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.

Teaching & conducting workshop experience

True to its description as a ‘community choir’, Sing! regularly provides exciting opportunities for all of its members to become more involved both in the local community and also within the community of the choir itself.  One of the things which makes Sing! quite a unique choir is the way in which it is run, sharing out the teaching and conducting of songs, encouraging its members to take risks and to draw out their hidden talents. So providing a conducting workshop which is entirely free is one way the choir leaders empower us, the members, to improve our skills and to really feel part of the community.

Some people might feel somewhat trepidatious about taking part in a conducting workshop, but in fact, there is absolutely no obligation to teach or conduct afterwards. It’s a great opportunity if you’re interested in finding out about conducting, but lacking the confidence to do it in front of the choir. This provides a safe environment in which to try out new things and to make mistakes without feeling silly! It’s also a great chance to meet new people you might not have had the chance to chat to before. Risk taking is always a great environment for building friendships.

Bearing this in mind, with some very amateur conducting experience under my belt, I jumped at the chance to learn some new skills and meet some new people at the workshop in April. There are lots of things you forget when standing in front of a choir. So this workshop was great for learning simple tips and tricks I hadn’t tried before.

We began the workshop by sitting in circle, listening to Boof’s tips for teaching new songs from scratch, for example, teaching words with actions, rhythm and part or unison teaching. Next, we split into pairs in order to teach a simple song to each other and test out our new tricks. My choice: ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’. I wanted to keep it really simple because there are always more things to think about than you realise – words, melody, rhythm and endings of phrases. Afterwards, there was a shared discussion about how to gain people’s  attention (a broad and varied range of interesting techniques), followed by coverage of some of the symbols and signs which might be used for each section, for example: bridge, chorus, outro etc. Finally, we finished off with a game of Tag Conducting to simple song, Amazing Grace. This gave the chance to everyone who was interested, to have a go at leading a friendly choir in dynamics, speed or lyric changes. Again, there was absolutely no pressure to lead, so only the people who really wanted to have a go actually did. (Naturally I couldn’t resist the opportunity and it is great to take the chance to lead a choir who already know a song so you can focus on fun things like dynamics. This is an area I have to admit, I have probably let fall to the wayside during previous conducting attempts!)

Top tips I’m taking away: Teach dynamics right from the start. This is not really something that had occurred to me before, but it makes total sense that if a choir learn a song with a crescendo from the start, then they will never forget it and it will make things easier for you later on. Top Tip number 2: Be clear with people as to when to finish singing the phrase. It is very easy, if you read music, to forget that the choir have not seen it and that simply singing the phrase might not be enough. Boof, Naomi and Tizzy are all very clear with their hands about ‘taking people off’ at the end of a phrase, so this is something I plan to emulate in the future.

All in all it was a super fun afternoon with some lasting and useful tips which have definitely increased my confidence and given me lots of new ideas I’m now eager to try. This was all topped off with a delicious meal at Bella Pasta around the corner where we had the chance for a chat and a well-earned meal! The conducting workshop was a great opportunity for learning, socialising and becoming even more involved in our lovely choir. If another opportunity arises again, I would really encourage anyone who is vaguely interested to just try it out. It was a really supportive environment and a fun chance to try out something new!

How do we choose the songs at Sing!?

We love that so many people want to contribute ideas to the song selection at Sing!, and we often get asked how we choose the final list for each term. So, here’s an insight into the process we go through to decide what music we’ll all be enjoying each week…

We start by collecting all the ideas we’ve been given throughout the term – by email, via facebook, in person. We’re fairly confident that at least some of these ideas are not expected to be taken seriously (you know if I’m talking about you!) but we write them all down anyway. This term we had 50 new songs to consider!

We aim to have about 15 songs ready for the Christmas concert, which we think makes for a good concert without being too many to learn. We’ve already learnt three songs since the last concert, which leaves 12 to choose. We’d like to repeat three from the previous concert, to reduce the number we need to learn now (and because we sounded awesome at the last concert!) which leaves nine.Of those, we thought four should be Christmassy, which leave five slots (we didn’t receive many Christmas suggestions this time round, but would be happy to this time next year!)…

We also need to think about a few other things too: we try to get a mixture of genres (pop, gospel, folk etc), difficulties (some we can learn in one session, others that will take several weeks) and styles (fast and upbeat vs more mellow). We think about how many will need band, as we want a mix of a cappella and accompanied pieces. We try not to end up with too many religious songs (which can sneak up on us when we go for gospel, spiritual or classical songs, which tend to have religious sentiments). This term, we’ve tried to take on board the feedback from the survey, although we’ve found it quite hard to do everything we’ve been asked (for example, 29% of people would like a longer rehearsal each week, but 38% would not!) Finally, we consider which suggestions we have, or can easily get hold of, music for, and which we’d need to spend some time arranging.

Once we’ve thought about all those things, we’re ready to fit these songs into the rehearsal schedule for the term! We figure out how many slots we think each song will need (totalling 26 learning and 14 recapping slots this time) and then add up how many slots we have this term (24 learning and 12 recapping) – and then we realise we’ve already been over-ambitious, and that perhaps we won’t have a half-term break this term!

And that is how the list of 15 songs reaches its conclusion! We’re always happy to get (nice!) feedback on what you make of the songs we’ve chosen, and we’re even happier to get offers of help for teaching. The more part-teachers we can get to help us get through the learning, the more ambitious we can be (and the longer we can break for cake mid-rehearsal!)

I would share with you here the final song list, but 1) that would ruin the surprise each week and 2) we still reserve the right to realise we’re trying to cram too much in and to change the plan as we go along!

So happy sing!ing and we hope you enjoy the selection of songs we have for you this term 🙂

Another Great Term of Sing!

I can’t believe it’s Easter Sunday today and April tomorrow! Which can mean only one thing- another term of Sing! is already over…but what a great term it’s been!

We’ve had another fantastic term of singing, with an abundance of tea, cake and laughter along the way! It’s been great to see both old and new faces at rehearsals, with rehearsals being as lively and fun as ever! We’ve learnt some cracking new songs- including ‘Rule the World’, ‘I Get Around’ and ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing’, which people have embraced with full gusto!

When we started Sing! one of the things we were really keen on enabling, was for people to be able to meet others with shared interests and passions through Sing! Being an avid baker myself, I suggested we combined Sing! and baking on a Thursday evening- and so ‘sectional baking’ was born! 🙂

It’s been such fun having each section take turns to show off their baking skills (and for us all to enjoy the results!)- we certainly weren’t disappointed! I’m all for breaking gender stereotypes, so it was great to see both the guys and girls getting involved. The lads’ creations certainly didn’t disappoint!

So what will it be next term that brings singers together? Photography? Films? Football?

If you’re a Sing!er and you’ve got something you’re passionate about or love to do in your spare time, why not suggest it and invite Sing!ers to join you? The possibilities are endless- who knows where it could take us?! 🙂