Busy as a busy thing….

Well first of all, I apologize for the long break in transmission. I’d like to tell you that I’ve been too busy relaxing on a sun-kissed Caribbean island, sipping margaritas and as a result, completely forgot about the blog, but sadly, that wouldn’t be true! The truth is altogether more prosaic: what with our Summer Concert and last-minute challenges getting our new CD ready for the big launch, things were just a bit hectic in the early part of the month and I simply ran out of hours in the day given that I still have to earn a crust or face selling the children for medical experiments.

So first off, let me say a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who came to hear us in our summer concert at STEAM in sunny Swindon. It was a hugely successful concert even if, with well over 400 in the Great Western Hall on a very warm summer’s day, things got a bit sticky! We were especially delighted to welcome a party of 32 from Cowbridge Male Voice Choir who had traveled up from South Wales to hear us.

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Wessex Male Choir and The Magnificent AK47 join forces for ‘Byker Hill’

One of the discussion points after every concert, seems to be that of repertoire selection (and ‘Afterglow’ food – but’s that’s another thing altogether!), and this year’s summer concert was no exception. Earlier in the year, we had decided we had to focus on competition preparation and raising performance standards as well as preparing songs to a high standard ahead of recording our long, long overdue new CD. As with any period of competition preparation, it meant that we were not able to spend as much time learning new, funky repertoire as we would have liked. So perhaps not surprisingly, we did get a few comments about the comparative lack of light-hearted songs (especially in our first set) at the summer concert, and it’s something we’ll be addressing with a significant number of new, lighter songs which we start learning from September. But we also had lots of fabulous feedback from audience members including one long-standing supporter who told us that this year’s concert was our ‘best ever’ – which just goes to show how difficult it can be trying to keep all audience members happy when people want different things.   As Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘…you can’t please all of the people all of the time’.

Early in the planning stages for the summer concert, we realized that we were unlikely to have many ‘humorous’ items in the programme, so we looked for a guest act that would provide the additional entertainment and humour needed.   We briefly considered a troupe of itinerant ferret-jugglers, but eventually opted instead for a somewhat anarchic men’s singing group from ‘north, north Wiltshire’ (The Magnificent AK47) who we knew would deliver the fun element needed for a well-balanced concert overall. Of course, some folk were disappointed that Wessex didn’t get into humorous mode, especially as quite a few of our choristers and audience members fondly recall such classics as Rob Elliott’s arrangement of El Capotin. It would be fun to do that again, although I’m not sure in these days of ‘offence avoidance’ and accusations of ‘cultural appropriation and stereotyping’ whether donning sombreros, gluing-on unfeasibly large droopy moustaches, and pretending to be Mexicans would be acceptable. I also recall another humorous song from our past – Les Gendarmes – for which our choristers were required to don plastic police helmets and carry squeaky truncheons. Unfortunately the excitement invariably proved too much for some and all too often, words and notes were forgotten amidst the deafening sound of squeaking truncheons. ­So we will have to choose our humorous numbers carefully!

Another comment from one ‘punter’ about the summer concert was that he was unimpressed because didn’t know any of the songs in our first set, which is a rather disappointing thing to hear when, as a Choir, we aim to innovate and introduce new material to audiences (alongside some old favourites, of course). I wonder how on earth some people ever find any songs they like if their minds are closed to new repertoire! It’s also true to say that a lot of the male choirs that have died out in recent years ‘played it safe’ and stuck defiantly to the traditional favourites until their dying breath!

Anyway, our audience numbers are creeping slowly upwards and will one day exceed the large and excited crowd who, a few years back, breathlessly anticipated our opening number having been coaxed into attendance by a badly-spelled promoter’s poster that billed us as the ‘Wee Sex Ale Choir’. Back in the real world, some useful audience polling revealed that although a significant number of audience members hear about our concerts via word-of-mouth from our choristers, there is an increasing number of people who are coming to our concerts who have no connection to choristers. If you discount the possibility that they wondered into the concert by accident, that’s a really healthy sign, especially as we think we are close to the maximum number we can expect from ‘chorister ticket sales’ efforts alone! Other than press-ganging people from the streets of Swindon, the two most successful ways of reaching new audiences appear to be either via our mailing list or via Facebook, and while both are only showing modest numbers at present, both approaches have the capacity to grow significantly!

The other big event for us was the launch of our first new album in over seven years. Called ‘Memory’ (no-one can remember why), we’re pretty pleased with it and initial sales have been very encouraging. (We still have plenty left, so if you would like a copy, please order one via our website at www.wessexmalechoir.co.uk) It’s an eclectic mix of new and old and genres as diverse as pop, opera, music theatre and some traditional male choir favourites.

 

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A week after our own summer concert, a few of us travelled to Cowbridge to hear their concert, which was a lovely event and featured some wonderful soloists as well as some rousingly good singing by Cowbridge MVC under their strangely familiar Musical Director, Rhiannon Williams.   A few of us reflected that in terms of sponsorship and audiences, Cowbridge is very well supported – perhaps because the male choral tradition is still very much stronger in Wales than in England. It’s a sad state of affairs that we struggle to get even small amounts of sponsorship for the Wessex and I can’t help but feel it reflects poorly on Swindon businesses and their interest in supporting the arts. So if you’re a local business based in or near Swindon and want to ‘do your bit’, then please get in touch via our website!

That’s all for now!

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Best Kept Secret….

Why singing in a good choir should be your New Year resolution!

Even if you’re reading this after 1st January, it’s still not too late to make 2018 the year you unlock your potential as a singer and have more fun than going to the gym or giving up beer, chips, or chocolate!

Singing in a choir is one of life’s best-kept secrets.  Here are seven reasons why you should give it a try:

No.1.   It’s Fun!

Like anything that is worth doing, it does require some effort, but the undeniable truth about singing is that it is fun.   Lots of people sing when they are happy, but guess what? It works the other way round too: singing makes you happy!  There’s some science behind it too, because studies have shown that singing in a group releases endorphins (which are the body’s natural ‘highs’).   There’s also plenty of evidence from those who regularly sing in a choir.  During rehearsal they concentrate on singing and, at least for a while, all the troubles and pressures of everyday life are left behind.   Many choristers leave rehearsals feeling happy and satisfied.  And quite a few go directly to the pub for a drink with fellow choristers afterwards!

No.2.   It’s really good for your health.

Singing improves circulation and is great for your heart, lungs, and brain function: it improves your memory and strengthens your mental health too.  It can also benefit your posture and may help you get a better night’s sleep: in some people, it has also helped to reduce snoring.  You might think these are pretty outrageous claims, but there is an ever-growing body of evidence which proves them to be true.  For example a Frankfurt University Study found that “Choir singing positively influences both emotional affect and immune competence.”  But don’t take my word for it: there are links to a number of great articles at the bottom of the page, which should give you all the evidence you need!

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Graphic courtesy of Uplift Connect (see their article on the Neuroscience of Singing)

No.3.   It improves your social life. Singing in a good choir is a great way of making new friends.  In a choir like the Wessex Male Choir, there are choristers of all ages and backgrounds.  The Wessex also prides itself on being a very friendly and supportive choir who sing to a high standard yet still enjoy a drink or two and some informal singing in the pub after rehearsals or concerts!  The guys are a fun bunch of folk who take their singing seriously, but themselves less so.   In any choir, you become part of a large family – in fact several former rugby players have described belonging to the choir as being a bit like belonging to a rugby club but without the rugby and the injuries!

No. 4.   It helps you to develop new skills.

If you haven’t sung before, then before you know it, you’ll be developing new skills as well as new friends.   Even if you don’t read music, very soon, at least some of it will make more sense.  The Wessex Male Choir has a chorister development programme and a ‘buddy’ system that helps you to develop your singing skills.   The Wessex also has a range of excellent online learning aids available for members for all of the songs we sing. The more you sing, the more you begin to appreciate good choral music and good singers.   You become more knowledgeable about singing in general!

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Members of the Wessex Male Choir enjoying a recent rehearsal.

No.5.   It improves your confidence.

Joining a choir, and eventually going on to perform as part of the group in front of a live audience, really helps build self-confidence.   You don’t have to do solos if you don’t want to, and you will only be put on stage when you’re ready, so there’s no chance of making a fool of yourself.

No.6.   It is a great way of supporting charities.

Every year, choirs like the Wessex perform at concerts in support of great national and local causes.  In October alone, we raised over £3000 for charitable causes.   Some choristers are even participating in the London Half Marathon in March (fast walking and stopping to sing to the crowds on the way around) whilst at the same time raising money for Parkinson’s UK.

No.7.   It gives you a real sense of achievement.

Once you’ve learnt the songs and sung in a concert, you get the most amazing sense of achievement.   It’s no accident that after most concerts, members of the Wessex Male Choir (like many other choirs)  have something called an ‘Afterglow’ – an often impromptu party in a local hostelry where there’s yet more singing and sampling of ale!  You really do get a wonderful feeling of satisfaction after a good concert.  And when you get to the end of 2018 and look back at what you have achieved, I can guarantee that if you joined a choir during the year, then singing will be one of the highlights of the year…every year from now on!

How to Get Involved

For men, the Wessex Male Choir has got an open-rehearsal on Tuesday 16th January from 7.30pm-9.30pm at our rehearsal venue at the Church of Christ the Servant, Abbey Meads, Swindon, SN25 4YX (Map).  The repertoire is very varied: everything from rock and pop anthems to music theatre, opera choruses, traditional songs and well-known choral pieces.  There’s plenty of free parking outside, and if you fancy a pint afterwards, the pub is right next door!  You will be assured of a very warm welcome whatever your age or experience, so why not come along and see what it’s like?  There’s no obligation, and the evening is free!

The Wessex Male Choir is also planning a day-long singing workshop on Saturday 28thApril from 9.30am-4.30pm, also at Abbey Meads, with the inspirational choral director, Mark Burstow.  Again there’s no charge for the day, and as places are limited, e-mail the Choir early at Wessexmalechoir@gmail.com to reserve a place!

The Wessex standard of singing is high (we are one of the UK’s premier male choirs!) so if that isn’t for you, then there are plenty of community singing groups and other choirs in Swindon.   And if you already sing in a community singing group, you can always join the Wessex as well for a bit of variety (quite a few of our choristers sing with other groups as well – the two are not mutually exclusive!)

Articles about the benefits of singing in a choir.

Does Singing Make You Happy? https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/singing-happy.htm

Singing Changes Your Brain (Group singing has been scientifically proven to lower stress, relieve anxiety, and elevate endorphins) http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/16/singing-changes-your-brain/

Community Singing ‘improves mental health and helps recovery’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-42431430

Can Singing in a Choir Make Me Healthier?  http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zcc7tyc

The Effects of Choir Singing… on Immunoglobulin A, Cortisol, and Emotional State. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15669447

11 Surprising Health Benefits of Singing https://takelessons.com/blog/health-benefits-of-singing

The Neuroscience of Singing (The neuroscience of singing shows that when we sing our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways. It fires up the right temporal lobe of our brain, releasing endorphins that make us smarter, healthier, happier and more creative. When we sing with other people this effect is amplified.) http://upliftconnect.com/neuroscience-of-singing/

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Memory and Banter!

It seems like ages ago now, but back in June 2016, we organized a short recording session at Commonweal School and recorded two tracks; Memory from Cats, and Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium. The intention was always to film them and put them on YouTube or something similar. Unfortunately, when we got to the editing stage, we felt that the recording quality wasn’t great and at the time, we never completed the edits. However, over a year later, we’ve managed to tweak the recordings and although the end-product is far from perfect, the first of the two recordings, Memory, is now online for people to watch. The second track, O Magnum Mysterium, will take a little longer to complete, but we hope that we can post that online too at some point.

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Recording ‘Memory’ at Commonweal – June 2016 under the direction of Katrine Reimers.

Over the years, there have been a number of smaller singing groups within the Choir, such as Presto and After Eight (the latter is now an independent group and no longer part of the Wessex Male Choir) and more recently we have had the Wessex Male Choir Chamber Group. It’s a bit of a mouthful, so we thought it was about time to give the Chamber Group a name. There were lots of suggestions from members of the Chamber Group – such as ‘Crotchety’ (because some choristers can be a bit grumpy) and ‘Quavers’ (because we’re a bit cheesy?). In the end, we opted for something a bit more stylish, and will be known henceforth as the Wessex Camerata, indicating that we are firmly part of the Wessex Male Choir but a chamber group. And before you tell me, yes I know the abbreviation is W.C.

You may already know that a male choir is usually split into four sections: the guys with the highest voices (top tenors); those with high voices (second tenors); the lower voices (baritones); and the ‘lowest of the low’ (the basses). There’s a great deal of banter and competition between sections, but at the end of the day, we all sing together in perfect harmony.  Even if you don’t know what voice type you are when you join the Choir, you’re quickly sorted into the best section for you and helped to settle-in by an appointed ‘buddy’. Amidst the bustle of the new term, we’re always delighted to welcome new choristers, and so far this term, we’re pleased to say hello to three prospective choristers, Andrew, Dan, and Jason.

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The Choir has lots of characters…the cartoon is not meant to represent actual choristers!

Potential singers can easily be put off joining, thinking that they could never do what we do, but most of us started out feeling that way. It’s a bit like the first time you get on a bike: you’ve seen other people do it, but it takes a bit of practice until you get it right! By sheer chance, one of our choristers wrote a little piece about joining the choir, which is reproduced below. And in case you were wondering, the author is a baritone!

‘Recruitment is an ongoing challenge for male choirs, and one of the recurring reasons we hear for not joining is “I can’t read music.” In fact neither can around 75% of the Choir, but this hasn’t stopped us from being one of the best male choirs in the UK. Since most of us don’t read music, you don’t need to either. All that is required is a love of singing, the willingness to attend rehearsals and the need to put effort into learning the songs.

Another thing we often hear when we talk to guys about joining us is “I can’t sing.” Almost everyone can sing, and there are lots of ways our chorister development programme can help you. It’s a misconception that singing excellence is a prerequisite for joining. We don’t expect you to sing like Pavarotti: we just want people who can sing in tune with a bunch of others, learn some words and do what the Music Director asks them to do – for example “don’t sing too loudly.”

In fact, even if you can’t sing well, you can join our 2nd Tenors. (NB this is a joke and illustrates the eternal banter between sections!) Having made that clear…..

Q. If you threw a pianist and a second tenor off a cliff, which one would hit the ground first?
A. The pianist. The second tenor would have to stop halfway down to ask directions.

Q. Why must you never leave second tenors out on their own?
A. They can never find the key and they always come in late.

So if, like us you take your singing seriously, but yourself less so, and
want to sing with like-minded individuals in one of the most successful male choirs in the UK and have a riot whilst doing so, why not give us a call? After all, what’s the worst that could happen (apart from joining the second tenors!)’

Continue reading “Memory and Banter!”