Monday, 14 July 2008

We Did It: What A Rush!

Well it is now the day after the day after, but I am still riding high after our 25th anniversary concert. We have worked jolly hard this season: not only did we have to perform the full concert with all the repertoire that involves, but we also had learn and perform the choreography with last minute tweaks all the way through. The past few months have been long and arduous, but it all paid off in the end - what an amazing concert we gave!

The day itself began early, starting at 2pm with our stage rehearsal. We ran through the entire concert, from Locus Iste to Come What May, and have to say that there was the usual horror of sounding terribly flat through nearly all the songs. This was interspersed with the similarly traditional trauma of having to get on and off the stage, and getting into the right positions for our moves. I have to say that running through There Is Nothing Like A Dame for only the second time on stage with last minute jiggery and pokery to the choreography was not the easiest experience on my nerves.

By the time the run-through was over, nearly three hours later, my nerves were fairly well shot through and I was totally exhausted. Usually, I'm a bundle of nerves and can't eat a thing just before the concert, but given that we were on our feet for so long, I was absolutely famished. There was no time to go out for our meal (plus the choir is now huge, so we would have filled Pizza Express quite easily) so we had a 'pot luck' type meal down in the canteen of the Royal Academy of Music. This worked out really well for us as some people had really gone out of their way to prepare some amazing food. Kudos especially to Nathalina for making the most beautiful fairy cakes known to mankind! Yum! We also had Warren to thank for being the man behind laying all of the food out in an artistic and oh-so-tasty-looking way.

Pretty soon it was time to get into costume and warm up backstage. This year, since we were doing both halves, we were given the option of wearing two outfits, and some people really made the effort. Lynne's spangly dress for the first half, followed by her corset for the second (ooh la la!) was one of the stand outs. Jo C's full length tail coat was a stunner, and of course people like Amy always look glamorous. Ben P, who is already very cute anyway, looked very Prada in his black ensemble including pencil tie, and Johnathon and Naomi's rock chic(k) leather trousers certainly turned up the heat in the second half.

We gathered backstage as Mark Bunyan introduced the Pink Singers. Unfortunately, we couldn't hear anything of what he said, but in his ten minute preamble he gave a little bit of the history of the Pink Singers, and apparently led the audience in song with I Am A Homosexual, the first song the choir ever sang at that Pride twenty-five years ago. I think it must have been quite a surprise then when we got onto stage and opened with Locus Iste!

I am always nervous on stage, and more so when I know I have to make an announcement or sing a solo piece. It always makes me feel really edgy which means I can't really get into the singing until after the ordeal is over. I'm much happier melding into the background. That said, from the moment we finished singing the Bruckner Motet, I knew that this was going to be an amazing concert. We have never sung that piece better, and there was a wonderful union of voices, we didn't drift in pitch and the ebb and flow of the dynamics was amazing. It certainly set the tone for what was to follow.

If I had to pick out a slightly weaker piece in the first half it would have to be the Triumphal March from Aida. The piece is a grandiose one, and still, I think, a little bit beyond the reach of a sixty voice choir with piano accompaniment. I have to say that Karl Jenkin's Requiem never sounded better though, and Italian Salad was a triumph! Our soloists Adam, Michael D, Simon and Sally Ann really camped it up, and I especially liked Sally Ann's little kick of the heels at the end of her piece. It made the audience, and me, giggle.

The final piece of the first half was Ave Maria, one of the songs we performed at the IndigO2 a couple of weeks ago, with Gari Glaysher returning his visit. If anything, I think this performance was better, partly because we were singing along to Michael D's piano accompaniment, and could therefore be a little more fluid. Gari's voice was as wonderful as ever, although from where we were on stage you could not really hear it well. By this stage I think of Gari as a real friend of the Pink Singers, which reflects his intrinsically friendly nature. It was wonderful having him come along.

By the time we got to the second half things were much more relaxed and I think the whole choir really got into the performance aspect. America certainly gave us a chance to interact with each other, and a friend who came for the first time remarked how much it looked like we were having a good time as part of a team. I couldn't agree more. Everyone really dug deep and pulled what they could out of the bag.

There is a certain schizophrenia in the Pink Singers in that we sing a very varied repertoire, and the two halves really highlighted this, but whether you are singing classical or Motown, the same level of concentration and skill is required, even if the vocal style is different. If I had to choose a favourite piece of the evening, it would have to be Love Song for a Vampire. It seems superficially simple, but to imbue the song with the amount of emotion it deserves is no easy task. I thought the basses were particularly wonderful and their opening line, "Come into these arms again" was the most fused and piano that I have ever heard them. It made me go weak at the knees.

Actually, all the love songs were beautiful, and I spotted some of my friends at the back bawling their eyes out at Your Song and If We Hold On Together. As Andrew F pointed out in his introduction, Michael D's arrangement of the latter song allows for a virtuoso performance on the piano, and I have so say that his fingers flew through that, and all the other songs that evening. It must feel very vulnerable to be so exposed, but Michael D is extremely talented and he turned out a near flawless performace.

Of course, the lynch pin in all of this is our wonderful musical director Mladen. it is impossible to emphasize how important an MD is in tying together the various sections and music, and Mladen does it all with panache. Even if you have only been in the choir for one season, Mladen's directions are like an open book: one gesture and you know when to really go for it, when to slow down, when to hush your voice, when to stop. The Pink Singers would definitely not be at the standard we are without him.

There are times when Mladen has to step aside, and that was certainly the case for the choreography-rich Forever Motown. And what a way to end the concert! The audience was clapping and singing along and we were having a whale of a time. This was followed by a standing ovation from the wonderful and enthusiastic crowd. I almost didn't want it to end.

But end it eventually did, and I have to say that I was running on empty by the end of it. To me, it was the best concert I have ever been priveleged to have participated in, and an example of how far we have come. This season the choir has been pushed harder vocally than ever before and it was very rewarding to see it all come to fruition. At the same time it was so much fun and I've made many new friends this year.

We have just one more gig in Brighton in a fortnight and then it is the end of the summer season. Summer 2008 will definitely go down in my memory as one of my best ever Pink Singers experiences. Pinkies rock!

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