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  • phildunn641

Music Mayhem

Updated: Feb 24, 2021

Singing seemed to take over my life this last week or so. For someone who sings for a bit of fun and who was part of a bass section which was, infamously, branded as “roadkill” by a previous choir master, this is quite something.

I started singing with a community choir based in the music centre of the school that the Muswell Kids attended 8 years ago. At the time I joined, we sang a few numbers from musical theatre, some pop classics and the odd smattering of classical choral music. It seemed like an easy entry into the world of choral singing, but with few men in attendance, it could be very exposing. It was on one of these occasions, when there were only a handful of us in the bass section, all lacking in confidence, that our then choir director likened our sound to roadkill - to this day our smugly superior Tenors still refer to this incident. Do not get me wrong here… our choir is one on the friendliest, welcoming and supportive groups of people I have ever been part of. And we have wonderful home baked cakes at the break in every rehearsal.

Since those early days the level of ambition of the choir has increased with each successive musical director. We started to learn and perform complete Choral works starting with Vivaldi’s Gloria in 2012 and most recently Haydn’s The Seasons which we performed with a full orchestra and a large screen visual presentation created by local artist, Caroline Elliott.

I also recently joined another choir. I’ve always been into folk to some extent and in recent years listened to a lot of English folk music, enjoying hearing the stories of some of the songs from the likes of Bellowhead and Eliza Carthy. So when I saw there an opportunity to be part of a folk choir workshop at Cecil Sharp House, the home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, I could not resist. In this workshop we learn and sing rounds and new songs by ear and generally learn and perform (to ourselves) one new song per session. In the two terms I’ve attended we’ve worked with two different young folk singers who have taught us songs from throughout Britain and Ireland - we’ve learned technique and sung heartily among ourselves with no pressure to perform to a wider audience - it really is singing for pleasure.

So in the last 8 days I’ve performed Christmas carols at the Very Merry Muswell Christmas Fair, sung in The Really Big Chorus performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall with 3000 other singers, rounded off my term at the Monday Folk Choir Workshop at Cecil Sharp House with a sing-through of all the term’s work and been part of my community choir’s Christmas concert “Composed by Women”.

The first weekend in December was a particularly crazy. After a Saturday community choir rehearsal where Cecilia McDowall, composer of one of our upcoming concert pieces was present, it was off to St James’ square to sing (in the rain) for A Very Merry (wet) Muswell. Only one other bass, out of around 14 regulars, turned up. So I saw the passing husband of one of our Sopranos and pulled him into the back row with me and the other and shoved a carol book in his hand. We raced through some spirited renditions of a few favourites, but it was not the weather to linger, for audience or singers.

On Sunday, it was off to the Royal Albert Hall to sing Messiah, asking myself (as I had been for past few weeks) why was I singing the Messiah from scratch, for the first time less than a week before my other choir concert. I had sung in a Really Big Chorus event previously - Mozart’s Requiem which I had already rehearsed exhaustively and performed with my community choir and sung with another scratch choir, and there was a 2 hour rehearsal before the event. This was something else... I only knew 3 of the choruses, there was no rehearsal and I’d never learned any music outside the safety of my community choir rehearsal hall. However, as I’m not currently spending time in paid employment, I had thought it was now or never and went ahead and signed up for it. Fortunately I had also been able to rope in a couple of my fellow basses, one of whom was an old hand at singing the Messiah, and we had two mini-rehearsals at my place leading up to the concert. The concert was exhilarating and exhausting. Quite a few parts are dropped, but most of the choruses are kept so there’s not much chance to rest, but with around 3000 singers, you just have to watch the conductor and keep up. It’s an annual event and people travel from all over to sing in this performance - our small group was bracketed on either side by a chap from Berlin and two Norwegians, one of whom was attending for the 7th time. Now that I’ve done it once I’m sure I’ll be back too.

Basses, tenors and ranks of altos (in red)

Then on Monday I had my last folk Choir Workshop of the term. In comparison to the weekend’s exploits this was a lovely relaxing evening where we revisited and sang through all our term’s work of traditional songs which included, Awake Awake, Gan Tae The Kye, Bog Braon, and The Coventry Carol.

There were three days of no singing and then it was time for final rehearsals and performance of our Christmas concert. This year the concert was programmed to highlight the work of women composers in celebration of the centenary of women’s suffrage in the UK and included our first commissioned piece - Women’s Rights by Phoebe McFarlane. This really added to the challenge of giving our best - especially as as she was hearing her piece performed in its entirety for the first time at our rehearsal the night before the concert and then was in the audience for the world premier of her composition.

We had a fantastic concert that also included some Christmas carols, and while the audience appreciated the diversity of the whole programme, the biggest response was for Rosephanye Powell’s Glory Hallelujah to duh Newbo’n King... so much so that we performed our first ever encore.

So now I’m resting my voice, but I’m sure that as soon as I get a chance to launch into a few Christmas carols, there will be no stopping me.

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