A decade of song & life lessons learnt

“If I cannot fly, let me sing.” Stephen Sondheim

Nearly ten years ago, I decided to join a choir (before they were cool).

I was in my early twenties, watching the first series of The Choir, hosted by a fresh-faced, floppy-haired Gareth Malone. Watching the pupils discover the world of choral music, I remembered the buzz I used to get from working as a team, and performing to an audience. I missed those days and without any real hobbies, I felt like there was a bit of a gap in my life – and thought that maybe joining a choir could fill it.

My mum decided she’d give it a go too, so we started searching for local groups. After spending a disastrous evening with the local choral group (average age = 70) I discovered Jubilate: an all-female choir based in Pinner. As soon as I walked into the rehearsal, I knew a love affair was about to start. The choir was made up of women from all ages, there was laughter, choreography and Sarah, the Musical Director, was wonderful (like a modern-day Julie Andrews). They performed for us to give us a flavour of their sound – Karl Jenkins’ haunting ‘Adiemus’, which I recognised from the Delta Air Lines advert – and the power of the harmonies, the dynamics and the feeling that everyone was working together moved me to tears. I knew I’d stumbled upon something very special, and asked to join. But because it was special, they wouldn’t just let anyone in. I’d have to audition first. I wanted so much to be a part of these fearless, fabulous women that I poured heart and soul into preparing for my audition. I knew exactly what piece I’d perform: Broadway-style ballad ‘Part of Your World’, from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. If you don’t know the song, it’s about Ariel’s desire to become part of the human world, and I felt it was the perfect fit for me wanting to be part of the choir (“Wandering free, wish I could be part of that worrrrrrld”). In my schooldays, when the toilets were empty, I used to pretend I was Ariel, channelling Jodi Benson and crooning into the mirror. It had sounded pretty good – but then again, everyone sounds good in the bathroom. Once I was in the audition room, would I have ‘it’? Aided by two glasses of wine, I headed off to my audition, and for a couple of minutes, I was Ariel again. I followed up with a few scales (pardon the mermaid pun) and it was all over. I was in! Mum got in too, with her faultless, unaccompanied version of The Seekers’ ‘The Carnival is Over’. We were an eclectic pair.

I haven’t looked back since. Jubilate has changed my life. It’s the most fun I can have sober (though I’ve had plenty of drunken fun too). Singing with this wonderful group of ladies has seen me through some tough times, introduced me to some of the best people I know, boosted my confidence, given me a new passion and enabled me to live some truly memorable experiences.

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A few of my favourite Jubilady memories are:

  • Standing outside Westminster Cathedral just before Christmas – before getting to actually sing inside it!
  • Getting together in our hotel after performing at the prestigious Llangollen Eisteddfod, singing everything and laughing ‘til our sides hurt. We hadn’t won the competition but this showed me it was the friendships that mattered
  • Singing with Brit award-winning vocal group (and thoroughly decent chaps) Blake
  • Meeting the Wessex Male Choir, a wonderful group of singers from Swindon who, like us, take their singing seriously but not themselves. They introduced us to the concept of an ‘afterglow’, where we get together in a drinking hole after a concert and belt out some of our favourites. Which leads me nicely to…
  • Having a meal in a Bath pub to celebrate a competition win and meeting Zoe From Wokingham who after uttering the famous words “Do you know any Les Miserables?” was rewarded with a full-on, five-minute medley. Zoe said that meeting us was like falling down a rabbit hole. This encounter subsequently made it onto a glowing TripAdvisor review, which has no doubt helped the pub’s reputation
  • Winning lots of trophies, notably the four we recently picked up at the Mid-Somerset Festival: and slurping champagne from one in Cheltenham
  • Being selected for the Adopt a Composer scheme, recording the pieces we’d learned for BBC Radio 3 – and hearing them on the actual radio
  • Two workshops with lovely choral composer legend Bob Chilcott: the first with Jubilate, where he coached us to sing his Little Jazz Mass and signed my music, and the second in Kingston, where I got a hug and a photo
  • Sarah singing at my wedding. She performed ‘Tonight’ from West Side Story and ‘All I Ask of You’ from Phantom of the Opera, and it was like a dream. The rest of the choir joined us in the evening and I sang with them in all my bridal finery.10414068_10153357938716811_7431971047777022229_n

Crucially though, I haven’t just learnt to sing properly. Joining Jubilate has also taught me loads of other lessons that I can apply throughout my life. Things like:

  • Listening. To what Sarah’s telling us, to myself and to others. It’s no good just belting out a song unless you listen to the people around you and blend in. I find this particularly tricky when it’s a show tune as it’s easy to get carried away and pretend you’re Elaine Page in Cats…but take a step back and remember that you’re part of a team
  • Patience. I sing soprano, which means we usually get the tune. Bonus! It can be trickier for other sections though as they learn their parts and ask questions, so you need to be prepared for quite a lot of waiting around
  • We all need guidance. We each have our different strengths, so while I have a photographic memory and can nail the words after a couple of practices, I don’t sight read, so I find timings difficult and often find myself holding a note for too long, or coming off too soon. It’s OK to ask for help from others – it’s not a weakness!
  • Let go and have fun. You have to let go of your inhibitions in a choir: from the crazy faces you have to pull to make the most of your voice to the choreography that goes with certain pieces (cue the penguin and sea lion impressions). You actually look more stupid if you don’t get into it, so let go, enjoy yourself and ham it up!
  • Team work. It goes without saying, but choir is all about working together, knowing what your MD wants you to do and reacting to it, in the moment. If another person in your section needs to stagger their breathing, you’ll have to cover for them so there aren’t any gaps.
  • Flexibility. MDs are pesky creatures and will sometimes spontaneously change the tempo and dynamics of a piece, especially in a competition. They’ll also change their minds about where they’d like you to breathe or the intonation they’d like on certain words. It’s their job to get the best out of you so stay on your toes and go with the flow.
  • It’s OK to mess up. You’ll often hear one of us singing when we shouldn’t be, or getting the words wrong – it happens all the time in rehearsals and sometimes in concerts and competitions too. The most important thing is to learn from it, sort it out for next time and move on. If it’s a live performance, you’ll often think everyone can hear you, but that’s rarely the case. That’s the beauty of singing with 40 other women! It’ll teach you a lesson though, so take note of whatever it is you’ve messed up on and don’t do it again.
  • Discipline. In Jubilate we sing most pieces without copies, so it’s our responsibility to do some learning in our own time throughout the week: whether it’s words, melodies or choreography. We also commit to attending rehearsals, travelling to performances and paying regular subs.
  • In the words of my singing sister Jo, ‘we like to be adored’. And there’s no shame in that. There’s nothing better than getting a laugh from the audience, or rapturous applause and cheering at the end of a piece. It means you’ve done a good job, and it gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. It’s really nice to get praise, and to make people happy through performing.
  • Leadership. I really appreciate Sarah: she’s taught me so much and helped us achieve some really amazing things together. But I’ve also been able to explore my own leadership qualities through choir, by sitting on the committee and taking the role of co-chair twice. It’s allowed me to try things out and develop different skills in a safe environment, as well as making decisions in the best interests of the group. I’ve used my professional communications skills too, redesigning the website, setting up social media pages and promoting our events in the press.

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If  you live in or around the Harrow area and want to join an awesome choir, or book us to sing at an event, get in touch on Twitter @jubilateladies.

Aside from sport, it’s pretty unusual to do group activities once we leave school, but starting a new group activity can definitely teach you a thing or two about yourself. Mine was choir – why not get out there and discover yours?

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