Sing! Weekend Away 2022

By Sophie

The first time I went on a Sing! weekend away I was nervous. This time, after three years of waiting, I was excited. Andy and Beth sang in the front of the car, and it felt as if we were kids heading for the seaside. I had to stop myself blurting out, “Are we nearly there yet?”

Thorpe Woodlands activity centre under blue skies and nestled amongst the trees

There were board games on Friday night, which were great for getting us into a flow of daftness, concentration and competition – without the pressure to make conversation.

I liked the way that next morning some people sat quietly reading, while others got straight back into the Bananagrams groove over before breakfast (Cocoa pops as well as sensible granola… yay!)

Saturday was glorious – sunshine, woodland, and a feast of workshops to choose from – physical, reflective, culinary and creative.

The intrepid climbed 18 metre trees (Becca D completing the challenge barefoot); then they navigated a high ropes course, jumping from terrifying platforms.

Other people made bright bunting for the 10th anniversary concert.

I really enjoyed Jon’s “values” session, thinking about what makes us sing. He gave out questions like, “What made you happy as a child? Think of an occasion and describe it to a partner.” The partner then identified the underlying things that made the experience valuable. I really appreciated that quiet time, together with others in a dappled wood; time to really listen, and to be still. That quiet hour of attentive reflection, rippled through the weekend for me in a special way.

I also loved Naomi G’s glass suncatcher making, and Jane’s collaging. Both these activities allowed people who might think “I’m no good at drawing” to have fun playing with shapes and colours. I smile each time I pass the little sun catcher which now hangs on my kitchen window.

Sian taught a further group to make pierogi, a filled Polish pasta, savoury, sweet and tasty.

After lunch lots of singsters meandered through the woods; there was a choice of walks to suit different wishes. One person decided that 500 metres was just the right length for the short stroll!

I’m told that Jon shone in the archery session, while Lindsey hit the fence a few times, but missed the passing DofE children. 

A “team challenge” contingent developed their skills of balancing, breath-holding and crossing lava flows (which made me think of my favourite children’s book: Quentin Blake’s “How Tom beat Captain Najork and his hired Sportsmen” in which Tom “fooled around in the mud, and stomped and squelched…he fooled on high-up things that shook and wobbled and teetered”; he was great at “womble, muck and sneedball”)

EA forsook sneedball but excelled at crochet, commenting “It was great. Now I’m hooked!”…

We were treated to a joyful display from Elyse’s line-dancers par excellence.

A mellow collection of people sat in the sun and sang their way through the alphabet, choosing a band for each letter.

The biggest laughs came with Marie and Mario’s Giant Hungry Hippos game. One member of a team lay belly down on a skateboard clutching a laundry basket (as you do); their partner flung them into the middle of the hall where plastic balls had to be gathered into the baskets; the “fisher person” was then hauled back on a rope and the “catch” was unloaded

Naomi said it was “Excellent – a full body workout”. Becca D pushed Marie at super high speeds, while EA and Piete had “some mad thing going where they hoovered up more balls than anyone else.” Top game!

This was followed by a magical woodland campfire. Building fires is one of my favourite things. Beth played her guitar and Andy the ukulele, and we enjoyed many songs from the Sing! repertoire.

Our lovely singing lured the DofE youngsters to join us, abandoning their own fire. We took requests and sang “Sweet Caroline” for Jo, and then “Wonderwall” for Reece. One of them led us on the guitar with “Eye of the Tiger”.  I liked the way that the teenagers were part of a motley group of adults, all ages, and able to feel how much happiness there can be in fires and singing.

At the end of that first day, Rob, who hadn’t been away with the choir before, said “this has far, far exceeded my expectations”:-)

On Sunday we were joined by more people, and Helen arrived with the lovely Juliet Russell, who ran two great workshops.

I’m very unmusical, but I really liked watching the way her passion and enthusiasm was visible in every movement she made, and in her wonderfully expressive face (as she told us, “It’s all in the eyebrows!”) I get pleasure being around others who have the musical knowledge I lack, and hearing things like Juliet announcing a song started “in a D minor 7th” and Naomi whooping with joy!

Juliet worked on our unison singing, and encouraged us to make joint decisions about how to express a passage – by, for example, inviting the altos to sing in imitation of the tenors, and to think about how that changed the tone and emotional content of their singing. We worked on Mark De-Lisser’s climate protest arrangement of “What a Wonderful World”, and Juliet sent him a video of us singing. Lindsey immediately requested that he send a selfie in return! 

I loved the musical language of onsets, smooth, glottal and breathy; vocal jams and fricatives. And I relished Juliet’s turn of phrase as she talked about “sonic sandwiches”; (some hybrid genre, sci-fi/cookery?) and told us, “The sopranos do all the work here – the rest of us get to have an ‘Oooh-y-holiday’”; and the unforgettable insight that “Oohs” can be “like a cat’s bum, or softer and cuddlier, like going in for a kiss”!

Altogether, it was a wonderful weekend, a real chance to get to know people, and to build our community. As Rob put it so beautifully, “If Putin nukes us, I want to be with Sing! people” 🙂

I’ve been waiting to smile – living the Sing! concert experience

By Amanda Cator

Reach Out

I joined Sing! Community Choir in January 2021 online during lockdown. I’m often asked about why I joined a choir online in the middle of a global pandemic. Well, why not? What a great way to relieve the cabin fever imposed by lockdown through embracing the positive energy which singing seems to generate. Choir really changed my Thursday evenings.

It was great to finally meet the choir members in July as the first in-person choir meet-ups started in a marquee outdoors. The biggest surprise on the first evening was around how tall or short everyone appeared, having only ever seen them on Zoom!

Choir began to meet in-person in a school hall from September. Within a week or two, we all became more than aware that we were moving at a fast pace towards preparing for the first post-lockdown Sing! concert only weeks away in November; giving us the chance to really hone all those songs we had become so dedicated to practicing and singing through in our own living rooms on mute.

As the weeks progressed, choir meet-ups became rehearsals. We spent less time in our particular voice part groups, and more time singing all those songs through as a whole choir. More emphasis was placed each week on doing your homework: Listening to your part tracks and revising from the lyric sheets, so helpfully prepared to support us by the Sing! committee.

Suddenly, the last two ‘longer’ rehearsals arrived where real commitment was needed from those intending to sing in the concert in order to make up for the lost time caused by lockdown, with no lyric sheets and the full repertoire of 18 months of songs to sing through and perfect.

Not only were we brushing up on singing during this time but lists of tasks to make the concert actually happen appeared, incorporating all those extra COVID-safe guidelines which were necessary for us to adhere to, as well as ticket sales, poster bombing, staging and sound set up, baking and sanitizing everything! Precision planning.

You’ll Be Back

The atmosphere at rehearsals was electric. Every time we sang through a song we were clapping and encouraging one another – especially when ‘Everything’s Easy’ or ‘Best Day Of My Life’ just went right, or we correctly practiced our clapping, stamping and dooting in ‘On Top Of The World’. The hardest part was getting to grips with those songs which had been taught before I joined the choir.

Concert day arrived – Saturday 13 November – a milestone achievement in the Sing! choir calendar. We had reached the date with no further restrictions being imposed on singing. The morning was spent in an anxious and excited state, clock-watching, baking and feeling that there were still lyrics that I knew so well at the Thursday rehearsal which had just disappeared from my mind by Saturday morning!

I arrived promptly at St Barnabas Church at 3.45pm, feeling like there was a marathon to run ahead of me. I remember thinking as warm-up started in the hall – there’s not many of us here! But that soon changed as a nervous excitement filled the room as more choir members arrived and we started to run through the programme of songs. In no time at all, we were ushered into the church building, our auditorium, for sound checks. I was standing on stage thinking ‘Wow, this is what it will really be like!’. Two hours vanished and it was breaktime.

Choir members rushed around to eat, change, set out refreshments and open the doors. The time flew and suddenly it was 7.25pm. With nervous anticipation around whether the auditorium was full or not, our moment had finally arrived. I’ll never forget that feeling as we walked up between 200 chairs of masked guests to the stage. We were almost unable to believe that we were there, searching the crowds through the spotlights for our own guests – and we were off! We started with ‘Some Nights’, the first song l learnt with Sing! on Zoom. This seemed meaningful somehow. Suddenly, we just seemed to relax and enjoyed performing with a fantastic finish to the first half with ‘On Top Of The World’.

Within no time, we were heading back to the stage again after the interval – by now, we knew what to expect and were enjoying the concert as much as the audience. We were encouraged after each song by our fabulous conductors and greeted with a final round of applause from the audience as we finished with our party piece ‘This is Me’ accompanied with sign language actions performed by some clever members. We burst into an encore of … you’ve guessed it, ‘On Top Of The World’. Well, if we had been waiting to smile (as the name of the concert says), that encore certainly did it! 

On Top Of The World

Huge thanks to the entire Sing! committee for the weeks of hard work and preparing us all to deliver a great and long-awaited performance. I don’t think any concert preparation will ever be so hard again, but all that extra effort seemed to make this return to singing for a live audience all the more worthwhile, and certainly more memorable to be involved in. As a concert newbie, I’m looking forward now to encouraging and welcoming other new choir members towards their first concert in the same way that I was encouraged and supported through this as my first concert.

Photos: Graeme Leese

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!