Rock Chorus: Big Gig 2018

Rock Chorus performing The Big Gig. Photo (c) Rock Chorus.

Last night was the biggest night of the year for our choir, Rock Chorus: the annual Big Gig, where we raise thousands of pounds for charity in conjunction with The Lions Club.

We work really hard all term refining the words and moves to 22 songs, so that we can perform them to perfection. With 160 singers on stage the sound is uplifting, emotional, and fun. To be part of such a huge group can send shivers up your spine, make you smile or cry within the space of a few minutes.

But I wasn’t on stage last night. I wanted to be there more than anything but I’ve been struggling with a virus since Easter and this week it’s decided to come back as an earache and sore throat. As I sat listening to the set list on Friday and going through the moves doubt was beginning to creep in that I was up for it and by 11 am yesterday I knew there was no chance. After shedding a few tears, I decided to buy a ticket instead and watch. In the five years I’ve been with the choir, I have never sat and listened to the whole sound, so now was my chance to experience it and to support my friends.

Big Gig set list 2018

The gig set list: songs from the 60s right up to the present day.

I met up with my friend Ann (a former soprano) and we made our way into the stiflingly hot theatre, along with my boys who are seasoned Rock Chorus watchers and know the words to our songs as well as me and a lot of the moves too. The hall rapidly filled up with friends and family and the lights dimmed for the performance. I could feel the nerves of the singers quietly waiting behind the curtain and sent them a silent prayer.

There is no other way to say this: the concert got off to a shaky start. The choir were out of time with the backing track and it took a good 8 bars or so before they came together. Apparently one of the monitors wasn’t on, so the singers at the back of the stage couldn’t hear anything. Although nerves were etched on every face, somehow they got through it.

I think I lived every bar with them. As an orchestral player of nearly 40 years (hey I started young!) I know you need a concert to start with a bang; it gives the performers confidence and engages the audience too. When the opposite happens it rapidly shreds your confidence.

Luckily the next song, Free Fallin’ (by the late, great Tom Petty) is one we have sung many, many times and I watched everyone visibly relax and begin to smile after a few bars as they eased into their groove. “That’s more like it,” I thought and glanced at Ann. She was miming away to the soprano part and I had to try very hard not to laugh out loud.

After that, the songs were performed with increasing verve and enjoyment. My particular favourites were “Who Loves You Pretty Baby?” by Frankie Valli for the amazing harmonies (and because we have finally nailed the moves) and Say Something by A Great Big World because it speaks so movingly of loss.

For the very first time, I sat and appreciated the blend of soprano, alto and tenor and I was really impressed. Not only are the arrangements rich harmonically but they give the singers a challenge too. There are so many amateur choirs these days who sing very simple arrangements and I find them so, so boring to listen too. Not so Rock Chorus!

The first set finished with an atmospheric choral arrangement of Brothers in Arms (Dire Straits) that brought a little tear to my eye.

As I waited in the drinks queue in the interval I was besieged by fellow performers:

“How does it sound?”

“Are we any good?”

“What about the first number?”

I said they sounded great and that I was proud of the way they’d put the first song behind them and upped their game.

“We knew you’d be honest,” they said and went away smiling. I’ll take that as a compliment.

And so to the second half, which began with a rousing rendition of You’re The Voice (John Farnham) quickly followed by Africa (Toto) in which I got to experience the delights of audience participation. The Lions insist we do it but perhaps we should finally be brave and tell them it went out with the ark. We were meant to provide additional percussive sounds but you couldn’t hear them over the sound track and I’m not sure how many audience members joined in: not me, I was filming at the request of friends. My older son joined in with gusto, while the younger one sat scowling as only 11-year-olds can.

Afterwards came that Elvis classic Suspicious Minds. Whereas the original version is rather ponderous, ours is far more upbeat and the audience loved it:

Video reproduced with the kind permission of Joanna Ford

The singing was fabulous throughout the second half, words and moves nailed to perfection. There was just one slight niggle: the bass on the sound system was often too loud. At times I could feel it vibrating under my feet and in those songs it drowned out the tenor section altogether. In You Took The Words Right Out of Your Mouth, you could barely hear them singing the tune even though I knew they were.

Of course we demanded an encore and surprise, surprise Rock Chorus had one ready: Love Train, that 70s classic about free love. We all stood up and did the moves and accidentally whopped the row in front a couple of times; I think they forgave us our enthusiasm!

As we said our goodbyes and I was driving home, I thought about why I’d sat there with a big smile on my face all the way through and it is this: while they may not be perfect (yet) our gigs convey the joy we all feel at performing. It’s there in the concentration, the smiles, the laughter and the huge amount of effort that goes into learning the parts. Music should be fun and Rock Chorus captures this to perfection.







Beyond Brilliant (or C is for Choir)

I jokingly said I’d write a poem about choir for today’s challenge. This is the first one I’ve ever written, so I know it’s not brilliant but it was hugely enjoyable to write. And as I’m sometimes a front row diva, I feel entitled to take the mick. After all, one should be able to laugh at oneself!

Big Gig 2016

Rock Chorus performing their Big Gig

Beyond Brilliant

Blue hoodies

and black shoes.

Men and women

singing away their blues.


Old and young,

the point is to have fun.

Haven’t sung since school?

Well, this choir’s for everyone.


Four sips in and another four out.

Swivel your hips

and shake away your doubts.

Lauren counts us in and off we go,

some voices high and others low.


We sing Madonna, Tom Petty

and some Coldplay too.

With forty songs under our belt,

there’s a lot for us to do.


But expect a lot of giggling

if you mention Toploader.

Oh the jokes made about that song

If only you knew!


Camaraderie and laughter

is really all we’re after.

You want us to sing in harmony?

Well, we can do that too!


Sometimes we sing to three men and a dog,

with the raining lashing down

it’s all part of the job!

Other times we have a Big Gig to get through

and that’s when you really see what we can do.


The rehearsal beforehand can be a bit of a fight,

with too many divas wanting the limelight.

What do you mean I can’t stand in the front row?

It’s my right to stand here. Didn’t you know!


But when the curtain goes up and the lights go down,

watch out folks. Rock Chorus is in town.

Twenty two songs sung with passion and feeling

If you’re really lucky we’ll throw in some tambourine-ing.


Blue hoodies

and black shoes.

Men and women

singing away their blues.




Music is Good for You!

Some friends of mine at choir were surprised to find out last week that I used to play for Kobe Symphony Orchestra nearly 20 years ago. So I’m hoping this post explains how that all came about.

Music has always been part of my life and until it was absent for several years, I had no idea just how important it was for me. If I was a religious person, I would say it was part of my soul but I’m not, so let’s just say that it is vital to who I am as a person. I love music of all kinds and when I perform, I can feel real joy and get a thrill from it too. A rather inadequate explanation, I think, but I find it’s hard to put into words.

So why, I hear you ask, do I love it so much? Well let me try and explain. You see, I come from a very musical family; everyone plays something or sings and I have been immersed in music my whole life. My love for it comes from my father. A keen amateur musician, he is still as active as ever on the local music scene, although he is nearly 70.

As far back as I can remember, there was always classical music playing in our house if Dad was home. Symphonies, quartets, songs, Gilbert and Sullivan and serious opera would all come blasting out of Dad’s trusty record player at full volume; so I was absorbing and learning about music all the time, without really realizing it.

A child of the 70s, a time when we didn’t have lots of toys and electronic entertainment, my sister and I made up a lot of our games. If it was raining, one of our favourite occupations was to raid the dressing up box, put on a costume and then play records of musicals like South Pacific and sing and dance around to them. We would also listen to Mum’s Beatles records and sing along to them too. I was taken to watch Dad playing in his orchestral concerts too, from a very young age.

When I was 7, I started learning the piano and a year later the cello. I was destined to play that cello! Dad had bought it for Mum, hoping that she would learn and join him in making music but she wasn’t very interested. So as the daughter who had the bigger hands, the cello was mine and my younger sister learnt the violin instead. It was Dad who decided what we were going to play and him who took us to our lessons and made sure we practiced. If that sounds rather authoritarian in today’s child-centered culture, I can honestly say that it did neither of us any harm whatsoever and we are both very grateful to him today for making us stick at it. Of course we moaned about practising but every child does, once the novelty has worn off and you realize that it’s going to be years until you are any good!

I was fortunate where I grew up to have a strong local music society for children (MYMS), which met at one of the senior schools every week. Children from all over the local area came to join in the music making and there were lots of different groups to cater for them.

I joined the junior orchestra when I was 10 and progressed to the senior group not long after. I went to MYMS for the next 8 years until I finished school and went off to university. As a child who hated P.E. and wasn’t therefore part of a team and who was bullied at school, music became a refuge for me. I liked being with other people who enjoyed playing too and it was fun to be part of a group and socialise with friends. Not only did we give regular concerts but we also had the opportunity to go on tour. I have very fond memories of my trips to Germany and Sweden; we had a great deal of fun staying with our host families!

At 13 I moved to a girl’s grammar school and that’s when I really became heavily involved in music. I joined the school orchestra and choir and after a couple of years, joined the chamber orchestra and choir as my playing improved. So just about every lunchtime, I was playing or singing in some group and then there were cello and piano lessons during and after school and MYMS.

What kept me doing all of this, apart from my father? The music teacher at the grammar school, Mr B. After nearly 30 years, I only have a vague recollection of most of my teachers but not him. His passion and enthusiasm for music shone through everything he did and he was a great teacher. As a school orchestra we played pieces which I now realize are pretty difficult, like Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” but under his teaching, we not only managed them but played them with panache.

He also inspired true devotion from the students. Whenever he took to the stage before a concert, he would receive a huge round of applause and foot stamping from the orchestra, never mind the audience! Under his direction the school also produced some fantastic musicals like “The Boyfriend” (with boys drafted in from the boy’s grammar!). I still have the rave review from the local paper, which said that the production was as good as any professional one. A proud moment!

Sadly, Mr B. left after I did my O levels and music at the school was never the same again. The orchestra were given pieces that were far too easy for them and we quickly became bored; although being good girls, we still turned up! Spending so much time with the same people, both at school and at MYMS, and sharing so many formative experiences has made me some life long friends, some of whom no doubt, are reading my blog.

Music making was not just confined to school; plenty of it went on at home too! I have spent hours and hours playing simple Mozart and Haydn trios with my Dad and sister, progressing on to playing harder quartets when we were older and we could get another violin player to come round. If I wasn’t playing chamber music I would be listening to it; Dad was often inviting people round to play in the evenings or at weekends and the music could not only be heard in the house but halfway down the street as well! I have also played in countless amateur chamber concerts with family and friends over the years.

A great deal of music making went on with the wider family too when I was growing up. Whereas most families will get together, have a meal and chat. In mine, once the eating was done, out came the stringed instruments and the question became “What to play?”. The answer is quartets, quintets, octets even. Sometimes friends of the family who played wind instruments or the piano joined us too, widening the repertoire. On one famous occasion we had enough musical people in the extended family to put on a production of the Messiah in the village hall, conducted by my Dad. As you can see, we’re an unusual family!

Music making carried on all the time, whether I was at school or not. All of my summer holidays were spent at my parent’s holiday home in France (see my blog about St. Sauveur). Such is my father’s passion for music, that our instruments were taken out along with the suitcases and he would always find people to play music with. The locals enjoyed our music too and would come and listen to us play regularly, sipping aperitifs provided by Mum.

My sister and I would attend residential music courses in the holidays too, along with many of our friends. It was an invaluable experience. A week of intensive playing improved our skills no end and gave us the opportunity to play pieces that we might not otherwise have done. Also, it’s fun to spend the week away from home with your mates, listen to pop music, play rowdy games of cards, sneak out at night and drink illegal alcohol; an essential part of growing up, I would say!

What about pop music then? Although it was rarely played in the house until my sister and I became teenagers, because Dad’s love is classical through and through, we absorbed it from other sources. Hearing it at other people’s house, on the radio, at parties, on the television, at school. We always watched “Top of Pops” with Mum too, so I know all the classic 70s and 80s bands and as I’ve grown up have developed my own taste in music. As I sit here writing this blog, I have been listening to Michael Jackson, Keane and Dido.

Music making has also been a big part of my adult life. There wasn’t a lot at university, I’ll admit. I tried the university orchestra and hated it. As I wasn’t a music student, the other players were very unfriendly and wouldn’t include me in their social life or even talk to me much. Also, I didn’t like the conductor or his compositions that he made us play, so I quickly left.

To be honest, I realize now that I also wanted to try different things. I’d grown up in a small village and led a very sheltered life. My sister and I never went anywhere with friends or did the things other teenagers do; there just wasn’t the chance. Suddenly, I was living in a big city with endless experiences on offer. Life became about clubbing on the weekend and filling in the gaps in my musical education; it became about having boyfriends and getting drunk; it became about living away from home and managing my own money, learning to cook, staying in bed until lunchtime if I wanted to, dealing with relationship breakups, falling out with friends and making new ones, learning how to study on my own and pass exams. In other words, real life.

Once I was married and we had moved to a town where we didn’t know anyone, I joined the local amateur orchestra in order to meet some people. I had barely settled in though, when my husband was given the chance to work in Japan for 2 years and we decided to go.

Quite by coincidence, a friend of Dad’s, also a musician, had emigrated to Japan a few years before (he had a Japanese wife, who wanted to go back and live in her country) and he lived in Kobe.  Introductions are everything in Japanese culture and Dad’s friend happened to know someone who played in Kobe Symphony Orchestra and so he came along to a rehearsal with me and introduced us.

Playing in an orchestra in a foreign country, where I could barely speak a word of the language at first was hard but I enjoyed it nevertheless. What saved me was my desk partner who spoke really good English. He would patiently translate what the conductor was saying and the German that the instructions were written in (yes, German not Italian, as they usually are!) and made a real effort to include me in the social life of the orchestra. He sadly died of cancer in 2001 and was missed by everyone.

We worked hard in the orchestra; rehearsals were much longer than I was used to, with barely a 10 minute break in the middle but we played hard too, always going out for a drink after and socializing. I made some good friends who helped me to feel more at home, in what was a very different place. On a visit to Japan this Easter, I met up with one of these friends and we reminisced about old times and my desk partner, who is still fondly remembered after 13 years.

Returning to live in this country, I rejoined the local orchestra and stayed with them until a persistent shoulder injury led me to reluctantly give up playing. Then I had two children and moved house as well and before I knew it, 7 years had passed and I hadn’t picked up my cello once.

I had been aware that there were some choirs in Milton Keynes for some time but it took a while before I plucked up the courage to go to one just over a year ago. After all, I hadn’t sung since school and even then I didn’t do it seriously.

I’m not talking classical singing though, this is something completely different! We rock along to more contemporary songs; three-part arrangements of Living in a Prayer and Locked out of Heaven, with “moves” thrown in as an added bonus. Instead of playing in traditional concert halls, gigs are more likely to be outside at local music festivals. And it is FUN! Like my former music teacher, the choir leader loves music and is an enthusiastic and talented teacher. Knowing just how far you can push people to get the best out of them but not take it too far is an art she has perfected. She is also very knowledgeable about singing and helps us with style and technique, as well as having a fantastic voice of her own. A funny lady as well, we spend a lot of time laughing at her one-liners in between singing; which helps us to relax and bond with one another. It goes without saying that I have got many friends in the choir and it is also a chance to do something just for myself. As a busy mother, opportunities like that are few and far between!

I am so glad that I joined and found my music again. I didn’t know how much I missed it, until I realized one day that choir night had become the highlight of my week. The point about music, I think, is that you can enjoy it on any level; you don’t have to be an expert. Choir is a great example of this. Not many of us can read music and there are probably even fewer who have had such an extensive musical experience as me but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. Enthusiasm and enjoyment of what we are doing is just as important. Our recent sell out concert proves that!