Sing!’s weekend away 2016

By Rachel Rose

Sing! curry

Over the weekend of 6th-8th May, about thirty members of Sing! Community Choir headed to the Chellington Centre in Bedfordshire for the inaugural ‘away weekend’. The weather could not have been more glorious – the hottest weekend of the year so far – and the great outdoors provided a number of brilliant opportunities for summery communal activities such as playing rounders, getting out for countryside walks and eating alfresco.

Arriving on Friday evening after work, we gathered for chilled chatting, relaxed games and cups of tea. Our abode for the weekend was a beautiful converted church in rural Bedfordshire. A large communal space in the nave (main body) of the church was our location for meals and various ‘workshops’ which were organised by a number of talented members of the choir. Our bedrooms were in ‘pods’ along the side aisles – these had doors for privacy, but no ceilings, meaning the snorers in the choir were quickly outed!

Saturday was packed with energetic, community-building options which offered Sing! members the chance to try something new, led by others within the choir who were generously willing to share their talents. Knitting, rolling sushi and learning how to conduct were all on offer. All were fantastic opportunities to try something different and hone/ uncover crafty, culinary and conducting-y(!) skills. Percussion, Scottish country dancing and improvised drama all gave us an opportunity practice our dance moves, rhythm and timing (arguably, with varying levels of success!) In Gareth’s improvisation workshop, we were encouraged to take risks and not be afraid of failure. Many of the games we took part in required us to focus on making eye-contact with our fellow players – a necessary skill to practice for members of a choir who need to respond to the direction of a conductor. I found the response we were encouraged to give our fellow improvisers if they ‘failed’ at a game particularly positive – we were encouraged to enthusiastically shout “again!” to give them the opportunity to have another go. In life, when faced with failure, it can be all too easy to simply give up. However, when spurred on by others, I know that I personally am more likely to remain positive and give something a second shot, so it was quite a poignant reminder of something rather profound through the simplicity of a game.

Our afternoon was mostly spent building up an appetite by heading off on walks of various lengths around the gorgeous countryside, playing rounders and enjoying relaxed conversation over cups of tea. A shared reflection from a number of us was that we really relished the chance for time and space to chat to new people in the choir over the weekend, as so often it is easy to turn up to Thursday’s rehearsal in varying states of exhaustion and make little effort to speak to those we don’t know very well, particularly in different sections of the choir. For dinner, we divided into groups for either a Chinese or Indian meal out, regrouping for songs around the campfire, mugs of hot chocolate/ beer and marshmallow toasting, which was a fantastic communal, wood-scented moment to end a great day together.

As a member of Sing! for nearly 3 ½ years, I have met many amazing friends and become part of a community of local, like-minded, diverse, wonderful people who recognise the power of music to bring people together. The ‘away weekend’ was an opportunity for me to reinforce existing friendships but also to make new connections with Cambridge-based people from a number of different walks of time and discover commonalities and shared interests. For me, it was a very special weekend because it reminded me that I belong to a community which is growing and developing all the time, and that I have a part to play in it (my role for the weekend had been helping with the organisation of our food beforehand). Therefore, I am excited to see what the future of Sing! Community Choir will bring for all of us!

 

Singing Out Loud

By Vicky Anning

Sing! and Mark De-Lisser

When I first joined Sing! Community Choir two and half years ago, I had just been made redundant and was adjusting to life as a freelance writer & editor – working at home on my own most days. I had been wanting to join a choir for ages, but juggling life as a widowed mum had made it difficult to manage. Joining Sing! was just what I needed – and I quickly realised that it wasn’t just about getting me singing again (which in itself was enough to lift my spirits every week). It was also about getting me out of the house every Thursday evening, whatever the babysitting challenges or overwhelming work deadlines, to create something communally with a bunch of inspiring and talented people of all different ages and from all walks of life.

There have been many toe-tingling moments over the last two and half years when we’ve nailed a song in our packed rehearsal space in Romsey Mill. Or when we’ve stood up on stage at one of our Christmas concerts and listened to the applause at the end of a song well sung. OK, we’re not all perfect singers (there are no auditions for Sing! and all abilities are welcome). But there’s nothing quite like that sense of shared endeavour to make your heart sing…

And so it was that I ended up pulling up on the gravel driveway in front of a converted 13th century church in rural Bedfordshire last Sunday morning to join fellow Singers at a singing workshop run by the most excellent Mark De-Lisser, who has worked as a vocal coach on The Voice and whose amazing ACM Gospel Choir in London were semi-finalists in the BBC’s Last Choir Standing.

Sitting in the nave of the church, with the bright morning sunshine flooding through the buttressed windows was another one of those toe-tingling experiences that being a member of Sing! has given me. As Mark deftly taught us the harmonies for Ed Sheeran’s poignant song Thinking Out Loud, some of us shared the story of what the lyrics meant to us. One Singer promised to tell his girlfriend how he felt about her more often. Another told us she had shared the song with her aunt and uncle on their 50th wedding anniversary. The words meant something different to all of us, but the sound that came out of our mouths that day was really special. Mark got us to really sing from the heart and many of us – myself included – were moved to tears by the shared emotion that reverberated through the harmonies.

But Mark offered us more than musical inspiration that sunny May morning. He also talked about the huge rise in the number of choirs around the country – and how choirs are becoming “the new church”, providing people with a sense of community that people used to find in the pews. Looking around the nave of the converted St Nicholas Church where generations of parishioners must have sat before us, I realised that the people surrounding me have become like my congregation. As a non church goer, the chance to catch up with fellow Singers over tea and cake (and lots of it!) during our Thursday rehearsal is almost as important to me now as the music we make together. It has provided me with a sense of community that I appreciate more than I ever imagined. I have met people of all ages and from all backgrounds, people from Italy and people from Romania, people of all faiths and none, people who have been unerringly welcoming and accepting of me and my daughter too (she comes along if I can’t get a babysitter)! These are all people who I would probably never have met if I hadn’t joined Sing! – and no matter how tired I feel on a Thursday evening before I get to rehearsals, I always come away at 9.15 with a spring in my stride!

So thank you to the fantastic people who make Sing! happen week after week – and to Mark De-Lisser for making our hearts sing out loud at the Chellington Centre last weekend!

Sing! weekend away 2016 – The Saturday Afternoon Walk

On the Saturday afternoon of Sing!’s weekend away at the Chellington Centre in Bedford, 2 groups of intrepid walkers were formed and went their separate ways. Read Jane Bramwell’s thoughts below on her experience on the longer of the 2 walks.

Long Walk

And so the dozen or so walkers set off after their respective workshops round 3.00.

Chris P (the member of Ramblers) and Sarah M (the one with the printer) had downloaded and printed off instructions for a circular walk in preparation. But where was it when it was needed? Rumour has it that it was in Jane’s bag. Hmm. At the last minute Jane had packed a 1:25,000 OS map of the area which she did have with her. Sarah M had the 1:50,000 map. We wouldn’t get lost.

We set off down the footpath and turned left onto Felmersham Road then turned right onto another footpath, which took us through a field with some horses, and then alongside Monk’s Wood – and through the trees was an amazing carpet of bluebells, in parts almost looking like it was suspended above the woodland floor.

We then walked along the contours and had a view of super yellow oil seed rape fields and Pavenham to the east. At a junction of footpaths, the band of walkers came to an abrupt halt…. Which way to go? Maps came out and various people tried to ascertain our location. With characteristic enthusiasm, Michael pronounced our location with an unusual grid reference – he’d got the northings and eastings the wrong way round…but he was a quick learner! It was agreed that we would turn left and skirt round Green’s Spinney and head back down slope to Felmersham Road, only further north east than previously.

All enjoyed the opportunity to walk and talk about themselves and each other, getting to know people a bit better. The humidity had been increasing all afternoon and there were some menacingly dark grey clouds to the south west, where it was definitely raining. Should we walk back along the road to the Centre? “No!”, said Bekki. “Let’s continue on to the river to complete the circuit”, or words to that effect. So we walked across the floodplain to the picturesque weir and hovered outside the pub… longingly for some people? Or just to make sure we were all together?

It was lovely to walk along the Ouse Valley Way through the Country Park alongside the lake, with great views of the Centre up on the river bluff.  Even better for some was the ice cream van outside the Visitors Centre, where a few couldn’t resist temptation – and why not, as in the end we had walked for two hours. We turned left and crossed the beautiful 14th century Harrold Bridge – with six arches spanning the River Great Ouse, and took the last bit of footpath back up to the Centre.