The People Who Never Sang….

 

carol-singers

I think that I first became really interested in ‘singing’ when I was ‘just a wee boy’ in a Junior Choir at our church in Northern Ireland. I came from a family steeped in amateur music. My Mother ALWAYS sang, my Father sang in choirs in church and also in male voices, as well as conducting; cousins, and uncles were singers and an aunt was a piano teacher.

So it was probably not surprising that I would sing in choirs and also learn the piano and organ (reasonably successfully), and the clarinet (unsuccessfully). Junior and senior  church choirs, playing the organ at services, and choral and instrumental composing meant that I was in the thick of what was the great interest of my family, and this was no doubt a large part of their legacy to me.

I was probably about 18 when I was playing regularly at church services , and taking a choir of people old enough to be my parents, and perhaps grandparents! The bravado of youth obviously shaded me from my mistakes, but hopefully I did something right!

After Evensong Lochgilphead

The ‘formal’ Angelus Singers at Lochgilphead…

As you can imagine, many of these choirs required a rigid discipline in attendance and standard of singing to operate well, as we had Church-year timetables, and music, to perform. No good getting the Christmas anthems ready for mid-January!….or having half a choir turn up for the Easter Service!…..or someone hitting a bum note, or a wrong entry!

But there was  a sort of self-selection process going on, where people would not put themselves forward for membership if they felt they had no voice, or a poor one. And it obviously worked well, in that most of the choir-members I met, and dealt-with, had quite reasonable voices.

But, what about the folk who, despite our protests, thought they had a poor voice, or were TOLD by someone that they had a poor voice, or were embarrassed, or did not have the time, or were not tremendously motivated? We obviously never saw them, so there MUST have been a waste of natural talent out there.

Jump forward some decades to Gareth Malone on television, who parachuted-in to various places across the UK to form some type of choir, and obviously left it to underlings to get on with the practices. He would then appear again to conduct some item. It made good television, but not really practical in today’s hectic world!

Meanwhile I had given up full-time organ-playing and was happy to occasionally fill-in, and with there being fewer choirs, that door had been closed. Retirement had come, but I still longed for the heady days of choral music…..but surely that was all history, now, and I had better get used to it……but I was not to reckon on the  U3A, the University of the Third Age, which we only joined a few months ago!

I have blogged about it before, and the great motivation it engenders in people.  Someone had said in passing, in front of a crowded room at our first meeting, that there was a wish for a Singing Group, and that ‘Harry might be happy to start one!’ So there was a challenge! But where to begin?

Now, remember that the age-group range  of the Members probably centres on the early 70’s…..some are in their 90’s! You cannot start analysing and auditioning folk of this age, so the only two criteria would be, could they stand-up (even with help), and breathe?

MANY OF THOSE WERE IN THE CATEGORY OF ‘THE FOLK WHO NEVER SANG’

The interest was amazing! We had 22 with us today at one of the weekly practices, we have 13 pieces on the practice list, and we sing lustily for an hour after some warm-up vocal exercises. Not everyone can come every practice (retirement is busy, you know!) so we are never exactly sure who will be there, but some have been to every practice. No notice is taken of previous experience, musical skills, embarrassment levels, etc, and mistakes are very common. But we are now singing lots of old post-war favourites, and rounds, in parts, and very good they are, too.

I have been given loads of music to look through, by members, so that there is always a new piece every week, of THEIR favourites.

We laugh, we joke, we do little musical tricks, ask them to ‘volunteer’ as  soloists, and have a thoroughly-great relaxing time. Everyone goes away smiling, and making sure they know when the next practice is. And beside all this the voices are really very good!

Personally, I have had a new lease of life, back to helping people find the joy of singing, and this time with no constraints of any kind, on the music, or the musical ability; simply the idea of having fun as a group, and, of course…….they will never be able to say ‘WE NEVER SANG’

P1050874A few of our Singing Group who obviously enjoy themselves in a relaxed atmosphere

(can you spot the 90-year old?)

 

 

 

 

 

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Another Good Man Gone!

We’ve just lost a good friend to a brain tumour. He was only about 52, and we got to know him when he came to join my choir. He showed an immense talent for music composition, keyboard skills and a wonderful sense of humour through even the dark days. He also came over as very thoughtful, caring and non-complaining.

He had looked forward to going to Ballachulish, Argyll in March to join in Evensong. His health had badly deteriorated, and we were very unsure about whether it was wise for him to go. If anything had happened while up there, the distance to a suitable hospital would have proved catastrophic, and we might have carried this in our mind for many a long year.

My final opinion was sought, and I had to say YES, as I could never have forgiven myself if I has said NO. In the event, two members very kindly looked after him over the weekend and he thoroughly enjoyed it. It was his last major event outside his hospital and hospice.

So, ‘CARPE DIEM’…..never let an opportunity of any kind go by….you may never get the chance again!

STOP PRESS!

newspaper

I’ve recently appeared twice in the press. I’m afraid it was not in the big nationals, or even Hello magazine. And I am glad it isn’t in the Obituary section! No, the reports and quotations were to do with my great little choir Angelus Singers.

It followed our appearance at one of the churches in Ballachulish near Glencoe (see a previous blog).  The local press there (The Oban Times ) published a very large colourful photo with a two line report….I think they were trying to fill a lot of space! Our local paper here (the Kirkintilloch Herald) has just published a small black-and-white photo with a quite extensive report, …..I think they also were trying to fill up non-used advertising space! Several copies have been purchased for some reason, by the Lady of the House!

Have you e ver cringed at, or been proud of, any references to you in the Press…..come on spill the beans!

Singing in Argyll….NOW WITH PHOTO

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 On Sunday our Choir ‘Angelus Singers’  went to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ballachulish, at Argyll near famous Glencoe, for the service of Sung Evensong. You can’t miss the Church, in its glorious setting halfway between Glencoe and the Ballachulish Bridge. It has an ancient history with the graveyard of especial historical interest, and they have the Communion Cup and Plate reputedly used by the Jacobites just before Culloden. The building is in some need of restoration, but the beauty is still evident. 

The fact that we were asked made us feel very proud, as the area of course is full of musical choirs, who participate in the Mod Festival, and Gaelic is still extensively spoken.We were supplemented by some local choir members, and a total of  18 singers filled the choir stalls. This allowed us to have a rousing service of well-known hymns, traditional sung responses, collects, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, and Psalm 119 (only a small part!). In addition we had an Introit and Anthem. The performance of the latter, ‘I saw a new heaven’…. was a first performance. Words of the Revelation of St John were the inspiration of this piece, and it is dedicated to the present congregation, and those who have gone before.

The weather was foul, during the two hour  journey both ways, but ballachulish-original-churchwe all arrived safely. We couldn’t  process from the ‘old church’ (really an old storehouse), to the ‘new church’  (1830’s)  because of the rain and snow.  The  organ then threw a tantrum by ‘ciphering’, when certain stops and notes got stuck and kept on playing! The organist kept her cool and and played well under the circumstances!

An excellent congregation had braved the weather, many from a long distance, and obviously enjoyed the old well-kent words, spoken and sung.
So it was a great event, and shows that many people working together, despite the many problems can produce something bigger than any of us.

How fortunate can anyone get to be in the midst of some of the most wonderful countryside in the world, and sing our hearts out!

 

Re-cycled music!

 choir-with-music

On one of my other blogs ( click on the ANGELUS SINGERS Blogroll link) I happened to be describing the life story of John Stainer, a marvellous and famous English organist and composer. He is probably best known for his oratorio ‘Crucifixion’. I had mentioned that many decades ago, I had conducted this piece with a choir who mostly used Tonic Solfa (a way of reading music). This method is rarely, if ever, used now-a-days.

Someone e-mailed me to say that they had googled to try and find out if there were any of these copies still in existence. A member of the Royal School of Church Music was going to South Africa, and wanted to teach the piece to people who had no access to normal staff music. Luckily I was able to contact my old church, speak to one of my old choir members and establish that indeed those same copies were still in the music cupboard.

They are now on their way to South Africa to be re-used some 4 decades later……the internet is wonderful!

A grey Scotland

I drove some 250 miles yesterday, with a friend, to visit a few chuches in Argyll, one of the loveliest areas of Scotland.

It would have been, but when we started at 8.30, it was dull with lowering clouds. Even when crossing the Erskine Bridge about 9, we could just see the Clyde Estuary below (usually a wonderful, long-distant vista). Loch Lomond was wind-swept with few boats venturing out. Much of this road is new and wide, but when approaching Arrochar, we are suddenly into a tree-lined narrow twisting road which requires a lot of concentration in the driving. Puddles and fallen leaves were predominant here.

Tyndrum, with the famous ‘Green Welly’ shop, led us north to mysterious Rannoch Moor, which would be a perfect setting for a prehistoric film with dinosaurs etc, rising from deep brackish water. Eventually, as the rain and wind worsened, we descended through the very narrow gorge to the infamous Glen of Weeping, Glencoe . To Scots (and in fact, the whole civilised world), it remains as a reminder of what one person, or government, can do to others….formally-accepted murder.

The village of Glencoe sits in a marvellous setting, but seems uncomfortably close to the water level. Global warming and the rise in sea levels that it poses must be an obvious long term consideration for the inhabitants.

st-johns-ballachulishBut we were here to see two buildings in the neighbouring village of Ballachulish (famous for its slate quarry). A store house which was used as a very early Episcopal church, and the magnificent, (and very proud) St John’s Church which was built in 1842, and extended in 1888.

It holds the Communion vessels which were reputedly used by the Jacobite troops, on the night before the fateful Battle of Culloden. The building is badly in need of repair and has a Restoration Fund.

Our Choir, Angelus Singers http://www.angelussingers.wordpress.com (click the link) are helping to raise their profile by singing Choral Evensong there in March, so this visit was essential. It was of course freezing in the church as the rain continued to hammer down , but Highland hospitality in the local Tourist Information Office helped to warm us up.

We then headed through Rob Roy country via Appin, to the Church of Scotland building dedicated to St Oran at Connell. It was a subject of a previous posting ‘A little Gem’, and was no-less-lovely this time (The Header picture is of the sanctuary). Although it is Church of Scotland, we have been tentatively asked to consider coming as a choir to sing  the Anglican Service of Evensong for them!

The day’s work complete, we headed back through wonderful countryside, just visible in the gathering gloom. Maybe it had been a grey day, weatherwise, but none-the-less I wouldn’t have swopped it (except, maybe for a sun-drenched beach and a glass of beer!!).

‘What about Carol?

 carol-singers

 At this time of the year, our Choir (Angelus Singers……check the Link) are involved in Carol services. Thought you might like to know some facts you might not have known about Christmas Carols…you can always throw a few into a lull in a conversation or at dinner-party…:- 

  • Originally a Carol was not a religious song, but a secular dance, often in 3/4 time…..a bit like a waltz
  • The carol ‘In Dulci Jubilo’, when the words are sung as a mixture of English (from the German), and Latin, is an example of a ‘macaronic carol’. The melody can be found in a 14th century manuscript in Leipzig University.
  • The wonderful combination of Charles Wesley and Felix Mendelssohn gave us ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’.
  • The tune of the French carol ‘Whence is that Goodly Fragrance’ later appeared as the rousing drinking song ‘Fill ev’ry glass, for wine inspires us’ in John Gay’s ‘The Beggars Opera’ in the 18th Century. I remember well singing it with the Kirkie Players some years ago!
  • ‘Good King Wenceslas’ originally appeared in 1582, as a Spring carol. It was only about 150 years ago that the 10th Century story of Saint Wenceslas of Bohemia was told. After his father died, he encouraged Christianity in Bohemia, against the wishes of his mother, and was murdered by his brother Buleslav.
  • The Romans used Holly to decorate their houses at the feast of Saturnalia, which occurred in the winter season. Ivy was dedicated by them, to Bacchus from the idea that it warded-off drunken-ness!
  • The Coventry Carol (‘Lul-ly, lul-lay’) is one of the oldest English Carols. The original tune comes from 1591 and was sung in the Coventry Plays of that era.
  • There are several Wassailling Songs. The word Wassail means ‘Keep You Well’.
  • Czechoslovakia has provided a number of lovely quiet carols including the ‘Rocking Carol’, ‘The Birds’, and ‘The Zither Carol’. ‘Infant Holy’ is from Poland.
  • ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are’ was written in 1857 by Dr J.H.Hopkins of Pennsylvania, one of very few well-known carols from the USA.

 

So give a thought, when next singing over Christmas, that the words and music may have had a very strange history.