Tag Archives: Choir

A Really Big Choir

Spotlight

On Saturday I, together with ten other people from St James sang in what was quite possibly the biggest choir I’d ever been a part of. I’m not quite sure of the exact numbers, but the choir took up all of the space on the stage at the Albert Hall, and a good deal of both the stalls and circle, and was large enough that the orchestra and conductor had to be on the arena floor.

The event was organised by The Really Big Chorus who describe themselves as Britain’s largest choral society – their mailing list includes over 8500 contacts representing an estimated 35,000 singers. They do three major concerts a year in the Royal Albert Hall where essentially anyone can turn up and sing. By virtue of the old adage of safety in numbers there will be enough people around who will know the particular pieces of music, and will be able to carry you along if you are a weaker singer, as such it’s a great way to get an experience of singing in a major venue. This time it was Mozart’s Requiem, something I’ve done before, but not in quite such an illustrious venue.

This time we were going along in part to support the father of a friend of ours who at the end of last year bemoaned the fact that when he was younger and had sung in a choir he’d never done a big concert. As a result our friend and her sister arranged a special surprise for his sixty-fifth birthday and arranged for him to come along and sing with us. I dropped around a copy of the Chorusline Bass CD (a special series of CD’s that are useful for learning particular parts), which he sang along with at home, and then on the night he sat between a couple of our choir members who are also in other local choirs who were able to keep him on track. Things were made slightly more difficult by the fact that we were sat in the back row of the bass section, well away from the tenor and alto sections, and with some of the soprano section behind us – on the bass line we are usually used to getting cues from the alto or tenor part, taking them from the soprano isn’t something we’re used to, however after the one hour full choir rehearsal it was straight into the performance.

Not surprisingly there were one or two ropey bits, but in the main we made it through, and certainly it is a fantastic experience singing in the Royal Albert Hall with so many others. The atmosphere is certainly not quite like a professional concert, as the bulk of the audience are supporters, but it is still great fun, and I’m sure something I hope I can do again before too long.

I’ve uploaded some pictures from the event to our photo galleries, and Beth took a short video panning across the whole choir, which should give some idea of quite how big the choir actually is.

Lenten Challenge

Our choir master has laid us a bit of a Lenten Challenge – and it doesn’t involve giving anything up…

Last week he told us that he has put down Crucifixus by Antonio Lotti as our main anthem for the service on Good Friday, and handed out the music. The anthem is in eight parts, and to be honest when we sight read it last week about the only thing that was right was the first and last notes – everything else was a bit of a mess.

This week we listened to a recording of the anthem on “Images of Christâ€?, and managed to get the first page or so vaguely right. From next week we’re having sectional rehearsals to sort out the rest…

So fingers crossed we can pull it all together over the next few weeks, and if you want to hear how it should sound, check out the recording on iTunes

Boys Don’t Sing – Or Do They?

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Last night was the first part of the second series of The Choir – subtitled “Boys Don’t Singâ€?. The format was slightly different from the first series last year in that rather than coming in purely to lead the choir, this time Gareth Malone was actually joining the staff of the school. The school itself was somewhat different, being one of the largest single sex comprehensive schools in the country, The Lancaster School in Leicester.

The exact details of how he came to be invited to The Lancaster School are not explained – although he is met on arrival by the head of Music at the school, and the commentary does say that she has been trying and failing to get a choir off the ground before. What is interesting is to note that it wasn’t always like that in the school. A long standing member of staff shows Gareth some old pictures of various school choirs – and highlights that assemblies at the school used to include singing, but that was stopped sometime in the mid-eighties when the school grew and the music staff (who played the piano for the singing) became form tutors. That comment did actually get me thinking, and realising that when I was at school, and we sang a hymn in the lower school assembly we had a music teacher play – so perhaps Rickmansworth also didn’t allocate a form to the music teachers.

There were definitely some amusing moments, in particular the point where the music teacher shows Gareth some of the stuff that happens musically in the school – just watch his expression during some of those sequences. He also challenges the head of year nine and ten, very definitely an alpha male within the school community, prior to telling the whole staff that in order to achieve the goal of forming a choir, it needs backing from the teachers. Thinking again about my school, we always had a number of staff, including the headmaster in the choir, and indeed a number of them would participate in the school productions too.

Although he looked mightily nervous at times, Gareth did seem to fairly swiftly work out a plan of action, starting with the GCSE music class, and moving on from there. As before he seems very determined, and driven by the belief that being able to sing is an opportunity that all young people should have. Certainly a belief I share. As with the programme last year there were people who liked singing but were keeping it quiet, but who seemed to find the increased acceptability of singing in the school as an opportunity to come out of their shells somewhat. Equally there were other students who despite being talented, proved to be troublesome, and a source of headaches for Gareth.

Perhaps the biggest counterpoint to the testosterone fuelled attitude that seemed to be being portrayed, that singing was for girls, and that boys did sports, was towards the end of the programme, where Gareth took the step of launching the choir. The trailer only showed the very beginning of that sequence – Gareth sitting in an empty hall. What it didn’t show was that 170 students, about a tenth of the whole school population, turned up to sign up for the choir. Boys don’t sing? Maybe that’s the impression – but about ten percent of the population of that school do, or at least want to learn.

If you missed the programme, it can be found for the next few days on the BBC iPlayer.

Can a Choir Make a Difference?

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Back at the tail end of 2006, the BBC showed a programme called The Choir, where Gareth Malone, who runs two choirs for the London Symphony Orchestra, went into Northolt High School and started a choir that he took to the World Choir Games in China. The programme was obviously a success, as starting next Friday he’s taking on a somewhat bigger challenge, in that he’s trying to get a choir together in The Lancaster School in Leicester – an all boys school for The Schools Prom at the Albert Hall. The subtitle for the second series, which is “Boys Don’t Singâ€? sort of gives you an impression of the struggle he’s got.

However, before the new series starts next week, we had a one off retrospective programme last night, that looked back over Gareth’s time with Northolt High School, and also asked the same question that I asked in my post about the programme when it was first shown – what happened next?

The programme inter-cut highlights (and lowlights) from the first series with interviews with some of the participants filmed almost exactly a year later. Interestingly, the person they focused on probably the most was Chloe Sullivan, who got a lot of attention first time around. To be frank Gareth had to make a real effort with her. She regularly missed rehearsals, and was frequently in trouble at school. What is fantastic though is that the effort he put in to get her into the choir, and to get her to China does seem to have made a real difference, to the point where a girl who admitted to being incredibly shy, and struggled to even sing solo at the beginning is now in a job working in a job for Hillingdon that involves giving presentations, something she is shown doing. She also says during her interview that being in the choir has made a big difference to her.

That is an answer that is repeated again and again through all the interviews. For some it’s as simple as the fact that they now have a broader appreciation of music. Many have continued to sing, joining Church choirs and other local choirs. Disappointingly there is no comment about whether Northolt High School have kept the choir going – certainly the impression given from the fact that many of the choir members are still in the school, but are singing elsewhere implies that they didn’t, which is a great pity.

The programme also provided a good few amusing moments, especially when they asked the choir members what they first thought when they saw him – much the same as the rest of us I think:

“You’re not from around here…â€?

and

“He looked about ten!�

both being thoughts that I had. Certainly the impression that he really didn’t know what he was letting himself in for going from volunteer choirs with the London Symphony Orchestra to trying to organise a choir in a large, ethnically diverse comprehensive school in London was very clear to me.

Interestingly, many of the choir members were cringing looking back on their audition pieces. On of the sixth-formers who was featured hoped that a change in hair colour before the programme was broadcast would make a difference – it didn’t. Another of the girls, who has joined another choir and said that her experience has had a major impact in what she wants to do with her life, but did a memorable rendition (with dancing) of Tainted Love says that it is the thing that most people tend to remember about her on the programme.

Ultimately what the programme really serves to highlight is what a difference being in a choir can make to young people and their confidence – and definitely what an opportunity is missed if that possibility is not available. Whilst it’s true that there are other ways, and music doesn’t work for everybody, there are perhaps a number of young people shown on the programme whose lives have been either fundamentally changed, or they have opened their eyes to new possibilities as a result of their experiences in the choir. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to seeing how Gareth copes when presented with the boys of The Lancaster School, a look at the school website gives some clues, but from the preview we got at the end of the programme this week, it certainly looks like it will be hard work…

The programme is available on iPlayer for the next few days if you missed it.

Famous Last Words

This afternoon was the last wedding of the season for the choir. One of the parents, dropping off their children to sing in the choir asked the priest what time it was likely to finish.

“Should be over by about twenty-to-three.� says the reverend.

“What about if the bride is late?� comes the question from another choir member.

“No, this couple is really well organised – I didn’t even need to have the final meeting with them as they had everything in hand,â€? came the reply.

Famous last words – the ushers didn’t have enough orders of service and ended up getting people to share. The order of service wasn’t even the order they did the service in either. As for not being late, the bride was twenty-five minutes late arriving because the driver had taken them to the wrong church…

Typical – Big Concert and Richard Gets a Cough

So with our big Autumn Concert coming up tomorrow, what was a slightly sore throat on Wednesday night has progressed through occasional coughing, to a delightful tickly cough today – problem is that it’s just the kind of cough that can reduce me to a coughing fit if I push my singing voice in the wrong way. Fingers crossed it improves before tomorrow night!

Anyway, whether it gets worse or better, tomorrow night is the St James Church Choir Autumn Concert in the Church. There are fifteen items on the programme – so it shouldn’t be too long before the audience can get across to the finger buffet in the Parish Centre. There is a good mix of choir and solo items, including a big finish with Morte Christe followed by O Thou the Central Orb – which is why I don’t particularly want to have a tickly cough on the night!

All proceeds to the Conservation Appeal too. Kick off is 7:30pm, and as far as I am aware tickets will be on the door too.