By Rachel Rose
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!