Over the last two months, I have been involved in a project with the NYCGB Alumni to record one of our favourite pieces, the American folk song “Shenandoah” arranged by James Erb.
We asked 404 (or so) singers to video their part of the piece, singing along to a backing track created by the tremendous Will Dawes. Then we had a technical team piece it all together, Ben worked on the audio, Tom on the video.
We thought we started this because we wanted to have some fun. We thought that we could possibly use it as a fundraiser or to encourage more people to take up singing but then we realised:
• We did it because we love singing. • We did it because we love our alumni family. • We did it because we love this piece of music.
It’s 1992, the National Youth Choir of Great Britain are about five weeks into an eight week world tour and we’ve just arrived in Brisbane, on Australia’s east coast.
For most of the tour—don’t ask what happened in Sydney—we were relying on home-stay accommodation with local choirs and churches, mostly. The drill was the same whenever we rolled into a new city: drop off at a church or school, meet our hosts and then head back to theirs to settle in.
My best mate Danny and I were billeted together for the entire tour, so off we headed to our new host’s house in the outskirts of Brisbane.
Last year we had our first get-together and concert in Spitalfields in London, and decided that this year we ought to meet in “the north”.
I arrived in Sheffield on Friday afternoon, after a five hours’ train journey south to reach the north; remarkably there was a direct, cross-country train from Cupar to Sheffield.
After buying a hat (to replace the one I accidentally left in my car in Cupar) and having been accosted by a couple of “chuggers” both on my way to and from Marks & Spencer, I made my way up the hill to Broomhill to check in at the Rutland Hotel on Glossop Road.
The room was… interesting. A kind of modern, 70s retro with a photograph of a giant woman’s head on the wall behind the bed. Other friends staying there reported similar photographs in their rooms. I guess you can never really feel lonely in those rooms.
In the evening I met up with my friend Simon (aka Goose) and we took a walk over to the Ranmoor area of Sheffield to meet up with more friends (Mike and Rachel, Duncan, Simon W) at the Ranmoor Inn on Fulwood Road, and yet another friend (Sworrell) at the Ranmoor Tandoori a few doors down.
What fun and jolly japes we had. Although, the chicken dopiaza wasn’t nearly as good as from our local Indian restaurant (the signature onions were not cooked enough). I finally crawled into bed around 01:30.
It was so good to catch up with people, some of whom I’ve not seen for 15 or 20 years. And yet we just picked up from where we left off, and soon the years disappeared and there we all were like teenagers again sitting in rehearsals… and misbehaving!
I sat on the back row (of course!) between my good friend Andy and a guy called Will who left the National Youth Training Choir last year. It was so good that we had alumni there from all eras of the choir, from when it started in 1983 right to last year.
There is something wonderful about creating music as a choir, creating something out of nothing using only our voices. There is something intimately personal about that because our voices are so unique to each of us, and in the choir we listen to one another and blend our voices together in music. And there is something magical about the sound that NYCGB makes.
We rehearsed for about four hours and I must have smiled and laughed through most of those 240 minutes. The small, informal concert that we put on at the end of the day (which I meant to record but erm… forgot that I needed to press record TWICE on the Zoom H2 digital recorder), even with so little rehearsal, still sounded better than every other choir that I’ve sung in… even when we busked elements of it (I’m looking at you, page 7 of “Butterfly”).
My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land—Elgar
L’amour de Moi—arr. Swingle
Wie Liegt die stadt—Mauersberger
Three Shakespeare Songs—Vaughan Williams
And So It Goes—Billy Joel arr. The King’s Singers
The Bluebird—CV Stanford
Songs rehearsed but not performed
Hymn to St Cecilia—Britten
In the evening we piled back to the Rutland for dinner, which I didn’t particularly enjoy but at the end of the day it wasn’t about the food but the company. We inevitably retired to the bar for more chat, memories, and laughter and I finally found my bed sometime after 02:00.
More photos are on the NYCGB alumni site.
The following morning the survivors’ met for a hearty breakfast before returning to our own particular corners of the UK.
Goose kindly dropped me at Sheffield station where I caught the train to Edinburgh… and stood most of the way due to a lack of seats. Or rather, it had a lot of seats—it’s just there were other people sitting in them.
A huge thanks to everyone who made the weekend possible and such a success. Thanks to Ben Parry and the staff at NYCGB HQ, particularly Emily. Thanks to Mike Jeremiah for his local knowledge and helping finalise the venue. And finally thanks to all the alumni who gave up a weekend to relive their youth.
Well, that was fun. Let’s do it again next year. I propose back in London. Maybe we could even get the Royal Albert Hall. It would be fun to perform there again.
Next weekend I’m going to be singing in a concert in London. (I’m so excited!) It will be the first official meeting of the new National Youth Choirs of Great Britain alumni choir.
The idea is to re-engage with past members of the choir (of which there are well over 1,000), to catch up with one another, make music, and also hopefully raise some money to help existing choir members.
I’ll be tweeting throughout the weekend on @exncygb.