Largely as a result of consultations with the various Day Hospice groups at Telford, the idea was proposed that some form of choir might be a vehicle for providing the opportunity for patients from different days, volunteers, Hospice staff and friends to meet together. The selected day was a Wednesday, since no Day Hospice provision occurs then, and the first meeting took place in the second week of September, 2012.
It was to be led by Mary Keith, an extremely accomplished and qualified musician, and very adept in bringing people together to sing. Organisers at the Hospice were Marilyn and Caroline, and they made sure that the project was well publicised. The main concern was whether there would be enough interest to make the venture worthwhile.
As it turned out there was no need to worry as in excess of 30 people came along, the main problem was fitting them into the room. I was one of them, not without some misgivings, given that I was thrown out of the school choir when my voice broke nearly sixty years ago. Since then my efforts at singing have been pretty well confined to the hymns at church where my voice is safely lost in the assembled multitude. Talking to others present before the start I discovered that I was not the only one with doubts about the potential value of my contribution.
But we need not have worried: Mary rapidly engaged us in some warming up exercises with advice on singing whilst sitting and so on. Then, after some shoulder rotating and ceiling gazing, we were ready for our first vocal exercises. These took the form of taking a sound such as ‘a’ in apple and warbling down and up. It was quite a fruit salad in fact because we tackled ‘o’ in orange, ‘na’ from banana and ‘um’ from plum. Mary then moved on to visual cues by lifting a piece of fruit to indicate which sound we should be using, switching quickly from one fruit to another.
I was irresistibly reminded of Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Dolittle in ‘My Fair Lady’, toiling away at her vowel sounds at the bidding of Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins. Fortunately we managed to do well enough to satisfy Mary in rather less time than it took Audrey and we were able to move on to tackle our first piece of singing. This was essentially an African chant, sung initially at one level before repeating at a higher level, and again, before dropping to the original note. This went very well after a few efforts. We were then split into four groups so that it could be sung as a round with each group commencing as the previous group started their second iteration. We were all really pleased with the result and I was personally amazed that it took Mary so little time to bring us to this stage.
We were also to tackle another African piece, a call and response, which again provided the opportunity for repeating at higher notes before descending.
Then came the big project for the afternoon, which was that favourite piece for choirs – Blue Moon, by Rodgers and Hart. By now we had grown in confidence and here was a tune we all knew – or so we thought. We seemed to get on pretty well with the usual music, but then came the more challenging moments. Mary had us singing alternative melodies for the eight-bar middle section, which meant that ultimately we would be able to have our four groups singing a different version producing some real harmonies.
This was more challenging and I was pleased that we took a break to have a cup of tea, a chat and one of the Hospice’s fabulous homemade biscuits. We were soon back practising our Blue Moon once again and eventually produced a really pleasing sound. Hopefully if any patients were able to hear us they would have been able to appreciate it.
We rounded off our afternoon with another couple of items, one of which was a rather fun piece called The Swimming Song. Again we were involved in the groups singing different things in order to provide pleasant harmonies.
Before attending I did wonder whether the group might be lacking in male voices, but I think that there were seven chaps, so that was not a problem. I also wondered whether it would be necessary to be able to read music, which might have been a problem for some folk (although not me because of my years of flute playing). There was not a note in sight as we were given a sheet with some words on.
Was it a success? Unquestionably, I would say, a really enjoyable hour and a half. I personally found it quite tiring by the end but that is down to my illness and not because of lack of stimulation.
The really wonderful thing about the afternoon was the feeling of togetherness which our singing achieved, not just in the musical sense. I’ve always enjoyed playing my flute with others, including the orchestra I’ve played in for forty years now, and so much of the pleasure derives from that feeling of doing it together. Accordingly I am very grateful to all those involved in organising this and look forward to being able to attend in the future.