Pandemic Things (to the tune of Favourite Things)

Coronavirus

Face masks and hand wipes and endlessly queueing,

Scanning the shelves – what on earth am I doing?

Buying essentials like bottles of gin!

These are a few of those pandemic things

 

Waving to neighbours and facetiming children

Holding for hours on Sainsbury deliveries

Cleaning the cutlery, lampshades and loo,

Sorting out cupboards – well, what else to do?

 

When the day drags, when the Gov nags,

When you’re feeling sad,

Just tune into Zoom and connect with the gang

And then you won’t feel so bad

 

Singing with Simon on Facebook is so cool,

You can go crazy and dance like a mad fool,

No-one can see you so no-one will know,

Pick up the dog and just go with the flow!

 

When you’re lonely, when you’re hungry

Cake and biscuits gone,

Just tune into Zoom and remember that soon

We’ll all sing again as one

As ‘Close to You’ as I am allowed

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So, are we all ready for Zoom? I joined the experimental rehearsal on Thursday. I was so enthusiastic that I logged in twice, which confused Simon no end! The reason for this was that I logged in first on my pc, then realised that I have no microphone on my pc, so then logged in on my phone, which worked fine, but forgot to log out on my pc!! So first piece of advice – check your equipment and make sure you have a microphone – otherwise all we will see if a lovely picture of you making fish-like faces and grinning.

singing loud

 

 

 

Thursday was a brilliant experience – not necessarily musically – but socially it was great and it certainly lifted my mood. I am working from home at the moment, as the museum has closed, so most of my day is made up of working at a computer interspersed by visits to a range of supermarkets to source stuff for myself and neighbours (usually dreadfully depressing. Who knew we were a nation of broccoli- hoarders?) Consequently, seeing 8 or 9 smiling, laughing faces on screen and attempting to sing ‘Close to You’ (irony, Simon?) was like an injection of happiness. We did laugh, we did groan, we did struggle slightly with the technology, we did cajole one another – just like a Tuesday rehearsal really! And I went to bed still singing.

 

So what can I pass on to you in advance of Tuesday’s Zoom rehearsal?

  1. Get dressed. They can see you! So if you’re comfortable in your jammies and fluffy slippers, no one will mind. But choose your jammies carefully! Do you want to be known for ever more as Sexy Fluff Bunny (damn – must put those jammies away!)?
  1. Choose your room carefully. We spent a lot of time on Tuesday admiring each other’s furniture and wallpaper. Everyone’s was more beautiful and tidy than mine and I want to live in your house! I did my singing in my study, which is quite ‘dour’, so this time, I am going to go downstairs, where I have just had new patio windows installed and where you can admire my garden
  2. Eat something before the start. Our rehearsal started at 7pm, which is when I usually have my dinner, so I had to surreptitiously roll my chair away from the computer when my stomach growled
  3. Don’t be alarmed at the technology. It’s easy to set up an account and join the discussion. Sometimes it’s tricky to find the video icon (or in my case, sound) but everyone will help – and if anyone calls you ‘dozy’ or ‘plonker’, remember it is said with love! No, seriously, most of us were doing this for the first time and were very supportive of each other
  4. Look at the music and listen to the clips beforehand. It was a very different experience from singing with fellow altos, and what I realise I appreciate at live rehearsals is the common voice of all those around you. So preparing before the event, gives you more confidence in your own voice
  5. Finally, if you live with a non-singer, send them out of the room or thrsniggereaten them with compulsory membership of the choir. You need to be free to enjoy yourself and also to concentrate on the music, not on someone grumbling or sniggering in a corner of the room

I was looking online, before writing this, to see what else is happening during self-isolation and it is amazing how many choirs are now meeting virtually very successfully. Also, there is a real recognition of the power of singing to lift spirits and dispel loneliness. Did you see the online video of the primary school children singing from their playground to the residents of a nearby care home? Truly inspirational.

Personally, I am struggling not seeing my grandchildren – potentially for several months – and my twin granddaughters were 1 year old on Friday. No birthday party this year. So, missing our Tuesday rehearsals will be a big loss for many of us and I relish the chance to get together in a different way and I am so looking forward to getting to the point of feeling part of an online singing community and producing good sounds.

So, are you up for ‘Happy Together’ on Tuesday? I am nearly ready – just got to get my hair done, cut the grass and clear the cat hair off the sofa!

See you then!

happy together.jfif

 

Can You Feel the Love in Gotham?

St Lawrence

 

What a great time we had at St Lawrence’s Church in Gotham on Friday evening. Valentine’s Day. An occasion for celebrating love with a programme of romantic and joyful songs. We loved it and I think the audience did too!

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Now, I’m a classicist, so you can’t expect me to write about Valentine’s Day without a reference to Roman history – or possibly Roman myth. A lot of historians and writers trace Valentine’s Day back to the Feast of Lupercalia, which celebrated the love given to Romulus and Remus by the she-wolf, which reared them – hence ‘lupa’. During the festivities, a goat would be sacrificed (no fun being a goat in Roman times!) and its hide would be torn into strips and dipped in blood. Then the fun bit. The priest would chase women around the town slapping them with the hide to ensure fertility (oh yeah!). They sometimes slapped the fields and crops as well, which says something about the value of women in Roman society!

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Some writers suggest that this was followed by an early version of lottery (or online dating), in which the names of marriageable women were put into a jar and the eligible bachelors drew out the name of their future bride.

 

Now, you may have noticed that there is not a single mention of the name Valentine, in the above story. That is because the celebration of fertility, which was Lupercalia, was adopted and connected with a Christian saint, Valentine, probably in the Middle Ages, and was set in the calendar as February 14th. And you can take your pick of Saint Valentines, because there were at least 3 of them recorded.

 

Any road up – as we say in Yorkshire – it’s all about love. And what a lot of it there was in Gotham on Friday. Such a lovely church and such a lovely, responsive audience. I think they would probably have sung the whole lot of songs with us, if they had had the chance!

 

Our esteemed Choir Director, Simon, and equally esteemed Choir Chairperson, Fiona, had encouraged us to wear Valentine ‘paraphernalia’. Now, paraphernalia usually refers to superfluous trappings – but there was nothing superfluous about us on Friday night; hearts abounded on brooches, earrings, necklaces and head-boppers. I think I was wearing a combination of all of those things – to the extent that the tenors behind me on stage, couldn’t actually see Simon! Tall women plus head-boppers – what chance did the men have of seeing anything? Or of Simon seeing them. It adds to the ethereal mystery, I feel, of gentle, mellifluous tenor voices drifting from invisible beings at the back of the stage.

 

We started with one of my all-time favourite songs ‘An Irish Blessing’ – beautiful words and a combination of quiet verse and rollicking chorus. You can’t help rollicking when you are an alto who suddenly gets a ‘My God’ moment, when the sopranos are relatively quiet! This was followed by The Rose, featuring Simon’s miming of river, razor slicing, strong, snow, love and other extraneous words in his determination to get our faces out of the music. It works, Simon – it really does!

Then came ‘Only You’. I think it was significant that Simon chose this as one of our warm-ups. I suspect he was concerned about the ‘bada’s and the ‘ba da da’s coming in at the right time, but also that the relief of singing the ‘ba da’s at the right time, did not result in an outpouring of emotion which drowned the rest of the words. Speaking as an alto, I have similar issues with other noises, notably ‘ooh’, ‘doo’ and ‘aah’, which cunningly crop up when least expected and lure me into dangerous places, such as singing a chorus when I should be ‘oohing’ and ‘oohing’ when I should be singing the words. I always used to think it was great when I don’t have to remember the verses, but there are dangers a-plenty lurking amidst the ‘oohs’!1416354

 

So the evening progressed nicely with lots of familiar love songs and a bit of Norwegian (in translation). We performed ‘Shallow’ with a growing confidence and I think that will become a favourite for us – although I still haven’t seen the film and have no idea what Lady Gaga was singing about!

 

Of course, one of the highlights for us and for the audience, was the small group of ladies singing ‘Grow Old Along With Me’ by John Lennon and based on Robert Browning’s poem. It is a beautiful rendering of the song and beautifully performed by our group and it offered a great variation in the programme. This poem and the song always make me cry, so I had to be very disciplined and concentrate on the sounds rather than the words. Thank you, ladies.

 

I mentioned at the start that this was a joyful evening. You could feel the engagement in the room – in the listening, the attentive faces, the smiles and the joining in. For us, as a choir, I guess it was an ideal combination of performance and collaboration in a very relaxed atmosphere; and when you get an audience which is so appreciative, you obviously give your best to them. And we even had a very appreciative butterfly (or possibly moth?), which landed on Carol’s scarf, presumably to get closer to the music!

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So thank you to St Lawrence’s Church for welcoming us for a very special Valentine’s Day evening.

West Bridgford Welcomes the Legend that is Bjorn Sigurd

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What do you get when you put a bunch of enthusiastic singers in a room with a mega-mega enthusiastic Norwegian choir meister? In fact, let’s be even more precise; what do you get when you put a bunch of enthusiastic singers in a room with TWO mega-mega enthusiastic choir meisters – one from Norway and one from Yorkshire? Boom! A whole load of joy! But it’s not just about having fun and enjoying the music, it’s also about feeling challenged and growing in confidence and learning from one another.

 

This week, we all had one opportunity to work with Bjorn in our ‘sections’ and then one opportunity to put it all together. It’s always a delight to work with Bjorn and he always brings us some great songs. This year we had a couple of ‘published’ songs – ‘Proud’, originally sung by Heather Small (I remember that video!) and Supertramp’s ‘Give a little bit’. Now this gave me a bit of a wardrobe conundrum! As you know, I am occasionally to be seen wearing costume and wigs (no really!), so what do you wear in this situation? Flares or a that famous topknot hair? In the end, I opted for nothing. Well, not nothing (obviously!) but I was too indecisive to choose.  As well as these two iconic numbers , we also worked on ‘Shallow’, the Lady Gaga song from ‘A star is Born’ which was arranged for us by Bjorn himself and also a Norwegian folk song ‘Manemanned’, more of which later!

Now, those of you who have worked with Bjorn before, will know that he likes a really thorough warm-up. I think if you filmed Bjorn’s warm up moves, it would be a social media sensation – beating the latest cat video into second place. Never has one man put his face and his body in so many different poses – from lip pouts to body ripples

kissy lips

, all in the cause of better singing. Bjorn is very modest about his fluency in the use of English, but I have to say his imagery in spot on! We had ‘kissy lips’; we had the body ‘earthquake’ from rapid breaths; we were told to sing ‘with the lights on’ and we were told to offer our notes ‘on a silver plate’. It all made perfect sense to me!

The other thing you will know, if you have worked with Bjorn before, is that he never starts at the beginning of a song (and neither does Simon!). There are two different approaches. Either he starts with a tricky bit, so that, by the time you’ve cracked that, the rest of the song is a doddle; or he starts with a refrain, which can be sung lustily, so that when you get to that bit of the song, you can just let yourself go and feel really smug! Psychology, eh! Of course, when it’s a Norwegian song, he starts with the bit that goes ‘Dam da ba dam da ba’ so we all think ‘This Norwegian stuff is pretty easy really , ho ho!’ Hmm – just you wait!

Shocked face

Over the years, we have had a variety of Norwegian songs, some translated and some in the original, but all beautiful. Some though, have been a bit weird. We had one a couple of years ago about taking a string of pigs to market and tingle-tangling at night and another before that about spinning blue yarn and a child wandering around with sheep in the night. It’s obviously really exciting living in Norway. And this year’s is equally suspect. If I understand Bjorn and Google Translate, this is a song about the Man in the Moon and the magic time between dark and light. The refrain of ‘Now it’s late. Now it’s early. Look the moon man bows deeply and stylishly’ is very poetic. However, hidden within the song are references to witches, trolls and vampires – some without clothes – and doomed men about to be shot at dawn. Goodness me, Bjorn – some of us are from West Bridgford, you know! No doubt, Simon will drill us in the Norwegian words over the coming weeks, but the refrain is very jolly and worth the pain! I have to say that I would now be disappointed if we didn’t get our dose of Norwegian every year.

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Apologies to Norway!

It was a hard-working afternoon, but we were allowed a 20 minute break in which to consume ‘left over’ Christmas food. There is no such thing in my household, so I was amazed at the amount of stuff on the table. Of course, two thirds of it was sweet things – who knew you could consume so much chocolate  over Christmas and still have some left over! It was a wonderful spread and hopefully what we couldn’t finish will go to a good home.

At the end of a brilliant afternoon, we had the chance to perform for each other and for Bjorn. Social Singers performed two Norwegian songs, brought to us by Bjorn in previous visits and, do you know, I think he understood some of it! Then ECS took to the stage to do ‘White Winter Hymnal’ – one of my favourites – and also ‘Count the Stars’ by Andy Beck. I didn’t know this song at all, so it blew me away. I had tears in my eyes – beautiful lyrics and sung beautifully too. And the bonus? It had some Latin in it. Well done, ECS! Norwegian should be no problem after that! To finish our treat for Bjorn, Social Singers performed ‘Praise You’ and ‘Angels’ – two of this year’s favourites.

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We then all came together at the end of the session to sing ‘Shallow’ and to celebrate our progress over an amazing 3 days. Thank you Bjorn and thank you Simon for making it happen. Roll on 2021!

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My favourite things (with apology to Julie Andrews)

Green for the berries and blue for the wall

No, that’s not right – I’ve forgotten it all!

Difficult words; is it my turn to sing?

These are a few of my favourite things

Blueberries on white background

 

Swedish or Latin or songs Middle English

Can I just wing it and still look distinguished?

Smile like an ‘eejit’ so no-one can tell

These are a few of the things I do well

toothy grin

Blast out the good stuff and drown the sopranos

What? Keep it down, Simon? Are you bananas?

Now I’ll be quiet, it’s time for Baloo

Beautiful singing and I can just ‘ooh’

singing together

When the words go

When the note’s wrong

When my hopes are floored

I simply remember the pleasure it brings

When we all sing Robin’s chord

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!

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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.

freddie

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

 

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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