Sing! In Lockdown: A Year in Review

By Bethany Kirby

12th March 2020 was the last time we met in person as a choir. On 16th March 2020, we made the necessary decision to postpone our rehearsals indefinitely. It was the most bizarre couple of weeks, when schools shut, we all ‘locked down’ for the first time and everyone’s lives turned on their heads. With choir, as with all aspects of our lives, we had no idea what to expect in the coming weeks and months.

A year on and we are still yet to meet again in person. The ‘year on’ marker has drawn me to reflect on this most unexpected time for us as a choir. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a sadness at the opportunities missed – not only two concerts and our annual weekend away, but the weekly joy of meeting together to sing, hearing the harmonies coming together, sharing tea and cake at the break, and feeling the buzz in the room after a song well sung. 

But I hope I’m also not alone in feeling a huge sense of pride in what we have managed to achieve. We’ve got our heads around Zoom (more or less!) and are regularly getting 40 or more of us together online each Thursday evening. We’ve had 22 online rehearsals to date and have learnt a whole range of new songs…who knows whether we’re all singing quite the same notes, but we’re certainly trying our best! I remember, when planning as a music team for our early Zoom rehearsals, that we sometimes worried about having enough content to fill a 1-hour rehearsal (even with a pause at 8pm when we all dashed outside to “clap for carers”!). Now, we’ve extended our rehearsals to 1hr15 and often feel we don’t have enough time for everything we’d like to do!

Zoom warm-up fun!

We’ve had 11 online sing-alongs, some of them themed, giving us time we’ve never had before to revisit lots of our old repertoire and remember many highlights of concerts past. We’ve held 3 online workshops – on vocal technique, choreography and sign language – led by amazing former Sing! members who we’ve invited back to share their skills with us. We’ve created 5 virtual choir videos, with everyone recording separately at home and sharing their enthusiastic, heartfelt and often ‘unique’ takes to be pieced together! The first of these now has well over 2,000 views on YouTube (fun fact: this makes it our 9th most popular YouTube video; the most popular by far – somewhat surprisingly to me! – is a simple but cheery version of Barbara Ann which we sang in 2015, with almost 14,000 views!). 

We put on an online Christmas cabaret evening, where choir members shared a whole range of creative talents, making us laugh and cry in equal measure. We’ve had 7 online socials, craft evenings and quizzes, as well as going to the ‘virtual pub’ every week after rehearsals. In the early days, these pub trips yielded some unique group artwork too, thanks to the Zoom whiteboard! In the first lockdown, we also launched ‘Sing! Does Desert Island Discs’ on Facebook and enjoyed seeing a post from a different choir member each day, sharing one of their favourite songs and why it’s important to them. You can revisit all the posts here if you’re part of our Facebook group (there are some fabulous stories and memories!) and listen to a playlist of many of the songs here.

Sing! virtual pub whiteboard, May 2020!

Meeting online has one obvious benefit – “there’s no commute to Zoom choir!” We’ve seen old Sing! members who’ve moved away from Cambridge pop in to join us (the furthest all the way from America!); we’ve had current members logging in from Italy, Scotland, Yorkshire, Cornwall; and we’ve had several adorable babies stealing the show as their mums grab the chance to take part! We’ve also welcomed brand new members to the choir and can’t wait til we can actually meet you all in person too! 

Although the pandemic has often felt like a time of deprivation, and there’s no doubt that singing on Zoom is not the same as singing in-person, I think this experience has in many ways strengthened our sense of community. I’ve chatted to people I’ve not spoken to before in pub breakout rooms. Every rehearsal is accompanied by a lively chat thread where we can share observations and comments that we might not say out loud if we were rehearsing together. And, hopefully, we’ve even learnt lots more names, thanks to that handy little box at the bottom of each square! To those members who haven’t been able to join us on Zoom – we haven’t forgotten you; we love to see you commenting on our videos or popping up on Facebook and we can’t wait until the time is right for you to sing with us again too. 

So many people have stepped up in different ways to help make this year of Sing! possible –  song leaders, part-teachers, warm-up volunteers, video editors, quiz-makers, Zoom hosters…you are all brilliant! In particular, I’d like to say a special thank you to my fellow music team members – Naomi, Jane and Diana. Rarely do a couple of days go by without us exchanging thoughts, plans and ideas for Sing! Taking choir online has been a real challenge, and a lot of often unseen work goes into delivering a session each week, plus all the other bits around it, and trying to keep things fresh and fun. You are stars!

So here’s to the next year, whatever it may bring – Sing! will be here, and I hope our shared community, friendship, joy and song will see us all through it together 💗

The choir embodies something I now cherish

By Chris Power

For me, having been part of Sing! for the last few years, the choir embodies something that I now cherish that is so well-expressed in this short quote from Kurt Vonnegut. It only takes a moment to read but says so much to those of us from an ‘achievement-oriented environment’ who are exploring art in its broadest sense. Here it is ….

“When I was 15 I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of “getting to know you” questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject? And I told him, no I don’t play any sports. I do theater, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes. And he went WOW. That’s amazing! And I said, “Oh no, but I’m not any good at ANY of them.”

And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.” And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could “Win” at them.” [Kurt Vonnegut]

Sing! brings some Christmas cheer to Cambridge

By Vicky Anning

Singing Christmas carols in unusual places seems to have become something of a tradition for Sing! Community Choir – and 2019 was no exception!

In December 2019, we outdid ourselves by regaling harassed-looking Christmas shoppers in John Lewis in Cambridge on one of the busiest shopping days of the year!

The choir at John Lewis

It was gratifying to see a small crowd of onlookers gather as 30 members of the choir squeezed together at the top of the first-floor escalator in our best Christmas jumpers to make way for bargain hunters.

We treated shoppers to renditions of some of our favourite Christmas carols and a selection of songs from our latest repertoire – including the anthemic Believer by Imagine Dragons, Shut Up and Dance and a rousing rendition (or two!) of our new favourite song by Pentatonix with the aptly name title Sing – complete with an awesome rap.

If you don’t know this joyful song, here’s a link to cheer you up – truly enough to bring a ray of California sunshine into the winter gloom!

What was even more gratifying still was that lots of shoppers were dropping coins into our collection buckets as they passed by – so we ended up raising a fantastic £455 for the homeless charity Wintercomfort. And John Lewis helped to top up the total raised to £600. A fantastic achievement all round!

We also donned our Christmas hats and jumpers for a mini concert at the Mill Road Winter Fair in early December. Big thanks to St Philip’s Church for hosting us and to everyone who came along to support us – and to everyone who joined in with the singing too. You sounded great!

Mill Road Winter Fair has become a regular fixture for Sing! Community Choir and is a fantastic celebration of the fabulous community that makes up Mill Road – the neighbourhood where we rehearse every Thursday evening.

Mill Road Winter Fair is usually the warm up for our big Christmas concert. But this year, we decided to do things a bit differently and are holding our winter concert on Saturday, 8 February 2020 instead.

So if you missed us at Mill Road Winter Fair or at John Lewis, please do come along to St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church (43 St Andrew’s St, Cambridge CB2 3AR) at 7:30pm. Tickets are £5/£7 (under 10s free) and all profits made are going to Blue Smile, which supports the mental well-being of pupils using arts-based therapy.

Our concert is called Come on, Sing! So do come along. We promise we won’t make you sing (too much) – but we’ll love singing for you!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

The afternoon of 8th December around seventy of us from Sing! filtered into St. Barnabas Church to prepare for the much anticipated Christmas concert.

We worked through some final niggles in our set and were joined by five singers from the Choir of Bethlehem, here as part of their UK tour. They gave a stunning run through ‘Oyouniha’ (Her Eyes), an early taste of their performance. From our set, ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ – a creative mashup of several Christmas songs – posed a few remaining problems for the basses, two group huddles later and I can say (with complete impartiality) that we’d nailed it.

Five minutes before the concert the choir warmed up as usual: with a mixtures of arpeggios and pretending to chew aggressively. On stage we faced the packed out audience, and began with an Otis Redding classic: Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay. After a term of practice, each section sang with confidence, with the parts meshing together nicely.

A few highlights included: singing in Arabic with the Choir of Bethlehem for ‘What Child is This’, the interplay between the different parts in an idyllic ‘Feelin Good’, and re-appearing on stage adorned in Christmas gear for ‘Santa Claus’ is Coming to Town’. Adding to the performance was the rich accompaniment, including at times ukulele, sax, and indeed, beatboxing – do try and guess which song each of those went with.

The Choir of Bethlehem made the concert particularly special when they took to the stage they spoke of their lives and work in helping the children of Palestine and treated us to songs on those things which music communicates so effortlessly: love, struggle, community, and a simple joy for life.

After a swelling encore through ‘We Are Young’, we sang ourselves out to a compulsory ‘We Wish you a Merry Christmas’. My thanks to the committee at Sing! for organising the choir and putting together this concert to the rest of choir – I can’t have asked for a better way to start singing, to the audience: thank you for coming along and supporting us.

To the Choir of Bethlehem: all the best for your onward tour and beyond, you’ll brighten their evenings as surely as you’ve brightened ours. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

 

by Boyuan

Glad tiding we Sing! Together

Sing! came highly recommended and it has not disappointed.  I have found a wonderful group of people wanting to come together for the joy of singing, getting it right (most of the time – laughing about it when it’s not quite there), but most of all enjoying ourselves whilst we take part.  This week is particularly exciting for the build up to the Christmas concert on Saturday.

In the past year, I have performed in two concerts, been carolling, had the choir weekend away, been to the UK choir festival and performed at Mill Road Winter Fair.  Oh, the weekly rehearsals – with lots of cups of tea and chatting with some wonderful people.  Such a mix of members – some with more musical experience than others, but each adding to a wonderful sound.  Personally, I joined a complete novice, having only had a couple of karaoke nights since school choir days (and neither of those nights were sober).

I’m looking forward to my first Christmas concert this Saturday to top off a great year, performing in front of some friends over for the weekend, having last sung in a school concert with them a fair few years ago.  More than this, it will be a celebration of all the hard work and fun we’ve had over the past months.  Some jolly singing with a great group of people – come and join us.

A new singing year ahead

And another year of singing has just started. It feels exciting discovering the new tunes, putting together notes and rhythms, and sharing a cup of tea with the excitement of future concerts to look forward to and practice together for.

New faces have appeared among us and new friends will certainly be made in the new singing year ahead of us. A new Committee has been formed recently and I am sure that it will certainly help the group find uplifting and moving music, and ensure that everyone is welcome and feel part of the group.

Happy singing everyone!

Carol Singing 2017 for Findacure

Vicky Anning writes…

A group of intrepid Singers! braved the elements on one of the coldest days of December to sing carols outside Cambridge railway station – raising more than £130 for the Cambridge charity Findacure.

Donning Santa hats, festive scarves, antlers and some very red noses, our pop up Christmas choir helped to raise the spirits of chilly travellers – spreading festive cheer as they dashed to catch trains or headed off to do a spot of last minute Christmas shopping.

The funds raised will help local charity Findacure to make life-changing differences for rare disease patients.

“Huge thank you to the fantastic Sing! community choir for supporting our bucket collection at Cambridge station,” said Findacure’s Katie Cliss. “Having a rare disease can be one of the most isolating, devastating, and painful experiences imaginable. Every penny we raise gives us the power to change that.”

Find out more about Findacure by visiting their website here

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!