Keeping Your Choristers Happy!

Looking back over some of the previous blogs on here, it seems that the focus has often been on how to recruit new members.   We often overlook our most valuable assets – the members we already have! So in a round-about way, this blog is about retaining people, and how to avoid some of the obvious pitfalls.  For various reasons, I had my grumpy head on when I first published this blog.   Since then I’ve re-read it and realized it was pants, so I’ve revised it.  It’s still pants, but at least it’s not so whingey!

I guess choir politics are pretty much the same whichever choir you belong to and without doubt, in a male choir, egos are never very far from the surface.   Personally, all I’m really interested in is the singing, and making that as good as it can be, but inevitably, if you’re passionate about something, you end up disagreeing with others, and this can become a source of disharmony in the choir if you let it.  Compromise and good communication can prevent choristers feeling that their contributions don’t count.  Most of us try very hard to subjugate our personal agendas to ‘the greater good’, (I can never say that without thinking about Hot Fuzz!) but I doubt that anyone ever really succeeds in doing so, despite the best of intentions.  Having an agreed Choir Vision that everyone can buy into is a good idea and takes away some of the guesswork! Be tolerant with others and remember, all of us think we’re better than we really are. For example, I think I can sing.

Lesson 1: No matter how good you think you are, a little humility and compromise never hurt anyone.

I was left ‘spitting feathers’ a few weeks back when someone quite brazenly claimed credit for something that I had done. Deep breath. Count to three, and move on.  Some people are just like that and most of your colleagues will see it for what it is.  I’ve noticed quite often in the past, that members can be quite critical of committee members, often without really understanding the at times difficult decisions that need to be made. I suppose that if you stand for the committee, you open yourself up to all manner of criticisms (mostly behind your back) and it goes with the territory.  If you’re in that privileged position, try to find the time to tell people informally about what the committee is doing for the Choir.  I’m not sure that posting your committee meeting minutes on the noticeboard really cuts it!

Lesson 2:  Treat everyone fairly and recognize their contributions, no matter how small.  If you’re on the committee, make a real effort to talk to members about what the committee is trying to achieve – and don’t be afraid to elicit opinions.  If you’re not on the committee, cut them some slack – they are trying their best and deserve encouragement. Of course, if you think you can do better, then put your money where your mouth is! In short, communicate, give credit where it’s due and don’t take credit for the work of others.

It’s funny how things tend to come in threes, shortly after having someone take credit for my work, and with just four days to go before a long-planned singing workshop, the visiting workshop leader pulled out due to ill-health.   I like a challenge, but that was a bit of stress I could have done without! Thankfully, my old friend, the amazing Dr Rebecca Berkley, stepped in to fill the void and delivered a superb workshop which I think made a positive and lasting impression on all who attended. (To be clear, when I say ‘old’ friend, I don’t mean she’s old – just that she was MD at Kennet Opera a few years back when I had the privilege of singing the role of MacDuff in Verdi’s Macbeth under her musical direction!) Fair to say, the workshop, which had been sponsored by One-Stop through their ‘Carriers for Causes’ scheme, was a great success, not least because we learnt a new round all about Gin and Tonic!

Workshop

Dr Rebecca Berkley leading the workshop astray with thoughts of Gin and Tonic!

No sooner had the dust settled on the workshop, than I received an e-mail from the local performing arts academy in Swindon where we had booked the auditorium for a weekend of recording work, only to be told (with a just a month’s notice), that they were cancelling the booking. I suppose I should be grateful it was a month’s notice and not just a week! However trying to find a good alternative location with the right acoustic and facilities at short notice isn’t a heap of laughs, and as the recording company deposit had already been paid and diaries cleared, changing the date wasn’t an option. Thankfully, one of our committee, Stuart,  for solved the problem (thank you Stu!) and found a location almost on his own doorstep!  The point is that it pays to build networks and tap into the your choir’s ‘collective knowledge’, whether it’s for a last-minute replacement for a workshop or a replacement venue!

Lesson 3: Many heads are better than one when it comes to problem-solving. Your members are your best asset – tap into their knowledge and connections. Do you even know what they all do, what skills they have, or who they know that might be able to help the choir?  Keep them all involved.  Team-working strengthens the sense of belonging.

The passion for singing is what keeps us coming back for more, but sometimes the singing (in my case, my own) doesn’t live up to expectations.  After one rehearsal recently, I found myself feeling unusually low and seriously contemplating my own departure in search of pastures new.  There’s a local singing group I’d love to join, but it meets on the same night as choir, so I can’t do both. It made me think that almost every chorister has something else they could be doing on rehearsal night, and sometimes the pull of the alternative is strongly felt.   I’d been feeling a bit crappy that night anyway, and once I had manned-up, I felt somewhat happier, so for now at least, the Choir will have to put up with me. The moral of the story is, no matter how ‘embedded’ someone seems in the Choir, it doesn’t prevent them having times when they wonder if it’s all worth it. Watch out for the signs and get them back on board quickly!

Lesson 4:  Never assume that your members are happy just because they’re not complaining. Engagement and valuing your members is everything here and the serial whingers whose voices are often loudest, may not be the ones you need to worry about!

One of the many things that makes it all worthwhile is the sweet smell of success. Back in March, the Wessex Male Choir had a particularly successful outing at the Mid-Somerset Festival in Bath where we managed first place in all three of the categories we had entered thanks in no small part to the brilliant leadership of our MD.   Our chamber choir, the Wessex Camerata, also entered a class but, perhaps not surprisingly given our new line-up which is still bedding-in, we only managed a creditable third place against some very good competition. Still it was a good test of the guys’ mettle.   Preparing for the competition was hard work, but as Samuel Goldwyn once said, ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get’ – it’s true both as a choir and on an individual basis.

Wessex MD, Rhiannon Williams, with two out of the three trophies won in Bath.

Lesson 5:  Success and hard work go hand-in-hand. Ensure that everyone understands this – there is no such thing as a free lunch or a short-cut to success! The sooner that choristers understand the connection, the happier they will be about having to work hard. Manage their expectations. No-one said it was going to be easy!

With preparations now well underway for the Cheltenham Festival of Performing Arts later this month, it would be easy to overlook some of the other great things we are doing this year. We’ll be recording our latest CD next month and, as well as a few well-known numbers to keep our traditionalist fans happy, the CD will be packed with new material and different genres. (Follow us on Facebook to hear about the launch of the CD and a special offer on pre-orders!) .

We’ve also received the first draft of a new song of Remembrance that we commissioned from the acclaimed British composer, Paul Mealor. Paul is unique in having held top chart positions in both the pop charts and classical charts simultaneously, and will be known to many as the composer of the Military Wives’ Choir hits Wherever You Are and in My Dreams.   The commission (supported in part by a Co-Op grant), is for male choir but with an optional descant, suitable for a school choir (our way of involving youngsters in remembering the fallen). We asked Paul to use some of the text from Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For the Fallen’, which includes the well-known stanza that begins ‘They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old…’ and he has done a fabulous job.   All we need now is a good local school choir to help us perform the premiere at a big RBL event in October this year! Also in October, we’ll be performing in the Sheriff of Wiltshire’s event, An Uncelebrated Journey, a showcase for the best of Swindon talent.

We’re very much looking forward to our annual summer concert at STEAM in Swindon again this year (14th July) where our guests will be ‘The Magnificent AK47’ – an anarchic group of singing land-pirates and DIY-ers who are single-handedly changing perceptions about men’s singing. They wear hats, have far too much facial hair, and sing rousing stuff in a manly manner. We’re sure that our Swindon audience will love them! We’re especially looking forward to doing a few joint numbers with them including a rendition of the old English drinking song, ‘Down Among the Deadmen’.

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Brothers in song… Magnificent Wessex choristers with members of the Magnificent AK47!

Lesson 6:  Acentuate the positive! We have an interesting and varied selection of events and activities to look forward to – something for everyone. The promise of the next big gig or special event is often enough to keep people’s enthusiasm flowing!

Okay, I’m mad about singing and over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from hundreds (or maybe thousands) of hours of singing tuition from some outstanding singers (including Ros Plowright, Stuart Burrows, Ryland Davies, James Gilchrist, Gail Pearson, Susan McCulloch, Patricia Wheatley-O’Neill, Adrian Thompson and many more).   I’ve done masterclasses, consultations, summer schools, and more grade exams than I care to remember, all in the interest of improving my singing (especially as a soloist) and being the best I can be, given that I’ll never be more than a keen amateur. My poor family have been driven nearly insane.  I didn’t really start singing until twelve years ago and I’d like to think it’s never too late to learn new tricks, even for an old dog like me.  One thing is certain, we never stop learning.   So encourage choristers to learn, to attend workshops, to take lessons, to learn how to read music, to rise to musical challenges.  Making development opportunities available to choristers is a good way of keeping the challenge fresh and choristers engaged. The sense of accomplishment and recognition that comes with developing or learning new skills will keep your choristers happy!  As well as having a chorister development programme in the Wessex, our chamber group (the Wessex Camerata) provides some additional challenges in a cappella singing for those who want to push their boundaries a bit further.

Lesson 7:  Have a chorister development programme and provide plenty of opportunities for choristers to learn and improve. Have a culture that imbues choristers with the desire to do better, and make a point of rewarding those who make the effort.

There are probably many more things you can do to keep your choristers happy, I’ve just picked on a few that areas that represent quick wins.  Being in a really good choir is an incentive all of its own.   Above all, try and keep a sense of humour and make sure that singing is fun – but not at the expense of choir discipline!

GE

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‘Tis (nearly) the season to be jolly!

Everyone loves Christmas and the Wessex Male Choir is no exception. Christmas trees, lights, presents, old films, presents, chocolates, presents, ugly Christmas jumpers, presents and of course, carols.

Most of us have grown up with fond memories of participating in school nativity plays and singing carols. Now, whilst we no longer get the chance to wear tea towels on our heads or pretend to be donkeys, cows and assorted animals in the manger, we can still sing carols – and occasionally wear silly hats….

Holyrood 2015 (17 of 20)

Let’s be honest, whilst presents are very important, nothing touches the soul like singing. Its ability to move you, to enchant, to captivate and to inspire is a gift like no other. Carols especially evoke the deepest, fondest memories, and if I hear Silent Night sung on Christmas Eve, I still surreptitiously steal a glance at the sky in case I can see Santa’s sleigh.

Christmas is a busy time for us and we eagerly look forward to preparing new concert material – usually beginning in late September. We are a fairly youthful choir, which has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, we are proud to have a blend and tone which is the envy of many of other choirs, allied with an appetite for taking on challenging new arrangements. However, as a young choir, many of us still work and have young families, which means that we are unable to fulfil each of the many requests we receive to perform at Christmas concerts. Our Christmas concerts are therefore relatively exclusive and this year, we are participating in just three events: with the Brize Norton Military Wives Choir at Carterton on the 15 December in aid of SSAFA: our own annual Wessex Christmas concert at the Multi Entertainment Cultural Arena (MECA) in Swindon on Thursday 21st December, and performing a set or two at the Swindon Wildcats game at the Link on the 9th December.

WMC Christmas 2017

Our festive repertoire for this year embraces sacred, traditional, and even Jewish pieces, so there is something for everyone! We have a blend of new pieces, and some old favourites, so if you want to listen to some beautiful new music and sing along with us too, our Christmas concerts are the place to be. Our course, there will be the opportunity to sing along to some of your favourite carols too.

Our concert programme includes:

The Gloucestershire Wassail (also known as the Cricklade Wassail), which has been specially arranged for the Choir by one of our choristers – Guy Edwards: Guy’s arrangement celebrates the traditional & cheerful Wassail whilst bringing a contemporary element, which will thrill all.

The vivacious “Hanukkah holiday” – a guaranteed crowd pleaser, accompanied by some lively “choralography:” Don’t forget your dreidels!

A rarely heard version of The First Noel which combines the traditional carol tune with the baroque favourite, Pachelbel’s Canon in D. This clever arrangement by Michael Clawson intertwines these two timeless works beautifully. It has been pronounced “a first-rate choral masterpiece, which has rapidly become a classic.” It features a three-hand piano accompaniment, but unless we can find a mutant accompanist; two hands will have to suffice.

We Three Kings was originally written by John Hopkins in 1857. Given its enduring its place in the canon of great tunes, I expect John was Welsh! We though, are singing an arrangement by Andy Beck, which has been described as..: “A dramatic choral introduction precedes a sizzling jazz waltz arranged with fresh contemporary chords, driving rhythmic intensity, and original, school-appropriate lyrics. Enjoy the new “star of wonder” melody, paired with an awesome descending chromatic line, and rejoice in the easy-on-the-voice, impressive-on-the-ears jazzy twists!” Beautiful. And that’s just the description!

And Can it Be is a Christian hymn originally written by Charles Wesley in the early 18th century to celebrate his conversion. The original tune was written in a traditional Methodist style similar to those written by his elder brother John Wesley. Dan Forrest has arranged a stunning contemporary interpretation of the tune containing subtle quotes from the original.

The Wessex Camerata (our chamber group) will be performing the beautiful Es Ist Ein Rose Entsprungen, a beautiful old German carol, traditionally associated with the start of Christmas and evoking the wonder and hope of Christ’s birth as prophesied by Isaiah.

PUK Christmas 2015 (13 of 16)

The Wessex Camerata will also be singing an arrangement by Ruth Schram of Personent Hodie,  a much-loved Christmas carol originally published in 1582 in the Finnish song book Piae Cantiones.

As Dylan Thomas wrote in from his poem A Child’s Christmas in Wales:

‘One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.’

If Christmas holds fond memories for you too, come and celebrate them with us.

-DL.

You can order tickets online now from www.ticketsource.co.uk/wessex-male-choir

Do you need money?

Would you like a cheque for £1500? £1800? £2500?

Okay, it’s a daft question, we all need money, but specifically, do you need money for a special cause? Maybe the church roof needs repairing, or you support a major charity or health organization? Maybe you’ve held coffee mornings to fund a playgroup, or completed a sponsored event to raise money for a hospice or local food-bank? Maybe you knit woolly hats for llamas.   Whatever your favourite cause, the chances are it needs fundraisers like you to help it carry out the valuable work it does.  So would you like a cheque for £1500,  £1800, or £2500 for your cause?

WMC at Wembley Poppy Launch 2016Launching last year’s RBL Poppy Appeal at Wembley in front of 80,000 fans

Working with local promoters, our two most recent concerts raised about £1500 (for the Royal British Legion in Cirencester) and £1800 for the Lechlade Village Hall Fund.   At St Mary’s Church in Fairford a few years ago, our concert raised £2500 for the church appeal. So what’s the secret of their success?

The key to the success for such concerts is YOU. We can put on a fantastic show for you, but without YOUR network of contacts, friends, family, and supporters, we cannot generate an audience. The Wessex Male Choir is based in Swindon where we are well known and have an enthusiastic following, but in the towns and villages away from Swindon, we don’t have the same connections, so this is where you, as a local promoter, can make all the difference.   If you have got a good network or a popular cause, then selling enough tickets for a concert to make a handsome profit, should not be a problem.

We have organized countless concerts over the years and we have put together a handy Guide to Promoting a Concert which tells you all you need to know about organizing a successful event – and we offer it free to any potential concert promoter.  (Ask Stuart for a copy concerts@wessexmalechoir.co.uk).   We’re also happy to help out in other ways (for example, we can offer a free poster design service – and we have contacts with very reasonably priced local printers). We can even help you sell tickets online. We have our own staging, amplification, and lighting (if required) so you needn’t worry about any of that.

PUK Christmas 2015 (16 of 16)The Wessex Male Choir at a charity fundraiser for Parkinson’s UK in Southwark RC Cathedral, along with Jenni Murray, Jane Hill, and Jane Asher, and PUK Chief Executive, Steve Ford.

Successful promoters try hard to keep costs to a minimum, and in particular, if you have free use of a good venue, then that’s a huge advantage.   Most churches, schools, and community centres have reasonable hire rates, and may even provide the venue free of charge if the cause is one that is close to their hearts.

The Wessex Male Choir is one of the UK’s leading male choirs and has won numerous national and international singing competitions. We offer a very varied and professional programme. We even have our own chamber group, the Wessex Camerata, that helps us to widen the choice of songs on offer! We aspire to professional standards, but of course excellence comes at a cost: we have professional music staff, only use properly authorized arrangements and copyrighted music, and our ‘on-the-day’ concert management and staging is slick. We have to cover our costs by charging a charity fee, but one that is easily covered by selling just 50 tickets!   The income from another 50 tickets would almost always comfortably cover most venue hire costs and publicity, therefore we reckon anything over 100 tickets sold is pure profit for your cause. So the challenge is this: do you think that you and your network of friends, family, and supporters can sell more than 100 tickets? If the answer is ‘yes’, then you’re onto a winner!   We can help you raise funds for your favourite cause.

WessexMaleChoirWithAledJonesSheffieldThe Wessex with one of our patrons, Aled Jones, at a charity concert.

We occasionally raise funds directly for charitable causes. For example, back in 2007, a sizeable contingent from the Wessex Male Choir took part in the London Marathon to raise funds for the charity, Parkinson’s UK  Our completion time was dreadful, but then again, we kept stopping on the way around to sing to the crowds! We raised £32,000 on the day and, at subsequent events, have taken the total to over £65,000. One of our choristers, Jeff Hannath, who has been a stalwart supporter of the charity, saw that the first London Half Marathon – ‘The Big Half’ – is being held in March 2018, and so a group of us, along with a few former choristers and friends, will be participating once again to raise funds for Parkinson’s UK. Doubtless the temptation to sing to the crowds will be too great to resist!   (If you would like to sponsor us, then please visit our Just Giving page at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/wessexchoir)

LondonMarathon2007Crazy choristers!  Wessex choristers singing their way around the London Marathon to raise funds for Parkinson’s UK. 

They say that ‘charity begins at home’, and running (no pun intended) a choir as good as the Wessex costs money. We’re an arts charity in our own right, dedicated to spreading the joy of male choral music far and wide, and sometimes we have to raise funds for the Choir so that we can keep on doing the great work with others. Of course we’d love it if an individual or a company offered to sponsor us, or even if someone were to sponsor a concert in aid of their favourite charity. We’re always pleased to collaborate with other entertainers too, and have worked with youth groups such as MJ-UK Music & Arts, celebrity singers such Paul Potts, Hayley Westenra, and Juliette Pochin, and we have sung in front of capacity crowds at Wembley and Twickenham!   Please get in touch with us if you would like details of our sponsorship packages.   Our events diary can fill up quite quickly, so if you’re thinking about hiring the Choir, please don’t delay!

Our own Christmas Concert this year is on Thursday 21st December at the Multi Entertainment & Cultural Arena (MECA) in Regent’s Circus, Swindon.  Tickets cost £12.50 and are on sale online now from www.ticketsource.co.uk/wessex-male-choir.  (Reserved seating is only available to Friends of the Choir, but you can easily become a Friend for free, by sending your name and e-mail address to friends@wessexmalechoir.co.uk  This will add you to our mailing list and you’ll receive about three newsletters a year, be able to reserve seats at our concerts, and take part in occasional online feedback surveys.)

GE

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Musical Direction!

In this week’s blog, Dave Langley, one of the Choir’s founding members, talks about the Choir’s three musical directors and the vitally important role they have each played in making the Wessex Male Choir one of the country’s top amateur male choirs. As well as directing our concerts, the musical director selects our repertoire, teaches us singing technique, rehearses us through every song in minute detail, encourages us to give our best in performance, critiques our singing, and helps us to achieve the Choir’s vision.

Throughout its life, Wessex Male Choir has benefited from the inspirational leadership of exceptional musical directors. Music professionals all, each has brought differing areas of choral expertise to test and develop the Choir. Their patience, humour, commitment and professionalism has motivated, cajoled and ultimately, constructed one of the most accomplished male choirs in the UK.

Whilst each of the Choir’s musical directors has had a unique style, the unifying theme from each has been a constant striving for excellence.  It certainly hasn’t always been easy, but between them, they have constructed a modern choir with an appetite for high standards and a desire to continually improve. The Choir has won over 20 prizes in competitions on the national and international stage, including the male choir competition at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod in 2011, and best male choir in the Jersey International Choral Festival in 2008.
Rob telling a joke

Rob Elliott, our first musical director, in fine form telling the audience a joke!

The Choir’s founding musical director, Robert T Elliott, created the Wessex and its bedrock principles, standards and organization.  Rob was keen to refresh male choral singing for the 21st century and to move away from the stuffy traditional repertoire to which many male choirs adhered.  The genre was showing signs of decay and declining popularity, with many choirs’ membership having an average age of over 65, and being unable to inject young blood to replace retiring singers.  Even notable and acclaimed choirs such as Côr Meibion Pontarddulais are feeling the pinch, and the traditional male voice choirs almost everywhere worry about the increasing average age of their choristers.  Rob was, and continues to be, at the forefront of a movement to enhance the relevance of male choir singing in the modern age, a group that also includes the likes of William Prideaux of Peterborough Male Voice Choir, Mark Burstow of Bournemouth Male Choir, and Tim Rhys-Evans of Only Men Aloud.

Rob left Wessex in 2013 and was appointed as Festival Director for the Cornwall International Male Choral Festival, the world’s largest male choir festival, featuring over 70 choirs from all over the world.  He also adjudicates at many prestigious choral festivals in the UK and overseas, as well as advising choirs as they prepare for competition.  More recently, he has also taken over the baton at Basingstoke Ladies Choir.

Cheltenham 2016 - Katrine Gold Cup

Katrine Reimers, with the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2016.

Following Rob’s departure, the Wessex was fortunate to acquire another excellent musical director in Katrine Reimers, who led the Choir between January 2014 and July 2016.  Katrine studied music at King’s College, Cambridge, piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and trained as a professional repetiteur at the National Opera Studio.  Katrine led the choir on successful tours to Ireland and Italy (where she also conducted a massed festival choir of over 2000 singers in the singing of Verdi’s Va Pensiero), and under her direction, the Choir was victorious in the 2016 Cheltenham Festival of Performing Arts, winning the Male Choir competition, Show Tunes competition, and the Gold Cup itself for outstanding choir of the whole Festival despite never having worked with a male choir before.  Katrine built on the excellent foundations laid by her predecessor and, in particular, worked on developing the Choir’s musical expression, not least through her own very expressive and communicative conducting style.

Unfortunately for the Choir, Katrine’s abundant talents were noticed by others and she left the Wessex to take up a prestigious post working with youth choirs across Europe, although she is still involved with music locally around her home in Bath. Like her predecessor, Katrine remains a good friend of the Wessex and can still be seen occasionally in the audience at concerts, having made many friends during her time with the Choir.

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Rhiannon Williams conducting the Wessex Male Choir at Lechlade in 2017.

Continuing the fine line of excellent musical directors, the Choir’s current musical director is Rhiannon Williams who joined Wessex in 2016. Rhiannon’s conducting career began in 2002 as musical director of the Ynysybwl Ladies Choir, a position she held for ten years, during which the Choir won competitions at the Abergavenny and Hereford festivals. Rhiannon led Bridgend Male Choir to success at the 2014 Male Choir Competition in the Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod. This was notable since only Wales’ most successful competition choir, Cor Meibion Pontarddulais, had previously won the world-renowned competition from the South Wales area. In addition to this, Rhiannon has previously achieved success as an accompanist for the Bridgend Male Choir at the Cheltenham festival and has a wealth of experience working with other top Welsh choirs including Pontarddulais, Treorchy, and Llanelli.

A native of South Wales, Rhiannon began her musical life as a singer. Among many competition successes, she was named British (& Welsh) BET Choirgirl of the Year in 1989 (28 years ago today!).  This led to solo appearances at the Royal Albert Hall, and Cardiff’s

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Rhiannon was Choirgirl of the Year in 1989.

St David’s Hall, among other venues, and to membership of the National Youth Choirs of Wales and of Great Britain, the RSCM Cathedral Singers, and the Choir of St John’s, Smith Square.  Rhiannon’s professional piano training began with a part-time scholarship at London’s Royal Academy of Music. The London College of Music awarded her a Fellowship, and she has achieved Distinctions at Licentiate and Associate levels from the Trinity, Guildhall and Royal Schools of Music. In 1998 she became Principal Accompanist for the renowned Treorchy Male Choir, which ultimately bestowed on her an Honorary Lady Membership.  In addition to her day-job as a professional musician, she has also recently become the musical director for the Cowbridge Male Voice Choir.

In the hands of a great musical director, the Wessex Male Choir is like a finely-tuned instrument, capable of expressing great depths of emotion, astonishing tonal colour, and dynamic contrast that lends excitement, power, and sensitivity to its performances.  If you haven’t heard it for yourself, you really should!  For more information about singing with the Choir, hearing us in concert, or hiring us for an event, please visit our website at www.wessexmalechoir.co.uk  You can also follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wessexmalechoir

Great Venue, Lovely Singing!

Well, the first concert of our new season seemed to go pretty well. Wessex put on a good show in aid of the Royal British Legion in the Baptist Church in Cirencester last Saturday.   This was also Tom Graff’s debut with us as our new principal accompanist and he played a fiendishly tricky solo piece to mark the occasion.

Cirencester Gig

Performing at Cirencester on 7th October 2017.   Photo by Shellon Islip.

This was our first concert in Cirencester Baptist Church and we have to say, it’s very impressive, seating over 500 when full. The £3.7m building was only completed in December 2016 and boasts a superb range of facilities. The acoustic is a bit dry for unamplified singing (lots of carpet, sound-absorbing ceiling tiles, and comfy fabric-covered seating which is a far cry from some of the bum-numbing pews we’ve encountered in other places) but nevertheless, the sound of singing certainly filled the space.

As the concert was marking the launch of this year’s Poppy Appeal locally, there were several Remembrance Songs in the programme. The first of these was Blades of Grass & Pure White Stones – always a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made by so many, and this was followed by the Wessex Male Choir’s chamber group, the Wessex Camerata, performing Only Remembered, in a lovely arrangement made popular by the folk trio, Coope, Boyes & Simpson. During the song, images from World War 1 were projected above the singers, and as the final notes died away like fading memories, the last picture dissolved into a scene of sunlit poppies. The first half concluded with Giorgio Susana’s hauntingly beautiful Io Resto Qui, Addio!, a song that conveys the dying thoughts of an Italian soldier on the Russian Front in World War 2. The Italians fought against a numerically and technically superior Russian force and also suffered terrible loses as a result of the harsh Russian winter. The words of farewell, from a dying soldier, far from his beloved homeland, were also accompanied by black and white images of the Russian Front. The last song of Remembrance, the highly emotional Tell My Father, was performed by Guy Edwards, one of the Choir’s soloists, accompanied on piano by the Choir’s Musical Director, Rhiannon Williams-Hale.   It’s fair to say that quite a few hankies were needed after that.

The concert wasn’t all focused on Remembrance though. There were many upbeat numbers too, such as the lively arrangement of El Fusilado (complete with maracas and shaker), and the inspirational What Would I Do Without My Music?  The Choir also showed off some of it choreographed moves in the ever-popular Chattanooga Choo-Choo.

Originally, the evening had been planned as a joint concert with a Welsh choir, but unfortunately they had to pull-out. So as not to disappoint the audience though, the evening had a strong Welsh flavour. Despite the Wessex Male Choir being based firmly in England, we sang two pieces in Welsh, and a fair number of the arrangements were by notable Welshmen such as Alwyn Humphries, Haydn James and Mansel Thomas (and a few less notable ones: Grahame Jones and Guy Edwards – who also happen to be members of the Choir!).

With hardly time to draw breath, we’re now preparing for our next concert in Lechlade on Saturday 14th October at St Lawrence’s Church.  The concert is in aid of the Village Hall fund, which is needed to replace the old village hall that was burnt down by an arsonist.

For more information about the award-winning Wessex Male Choir – including how to join us – please visit www.wessexmalechoir.co.uk.

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!)’

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