Sing your heart out, Suffolk: in tune with the county's choirs
PUBLISHED: 10:48 23 June 2014
Singing's not just fun, but physically good for us - and at last we're doing more of it! Lindsay Want shares her notes on how choirs are booming beautifully - but tunefully! - all around Suffolk
Apparently there are more choirs in the UK today than fish and chip shops. Ah, now doesn’t that sound healthy! It seems that we are slowly getting the message – singing is great food for the soul, fun, fat-free and good for us.
It’s been about forever of course, but banished so often in our self-conscious society to communal gatherings like weddings and funerals, or limited to an occasional rousing rendition of the national anthem and a chanted chorus on the Portman Road terraces.
TV ‘find your voice’ type shows and evangelistic choirmaster extraordinaire, Gareth Malone, have done oodles to get us all away from singing in the shower in favour of sharing our closet talents with others. Even in the last couple of years, ‘lighter’ community choirs singing anything from Geldof to Gershwin have blossomed, popping up all over the place (literally when it comes to singing ‘flash mob’ style) and giving singing a distinctly warm, but very much cooler voice.
The fab thing though is that alongside these new, attention-grabbing singing groups, Suffolk’s great variety of choral offerings remains hail and hearty. From full-blown, century old choral societies and smart invitation choirs to sea shanty crews and impromptu pub sing-a-longs, there’s simply plenty of scope to find and settle in your niche or move onwards - maybe even upwards - to something new.
Modern community choirs
Eighteen months ago, Pop Chorus was small and sweet with just a handful of ladies sharing fun evenings in Framlingham with professional singer Yula, her iPod, mega-speaker and infectious enthusiasm. Today gents also enjoy singing Yula’s harmony arrangements with great expression to a range of backing tracks from Radiohead to Rod Stewart. Forty-five strong now, the weekly Fram choir is nearing venue capacity, Yula’s newer daytime Kesgrave and evening Ipswich Pop Chorus groups are growing at a healthy rate, and to top it all, the inspiring young mum has two more imminent new additions – she’s now expecting twins!
“Pop Chorus has been my baby,” explains Yula. “There’s no audition, no need to read music, no pressure to perform, it’s just the desire to be there that counts. Everyone who comes along is as vulnerable as each other, making for a really caring, supportive atmosphere – it’s like one big hug!”
Yula skilfully introduces technique almost subconsciously through ‘vocal yoga’ warm up exercises or in the course of learning new pieces.
“There’s a physical reason for smiling and raising your eyebrows when you sing. It helps with sound production and tongue-twisters really help with diction. Ultimately though, singing relaxes and energises because is it an escape and release.
“It quietens the mind and sets off all those endorphins in your system.”
Pop Chorus members talk about “that amazing feeling when all voices come together” and their Christmas performance with the Debenham Ladies Group which includes members with learning difficulties is remembered by all with fond emotion.
Yula also sings regularly with Alzheimer sufferers and their carers and with Age UK, using everything from Doris Day to Abba greats to help unlock memories, aid speech and support recovery from strokes, heart attacks and depression.
Local and very vocal
Looking for a refreshing change? Or maybe just a taste of how things used to be? If you fancy embarking upon your vocal adventures down the pub, then Suffolk has an enviable tradition and many welcoming locals who’ll will you to join in a rousing chorus of “Pleasant and Delightful” down at The Harbour Inn on Southwold Quay, The Ship at Blaxhall, The Bell at Middleton and many others. Pick up a copy of the Suffolk Folk Mag, Mardles, (www.suffolkfolk.co.uk) to find out more.
A winning tip or two from Mary
For Mary Moore, responsible for crafting many of Suffolk’s village signs together with her late husband, renowned blacksmith Hector, tradition has always played an important part in her life.
“I’ve been singing in Kettleburgh Church Choir for about 30 years. You know, wonderful evensong refrains, introits and anthems. I love putting my alto line thread into the tapestry. The whole is always so much more than the sum of the parts.
“For me, singing’s all about the words, no matter where you are, even in the pub with friends. It’s about telling a story with passion and feeling. If I’ve learnt it by heart, I can sing it with my heart – and if I get a bit nervous, I can take my glasses off, so I can’t see the audience’s eyes!
“Our rendition of ‘Clementine’ to the tune of Cum Rhonda was just a bit of fun, but it won us the Blaxhall Chorus Cup this year.”
A different sort of singing tradition
From Beccles and Sudbury to Hadleigh and Haverhill, Suffolk’s many choral societies are great (in accomplishment and number), time-honoured, but still very welcoming to tuneful have-a-go singers.
The Haverhill Choral Society (est. 1860) regularly teams up with the local operatic society and town’s Silver Band for rousing community concerts as well as performing with a local orchestra.
“It’s been fantastic for meeting new people,” says Roma Holmes. “We get out and about singing together, but there are no nerves to worry about as we’re so well rehearsed.”
Bass member, David Rowlinson, has also recently joined a small, more informal off-shoot group, The Kings’ Taverners: “It’s great how one thing leads to another!” he said.
Don’t miss the joint concert at Bury’s Apex on June 21 or the Last Night of the Proms on June 6 in the Old Independent Church, Haverhill – both in memory of Les Ager aka “Mr Haverhill”, ex-mayor and long time conductor of the Silver Band.
Hands up for a different sort of singing
Paul, Ann, Marian and Daniel love their choir. When their group flew to the Channel Islands last year to perform in the Jersey Eisteddfod, they came away with the cup and a very special bond of friendship without anyone really saying or singing a word.
The Lowestoft Signing Choir is all about conveying happiness – and every other emotion – through your hands. It’s a unique mixed choir, bringing together both profoundly deaf and hearing members and welcomes people with all levels of hearing loss. “I translated One Direction’s “That’s what makes you beautiful” into British Sign Language with an element of interpretive licence,” explains inspirational choir leader, Liz Bloice. “The choir and the judges loved it. It couldn’t have been more fun, nor better way to promote deaf awareness.”
Enjoy singing – why not try signing too? If you’re in a choir, why not learn to sign a song and take part in Sign Health’s deaf awareness week? www.signhealth.org.uk
You can read this article in full in the June issue of Suffolk Magazine.