version) – some more than others (has Simon really seen it 27 times? Word perfect or what?) and many were Queen fans and had seen Bohemian Rhapsody recently. So most of the audience were raring to have a go. And they did!

dogs

But not before the rigour and challenge of ‘The Warm Up’!! Here was a church full of people expecting to be entertained and to have a good time without too much effort, and Simon steps in with a mind-blowing warm up ‘My dog, he can do the can-can’. For those who are not familiar with this little ditty, it is sung, obviously, to the can-can music and requires you to combine the skill of tongue twisting with mental agility and memory. What? So you concentrate really hard and get it almost right – and then, just when you start to feel smug, what does Simon do? He splits you into three parts so you have to sing it as a round! Creased foreheads, closed eyes and clenched jaws abounded, as we all flung ourselves into the spirit of the thing. And what a result! Everyone feeling relaxed, vocally warmed up and in a state of hysterics or euphoria. And so ready to let the beautiful singing of ‘Fix You’ wash over them.

Both choirs had rehearsed long and hard for the concert and the result was impressive. WBSS led off with 3 of our favourites – Fix You (shivers down the spine!), Gospel Medley and finishing with ‘Sit down you’re rocking the boat’ with Robin in fine voice and the choir in full choreographic flow! And how about that glorious cackle from Sally – brought the house down.  At this point, the first bit of ‘faffing’ (I’m from Yorkshire) occurred with ECS Singers descending from the gallery to join Social Singers on the stage. It all went beautifully – no tripping up or shoving – and we were ready to do a couple of joint songs.

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Tim waved the flag in ‘Do you hear the people sing?’ and wore the sleeve of Robin’s jumper on his head. Not as strange as that sounds! Robin had creatively crafted a ‘bonnet rouge’ from a sleeve of an old jumper for our Les Mis workshop last year. He gave it to me afterwards, thus leaving a second sleeve ‘hanging around’!!

bonnet rouge

So he made a second one and rather than wear it himself on Saturday, he allowed Tim the honour. And I thought Tim looked suitably grateful and dapper in it!

‘Radio Gaga’ challenged us all to clap in the right place and get our ‘gagas’, ‘googoos’ and ‘blah blahs’ in the right order. Then it was time for Social Singers to retire to the gallery to allow ECS to perform their set.

First was‘White Winter Hymnal’, which is a complex and beautiful song. I was looking at my favourite source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, and it is clear that there are conflicting opinions on the meaning. Fleet Foxes, themselves, and the musician who wrote the song, say that it is not intended to have any meaning but many people have talked about the theme of loss of innocence implicit in the words. For me, it is the music which matters and the repetitive chorus is bewitching. Fleet Foxes, in their video, accompany the song with body percussion and the ECS Singers did the same, not only with the ‘drum beats’ at the start and end but also with 4 singers doing the more complicated hand movements from the video. If you don’t know the song, watch the videos on You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o10drRI3VQ0 and a beautiful animated version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrQRS40OKNE . It made a really impactful performance.

Then ‘Blue Mountain River’ with a lovely solo from Pippa and with Alison on the violin, followed by ‘The Fields of Athenry’ with solos from Darrell, Tim and Doug. This song refers to the desolation of the Great Irish Famine in the 19c, and probably the best-known version is that by The Dubliners.

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Tea time! West Bridgford Methodist catering team are amazing. They coped with the hundreds of guests with incredible organisation and aplomb, so that everyone was fed and watered within the 25 minutes and ready for the second half.

The second half was always going to be a blast with a great selection of songs from Les Mis and Queen. We started with an emotional rendering of ‘Stars’ by the men of both choirs. It was superb and really set the scene for the drama of the Les Mis songs. Simon lightened the tone, by telling us how each song presaged the death of the character – really cheered us all up! bugs bunnyBut you can’t deny the emotion in the songs and we all enjoyed the volume of the voices in the church.

In contrast, the Queen songs encouraged us to relax, be cool and get hip! I know I did! Singing these songs with such a great audience and such great musicians was a joy for us in the choir. The highlight was always going to be ‘We will rock you’ and it was such a joyful ending to the Queen section. That thrilling rumble of voices singing ‘rock you’ at the start really gets your pulse racing. The words are actually not easy as ‘buddy’ grows from boy to young man to old man and each of the choruses is slightly different, so you have to be on your toes. But I think Brian and Freddie would have been proud of us.

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We said our thank yous and our goodbyes and then as an encore – and a very fitting finale – we sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. For the second verse, the choir came down into the audience and sang with them, so we all ended the evening singing together and celebrating the importance of togetherness. Brilliant!

les misqueen

 

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Trondheim and Nottingham – a winning combination

 

So who was the white-haired man with the cheerful voice who had come from Northern climes to bring us treats last week? No! Guess again – it wasn’t Santa. Although, if you saw him climbing down chimneys in Nottingham, I would keep it quiet! Of course, it was our special visiting Norwegian musical genius, Bjorn Sigurd. Here again to brighten our January. And this time he had brought some elves with him – courtesy of IKEA. And very splendid they looked too, in their blue and yellow shirts. It was really wonderful to welcome Bjorn’s newest choir – the IKEA choir from Trondheim– to sing with us and to us over the week and weekend. We loved meeting them and I hope they enjoyed the delights of Nottingham. I have seen photos of them eating and drinking, and I believe they visited the Trip, so hopefully that made up for the slightly dismal weather.

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The ladies, of course, had the first chance to sing and we certainly packed out John Clifford School Hall on Thursday evening. 107 of us from West Bridgford Social Singers, Everyone can Sing’, Singing for Pleasure and IKEA Trondheim. Bjorn was on top form; encouraging, engaging, charming, giggly and occasionally, outrageously funny. It was a pleasure just to be in the room with him, never mind all this singing malarkey! But sing we did. We had a full 25 minutes of warm up, which included full body and facial workout – no-one can shimmy like Bjorn – and an array of sounds reminiscent of wailing banshees and clucking hens. I will never be able to say ‘cup of tea’ again in a normal voice! We also did a delightful bouncy song made up entirely of sounds – maybe ‘rooroo’, ‘doodoo’ or ‘dumdum’ – which we did as a round and was absolutely beautiful. (Just checked the video on FB; it was actually ‘nornor’ I think!) Anyway, it was pretty impressive.

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We then sang our 3 Queen songs – ‘I want to break free’, ‘Rock you’ and ‘Crazy little thing called love’. Sometimes we sang really well and sometimes it was a bit iffy. When you have worked with Bjorn for a few times, you know that when he says ‘Ladies you did really well’, it often means that he is too nice to say ‘no,no,no, you got it wrong!’ But patience is one of his virtues and when you get his smile of pleasure, then arock youll is right with the world! We had a great afternoon and I was singing ‘rock you’ all the way home.

 

I cannot comment on the men’s Friday evening as it was clearly secret and the only evidence we have is a photo of 29 men drinking in a pub and looking very happy! Maybe they didn’t sing at all! Maybe they just sloped off to the pub and then told us next day how hard they had worked! No, they wouldn’t do that, would they? Not our noble singers and certainly not our new Norwegian friends. Anyway, they did seem pretty prepared on Saturday afternoon, so I am sure much singing went on prior to the pub.
So Saturday afternoon arrived and 120 men and women from at least 2 countries or regions of Europe (for the moment!) gathered again at John Clifford School. I did check on Wikipedia whether Scandinavia could be termed a continent but Wikipedia gave me a very stern response of ‘no’, although as one contributor pointed out, the Nordic States as a region, is possibly a larger area than Europe, so I decided not to get involved in this argument!
Bjorn set the tone for the whole afternoon by instructing us ladies to ‘enjoy the men’. Personally, I always do! I enjoy their wit, charisma, charm and dashing good looks. As I’m sure they do also of us ladies. I was dressed as Brian May on Saturday so it was a confusing time, but I still managed to enjoy the men.

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It was a joyful afternoon. We sang joyfully, we laughed joyfully and we ate joyfully. How much food did people have left over from Christmas? The table was literally groaning with everything from smoked salmon to Christmas cake and an awful lot in between. Chocolates galore! Very hard on those whose New Year resolutions included a bit of cutting back! I scoured my cupboards for leftover food and came away triumphant with one bag of sprout-flavoured crisps!   Do you know – no-one else had brought one of those! Do you also know that they were generally ignored? Gasps of horror! I had to resort to offering them to random people, who either recoiled in horror or politely nibbled very slowly before turning away! However, when Robin was clearing up the rubbish, he was about to throw the packet into the rubbish bag when one of our Norwegian friends grabbed it from him, saying ‘I love sprouts’. Now that’s not something you hear very often!sprout crisps

After singing our Queen songs together, we had the treat of listening to the IKEA choir, who sang two songs to us. They were beautiful and I think, maybe, we may be learning one of them for our own concerts. Of course, we reciprocated by singing our ‘fav’ of the year ‘Fix You’, which at the end of such a wonderful afternoon, sounded really good. Perhaps the highlight of the session was the opportunity to stand, mingled with old and new friends, to sing ‘You’ll never walk alone’. It was stirring; it was emotional and it was a fitting end to 3 amazing days of song.
I sincerely hope we meet up again with the IKEA choir members and I’m sure it will not be too long before we see Bjorn again. Success on so many levels – singing with our own choir; singing with other choirs; singing with our Norwegian visitors, but most of all, singing with Bjorn. Many, many thanks to Simon for getting us to the place where this can happen and many thanks to all those in Nottingham and Trondheim who gave their time and effort to organise such a successful event.

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Twas the fortnight before Christmas

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Christmas is always a busy time for singers, so I guess we gear up for it. But what is joyous about our pre-Christmas events is the variety of audiences and venues and programmes. Take this past fortnight, for example; we sang at a hospital (Lings Bar), a church (WBMC Singing Christmas Tree) and 4 pubs (The Willow Tree, The Plough, The Haven and The Test Match) and a Masonic Lodge. All different; all challenging in different ways; but all equally joyful.

Christmas singing also brings out an array of hats, jumpers and decorations. Last year, I seem to remember that it was predominantly reindeers, but this year, we had festive glasses, festive ear rings and lots of sparkling lights. I think the Bling Singers are going to have to up their game at Christmas – the rest of us were gaining ‘blinging’ ground!

Light necklace

 

Singing in pubs at Christmas is great. Whereas you might get asked to leave in mid-summer if you brought your mates and started a sing-a-long; at Christmas you are generally welcome. There is a scale of appreciation and I would reckon that the Plough is at the top – with a landlady who totally buys into the whole concept and draws her regulars into the singing with enthusiasm and a modicum of persuasion! Other pubs are mixed in their response and you can’t criticise some punters for picking up their drinks and walking into a different room – their choice. When we sang at the Strat, we completely surrounded two ladies enjoying a quiet catch up over a meal. They were rather overwhelmed initially, but were perfectly happy to stay and listen. Ten feet away was a table of ladies, who joined in the chorus of ‘Hark the Herald’ so enthusiastically that it almost drowned us out. I think one of the ladies had taken drink!

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The Willow Tree was great this year, with a lovely chorus of children – one of whom took the microphone forcibly away from Simon to sing ‘Away in a Manger’. Such a lovely moment! And the Test Match was a brilliant end to our singing year. We were relaxed, we were well fed and some of us were knackered, but our 61 voices filled the pub and I’m sure we all went away feeling Christmassy and warm inside.

 

Talking of warm – we had a very warm welcome at Lings Bar. The patients and the staff joined in with the carols and seemed to enjoy the whole experience. I was chatting to some of the patients and visitors during the break, and they all had their favourite carols and for those who would not make it home for Christmas, it perhaps filled a gap in what would be their normal Christmas schedule.

Lings Bar

 

The Masons seem to like us! But I suspect they like The Bling Singers more! How many invitations did they get against our one? But it’s not a competition (hiss!). No, truly, it is brilliant that we can be invited to these Christmas dinners and we do recognise the generosity of their giving. I’ve always aspired to be an after-dinner speaker, (I can do better than many of the ‘celebrities’ I have endured at conferences!) but this is as close as I will get – and we do get a free drink and a mince pie afterwards.

Which leaves the Singing Christmas Tree at West Bridgford Methodist Church. An amazing structure and such a good idea, with a varied programme of musical events through the week. We – and Everyone Can Sing – were the stars of the show. I know this from talking to the WBMC members and organisers, who breathed a sigh of relief when Simon arrived. It was great to be the finale of the programme and several people commented on the quality of the harmony and the nice mixture of ‘sing to you and sing with you’.

Social singers

So, within the span of a fortnight, we had song, we had great solos from Robin, Gill and Colin, we had great playing from Joan, Martin and Catherine, we had alcohol, we had food, we had lots of laughs, we had companionship and we truly did give back to the community which hosts us. Well done, everyone, and have a really great Christmas!

Wreath

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

 

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!

20180409_132403Bingham Belles

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!

 

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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.

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Accompanying the music

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‘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.

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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