Wednesday 18 December 2013

Singing for Sainsbury’s 17 December 2013

The coldest day this week. Yet neither as cold as we’ve known it nor as cold as they’d promised. Yet drafty enough as the outside doors swished open and shut as the shoppers came and went. Voices warmed up quickly enough, though, and we looked a little like traditional carol-singers, all muffled up in outdoor coats, scarves and hats. With a preponderance of purple, of course.

Thursday 12 December 2013

At The Lowry

There was a bit of a purple theme when we sang at The Lowry on Tuesday 10 December. Some of us wore purple tinsel, others wore purple hats and the collection bucket provided by The Lowry was also quite conveniently purple. The Appeal this year is about helping to build a bright future for young parents and their children in Salford. Read more here.

Monday 9 December 2013

Light up a Life, St Ann’s Hospice, Little Hulton

This moving little service began just before sunset. And so did the rain. This is the second year we’ve provided some of the music for this event and last year we were freezing. This year we had to watch the guests almost get soaked, whilst we enjoyed the protection of an open-sided marquee.

Saturday 30 November 2013

Raising the bar: a month of rehearsals November 2013

Yes, it’s that time of year again and we’ve had to polish up the Christmas songs. We’ve concentrated this year on just three: Carol of the Bells, (really bell-like when performed well), A Holly Jolly Christmas, (indeed very jolly with some effective harmonies) and Merrily Sing We Noel (fast-paced and also a little bell-like).

Wednesday 13 November 2013

The North Wales Choral Festival 10 November 2013

Didn’t we have a lovely time the day we went to… Llandudno? Well, it’s not that far from Bangor. So, we all piled into various cars on a bright autumn Sunday morning and made our way to the seaside. Yes, indeed. It was fine enough for us not to feel cold when we took our coats off for a photo on the sea-front.
The day we went to Llandudno

Monday 11 November 2013

Brahma Kumaris’ Imagine Event at Days Hotel Manchester

9 November 2013
We’ve had a busy weekend. Saturday evening found us singing for the Brahma Kumaris Imagine event at the Days Hotel and Conference Centre, Manchester. Special guest speaker was Jayanti Kirpalani whose work involves initiating dialogues on how we can make better living a reality.
The evening involved two talks by Sister Jayanti, including a short meditation, and three sessions by the choir. Some of us were more convinced than the others by the message that Brahma Kumaris offers.  Equally some joined in the meditation and others didn’t.  I personally didn’t: I was much too aware that straight afterwards we had to move smartly and purposefully – but not in a panic – from our seats on to the stage and be ready to sing. I did shut my eyes and listen to the words, though. And I slept better that night than I have for a long time.

Saturday 2 November 2013

National Football Museum

Our tour of striking Manchester buildings continued today. The National Football Museum, Cathedral Gardens, is so big you can’t see it. Or maybe you can’t see it because it blends in so well. It matches the sky and the weather and changes with them, chameleon-fashion. It’s just a few metres away from Victoria Station and the main shopping centre. A refuge for shopping-hating partners?  It’s a fascinating place anyway, stuffed full of football facts and images. And it’s acoustically pleasing.

Monday 14 October 2013

DEBRA’s Manchester Gala Dinner, The Palace Hotel

The entrance hall reminds you of the reception area of a great old-fashioned bank. Hardly surprising. It used to be the office of the Refuge Assurance Company. It’s fascinates the visitor to Manchester anyway and is a distinctive presence on Oxford Road with its striking 66 metre tower. It is a Grad II listed red-brick building. It’s even more intriguing inside and a little scary: once you’ve left the reception area would you ever find your way out again?
When we first arrived for our sound check and to try out the stage, there were still ladders up to the ceiling, speakers and mics being wired up and technicians working hard. But when we came back just over an hour later, ready to perform, the room was transformed. Images of light butterflies were projected on to the walls, generous candles burned in impressive candlesticks and the guests had started arriving in their elegant evening dress.   
DEBRA is a national charity that supports individuals and Families affected by EB – a genetic condition that causes painful skin blistering. It’s heart-breaking to see little children wrapped in bandages, with angry blisters visible on their faces. It’s even more harrowing to read of their stringent daily routines. Suddenly all of those hours of rehearsal, of learning songs in our own time and the hard work on the night seemed like the least we could do. We hope we helped somehow. We feel proud that we were part of the “live entertainment” mentioned in the posters.
“They’re going to sing you a few love songs,” said the mc. And that we did – in the widest sense of the word “love”. Included in the evening’s performance were Love is the Sweetest Thing, Let’s Do It, The Way We Were, Soul Wind, Wasma, Deep River, Joshua, Kiss the Girl, Wonderful World  and of course the two where we accompanied Megan, Longer and Imagine.    
After our performance ended, we were able to relax with a drink, listen to the after-dinner speeches and watch the bids steadily going up in the silent auction. We hope DEBRA did well at this Gala Dinner that celebrated 35 years of caring.          

Monday 30 September 2013

Getting the sound right out in front: a month of rehearsals September 2013

We’re getting back into the swing of things after the summer break. We’ve already performed at two gigs this month, we’ve a few more coming up and we’re getting ready for the North Wales Competition early November. That means some hard work at rehearsals. But we don’t mind that.  It’s good to know we are continuously building on what we know, improving old skills and learning new ones.
Jeff continues to emphasize getting good vowel sounds. We’ve practised not moving our chins, not changing the shape of our mouths and doing all of the work with our tongue and palette. We’ve been shown how to project the sound forward instead of it staying in our nose and throat. That, of course is also helped if we breathe correctly. However, we must not, no we must not indeed, breathe in the wrong places or take great gasping breaths at the beginning of a phrase. Good, controlled breathing is highly desirable.
We’re working quite quickly on a new song, Ave Verum. This can be quite dramatic and also quite solemn. It’s actually harder to get that drama into it before we’ve learned it.  We have to learn it quickly because we are going to perform it at the North Wales competition. We need to present one song in another language and this of course is in Latin.
“It’s easy to learn,” says Jeff. “Apart from the tenor part.”
Ah. In fact in many places there are parts for tenor 1s – sung by the ladies - and tenor 2s – presented by the men.
We continue as well perfecting Here, There and Everywhere, polishing Let’s Do It and keeping the rest of our repertoire in good condition. And we remember not to look at the floor, but to tell the story and to keep our eyes bright. Hard work, this singing. But we enjoy it and we’re convinced it’s good for us.                             

Singing for Salix Homes

We were privileged to be asked to sing at the Salix Homes Award Ceremony held at the Imperial War Museum on 27 September 2013. The Awards are for people who make a real difference to the area in which they live, always put others first or who have shown exceptional bravery.
We were the act that greeted everyone as they arrived.
The Imperial War Museum is not the easiest place to sing in. The sound disappears and it’s difficult to hear anyone but yourself and the person right next to you. We were very much the background music, too, and couldn’t do anything like what the speakers that fill that large space normally achieve.
And yet. Everyone who passed by was appreciative. Our good friend Alan Clague, the Ceremonial Mayor of Salford, tarried a good while to listen and was photographed with us. We performed one that he likes as much as we do: Deep River.
Yes, it was certainly a challenge, but this is where effort at rehearsals and the good warm-up sessions pay off.  We know what to do and we get on with it. We worked hard to support each other and it paid off.
Other songs performed included: The Way We Were, Let’s Do it, Kiss the Girl, Love is th4e Sweetest Thing and The Long and Winding Road.   
From what we could tell, the evening for Salix Homes got off to a good start.  

Sunday 15 September 2013

In the bath again

Yes, we were invited again to sing at the Victoria Baths, Manchester. This lovely building is being brought back to life and this time there was actually water in one of the pools. It felt a little chilly there: we have been spoilt by the recent fine summer. And as only one of the pools was filled we were again able to sing in the bath. There were a lot of people there, perhaps enticed to something indoors as the weather outside was so cold. And we soon warmed up because singing always helps there as well.  
We had ample time to rehearse today in the room in the basement, which the people at the Victoria Baths made available for us. We had a good long warm-up session and even though we were here to perform we still learnt something new. We must sing from the front of our faces, not in our throats.
We visited some old favourites: Deep River, I Think it’s Going to Rain Today, Imagine, Soul Wind, Wonderful World, Memories, Kiss the Girl, Blue Sky, and newer but now firmed up The Long and Winding Road and Longer. One we’ve known for a while, but still find tricky - Let’s Do It – was fun to do today. Once it becomes fun you know you’re winning.
Did I imagine it or was our actual performance better this time? Did we tell the story? Did we look the part? I was aware of us pulling together even more than normal.
The audience was great and no doubt that helped. They clapped really loudly. It’s nice to be appreciated when you’re actually enjoying yourself.  
We did of course again sample the excellent cake in the friendly tea room. Once more the pretty windows let in a charming light even though it was such a dull day.
Thank you Victoria Baths, for having us       

Thursday 1 August 2013

Singing is Good For You – and Buildings

A month of rehearsals, July 2013

During this for us very busy month the BBC, in their article Choir singers 'synchronise their heartbeats', confirmed what we already knew – singing is good for you. I certainly feel as bad if I don’t get a couple of fixes a week as if I haven’t cleaned my teeth or completed my daily stretch of writing.
I was coerced into to joining the choir by a friend who has since left. But then within a couple of weeks I remembered how much I enjoyed singing. I remember also, when I used to be a high school teacher, being asked with a bunch of colleagues to attend rehearsals for Joseph to help the youngsters gain their confidence and their volume. This was on a Wednesday when I accrued tons of marking and taught difficult classes all day. Every week I would regret my promise, but I’d go along all the same and every time when I got back to my classroom I’d wonder why I’d been so bothered. Singing had definitely lifted my spirits and helped me to get my work back into perspective.
I suppose I’m old enough to have sung hymns every day at school and had a couple of singing lessons a week as well – at least until the end of the third year at Grammar School. Singing is such a human thing to do. I have to give it to the French: every time I’ve been out and about on a trip with a group of French schoolchildren, the singing on the coach has been wonderful.
And now the BBC endorses all of that with some quite scientific reasoning. It’s all about synchrony – of breathing and heartbeat as well as the harmony in the music itself. I personally enjoy working closely with a group of people as my day job involves being a stand-alone expert in my field, often working in an isolated office.
Talking of which, it was extraordinarily delightful to have the choir rehearse one week in the rather neglected building where that very office is situated. Two of us worked there at the time. More and more colleagues are being moved out of the building for various reasons. Corridors echo and sometimes you feel as if you are absolutely alone. The building felt less depressing afterwards. Could it be that music had somehow got into the bricks and mortar?  All that air moving around … echoes … changed atmosphere. Maybe. More likely, probably, I now associate that building with the choir as well as the mobile colleagues. Alas, the one who arranged it all has now left the building and I shall be doing so shortly.
Yes, it’s been a busy month. The first two weeks we were getting ready for three important gigs. Then we’ve turned out attention to learning new songs and polishing up ones we know reasonably well. We have a couple of weeks’ break in August and folk are away on holiday at various times over the next few weeks. We start a whole new season in the autumn. Jeff is pushing us quite hard now but I think we enjoy being pushed.