Raunds in the Valleys

This week’s blog post is provided by Annie:

“In December I received an email into the choir email account from a Simon Collier of Troedyrhiw, Merthyr Tydfil. His grandfather, Robert Collier, is in his late eighties and virtually blind. He comes from Raunds but in the forties married a welsh girl and moved to Wales.

He asked if we had a CD of our singing, and I was able to send him a copy of the 2013 recording at Ferrers School. Simon was good enough to send a donation back. I have since received the following.

Many thanks for the CD he has been over the moon with it and has become one of the highlights of his Christmas and a talking point to all who have visited him.
Wish you and all members of the choir a good 2015!‘”


Just for Fun – The Young Person’s Guide to the Choir

I stumbled across this guide to the choir the other day. As an alto who has been ‘off-loaded as a half-price tenor’ on occasion it amused me.

The original page is a bit hard on the eyes so I’ve copied it here with thanks and a link to the St. James Lutheran Church page from which it came here. Enjoy, and see if you recognise any of our own members, or even yourself…

The Young Person’s Guide To The Choir

NOTE: If you are easily offended, do not read this page. This is just for laughs, and is dedicated to hard-working choir members everywhere!

In any choir, there are four voice parts: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. Sometimes these are divided into first and second within each part, prompting endless jokes about first and second basses. There are also various other parts such as baritone, countertenor, contralto, mezzo-soprano, etc., but these are mostly used by people who are either soloists, or belong to some excessively hotshot classical a cappella group (this applies especially to countertenors), or are trying to make excuses for not really fitting into any of the regular voice parts, so we will ignore them for now.

Each voice part sings in a different range, and each one has a very different personality. You may ask, “Why should singing different notes make people act differently?” and indeed this is a mysterious question and has not been adequately studied, especially since scientists who study musicians tend to be musicians themselves and have all the peculiar complexes that go with being tenors, French horn players, timpanists, or whatever. However, this is beside the point; the fact remains that the four voice parts can be easily distinguished, and I will now explain how:

THE SOPRANOS are the ones who sing the highest, and because of this they think they rule the world. They have longer hair, fancier jewelry, and swishier skirts than anyone else, and they consider themselves insulted if they are not allowed to go at least to a high F in every movement of any given piece. When they reach the high notes, they hold them for at least half again as long as the composer and/or conductor requires, and then complain that their throats are killing them and that the composer and conductor are sadists. Sopranos have varied attitudes toward the other sections of the chorus, though they consider all of them inferior. Altos are to sopranos rather like second violins to first violins; nice to harmonize with, but not really necessary. All sopranos have a secret feeling that the altos could drop out and the piece would sound essentially the same, and they don’t understand why anybody would sing in that range in the first place – it’s so boring. Tenors, on the other hand, can be very nice to have around; besides their flirtation possibilities (it is a well-known fact that sopranos never flirt with basses), sopranos like to sing duets with tenors because all the tenors are doing is working very hard to sing in a low-to-medium soprano range, while the sopranos are up there in the stratosphere showing off. To sopranos, basses are the scum of the earth – they sing too darn loud, are useless to tune to because they’re down in that low, low range, and there has to be something wrong with anyone who sings in the F clef, anyway.

THE ALTOS are the salt of the earth–in their opinion, at least. Altos are unassuming people, who would wear jeans to concerts if they were allowed to. Altos are in a unique position in the chorus in that they are unable to complain about having to sing either very high or very low, and they know that all the other sections think their parts are pitifully easy. But the altos know otherwise. They know that while the sopranos are screeching away on a high A, they are being forced to sing elaborate passages full of sharps and flats and tricks of rhythm, and nobody is noticing because the sopranos are singing too loud (and the basses usually are too). Altos get a deep, secret pleasure out of conspiring together to tune the sopranos flat. Altos have an innate distrust of tenors, because the tenors sing in almost the same range and think they sound better. They like the basses, and enjoy singing duets with them, because the basses just sound like a rumble anyway, and it’s the only time the altos can really be heard. The altos’ other complaint is that there are always too many of them and so they never get to sing really loud.

THE TENORS are spoiled. That’s all there is to it. For one thing, there are never enough of them, and choir directors would rather sell their souls than let a halfway decent tenor quit, while they’re always ready to unload a few altos at half price. And then, for some reason, the few tenors there are always really good–it’s one of those annoying facts of life. So it’s no wonder that tenors always get swollen heads; after all, who else can make sopranos swoon? The one thing that can make tenors insecure is the accusation (usually by the basses) that anyone singing that high couldn’t possibly be a real man. In their usual perverse fashion, the tenors never acknowledge this, but just complain louder about the composer being a sadist and making them sing so darn high. Tenors have a love-hate relationship with the conductor, too, because the conductor is always telling them to sing louder because there are so few of them. No conductor in recorded history has ever asked for less tenor in a forte passage. Tenors feel threatened in some way by all the other sections: the sopranos because they can hit those incredibly high notes; the altos because they have no trouble singing the notes the tenors kill themselves for; and the basses because, although they can’t sing anything above an E, they sing it loud enough to drown the tenors out. Of course, the tenors would rather die than admit any of this. It is a little-known fact that tenors move their eyebrows more than anyone else while singing.

THE BASSES sing the lowest of anybody. This basically explains everything. They are solid, dependable people, and have more facial hair than anybody else. The basses feel perpetually unappreciated, but they have a deep conviction that they are actually the most important part (a view endorsed by musicologists, but certainly not by sopranos or tenors), despite the fact that they have the most boring part of anybody and often sing the same note (or in endless fifths) for an entire page. They compensate for this by singing as loudly as they can get away with, and most basses are tuba players at heart. Basses are the only section that can regularly complain about how low their part is, and they make horrible faces when trying to hit very low notes. Basses are charitable people, but their charity does not extend so far as tenors — Basses hate tuning to the tenors more than almost anything else. Basses like altos, except when they have duets and the altos get the good part. As for the sopranos, they are simply in an alternative universe that the basses don’t understand at all. They can’t imagine why anybody would ever want to sing that high and sound that bad when they make mistakes. When a bass makes a mistake, the other three parts will cover him, and he can continue on his merry way, knowing that sometime, somehow, he will end up at the root of the chord.

Top Ten Reasons for Being a Soprano
1. The rest of the choir exists just to make you look good.
2. You can entertain your friends by breaking their wineglasses.
3. Can you name an opera where an alto got the man?
4. When sopranos want to sing in the shower, they know the tune.
5. It’s not like you are ever going to sing the alto part by accident.
6. Great costumes – like the hat with the horns on it.
7. How many world famous altos can you name?
8. When the fat lady sings, she’s usually singing soprano.
9. When you get tired of singing the tune, you can sing the descant.
10. You can sing along with Michael Jackson.

Top Ten Reasons for Being an Alto
1. You get really good at singing E flat.
2. You get to sing the same note for 12 consecutive measures.
3. You don’t really need to warm up to sing 12 consecutive bars of E-flat.
4. If the choir really stinks, it’s unlikely the altos will be blamed.
5. You have lots of time to chat during soprano solos.
6. You get to pretend that you are better than the sopranos, because everybody knows that women only sing soprano so they don’t have to learn to read music.
7. You can sometimes find part time work singing tenor.
8. Altos get all the great intervals.
9. When the sopranos are holding some outrageously high note at the end of a song, the altos always get the last words.
10. When the altos miss a note, nobody gets hurt.

Top Ten Reasons for Being a Tenor
1. Tenors get high – without drugs.
2. Name a musical where the bass got the girl.
3. You can show the sopranos how it SHOULD be sung.
4. Did you ever hear of anyone paying $1000 for a ticket to see ‘The Three Basses?’
5. Who needs brains when you’ve got resonance?
6. Tenors never have to waste time looking through the self-improvement section of the bookstore.
7. You get to sing along with John Denver singing “Aye Calypso.”
8. When you get really good at falsetto, you can make tons of money doing voice-overs for cartoon characters.
9. Gregorian chant was practically invented for tenors. Nobody invented a genre for basses.
10. You can entertain your friends by impersonating Julia Child.

Top Ten Reasons for Being a Bass
1. You don’t have to tighten your shorts to reach your note.
2. You don’t have to worry about a woman stealing your job.
3. Or a preadolescent boy stealing your job.
4. Action heroes are always basses. That is – if they ever sang, they would sing bass.
5. You get great memorable lyrics like bop, bop, bop, bop.
6. If the singing job doesn’t work out, there’s always broadcasting.
7. You never need to learn to read the treble clef.
8. If you get a cold, so what.
9. For fun, you can sing at the bottom of your range and fool people into thinking there’s an earthquake.
10. If you belch while you’re singing, the audience just thinks it is part of the score.

Reproduced with thanks from The James Lutheran Church website.

Happy New Year – Literally!

Happy New Year to all choir members.

We had a such a good rehearsal on Tuesday evening. We started three new songs: the Michael Buble number – Home; It’s Raining Men, which was hilarious, and the theme from Skyfall, which proved extremely popular. We also revisited an old song – Buffalo Gals. Actually this last one was also new to a lot of us as we joined the choir more recently.

Anyway, I left the session buzzing and happy and very aware once again that singing is good for my sense of well-being.

The links between singing and happiness are both physical and mental.

Physical  benefits include increased oxygen intake from all that controlled breathing, and an upper respiratory-tract workout. Our brain releases endorphins (happy hormones) when we sing in a choir, in exactly the same way it does when we work out at the gym.

Mental benefits are harder to measure, but just as significant. Concentrating on the music and breathing throughout the practice session makes it more difficult to worry about things like work, money or personal problems. Our choir sessions give us ‘headspace.’ The act of learning has long been known to keep brains active and fend off depression, and that’s what we do at choir: learn new songs, new harmonies, and new warm-ups. Some of the most important ties between singing and happiness are social ones. Being part of a group, and the commitment to that group which pulls us out of our house and into the hall every week, are benefits that are specific to singing in a choir. Maybe they are a big component of why research finds that choral singers tend to be happier than many other members of the population. The feeling of belonging to a group, of being needed by the other members of that group go some way toward ameliorating the loneliness that sometimes comes along with modern living.

Singing in Snowdonia

Clare sent in this lovely blog post about her very special Christmas in Snowdonia:

Peny-y-Pass3 FB

When our son Alex told us he wouldn’t be able to make it home this year for Christmas, as he was working through the festive period at Snowdon Pen-y-Pass Youth Hostel, Mark and I decided to go and stay with him rather than have our first Christmas apart. We duly arrived in the Welsh mountains on Christmas Eve with our second son, Peter. Alex was just finishing his shift as we arrived and was able to help us settle into the newly refurbished hostel. Over a cup of coffee he suggested that we might like to drive down to Capel Curig, the nearest village a few miles away, where the local pub, the Tyn-y-Coed, was having a Christmas sing-song later that evening. I was delighted at the idea and looked forward to it for the rest of the afternoon.

Alex’s Czech colleague, Radka, decided to join us. Radka hadn’t had the chance to get to know many Welsh people since her arrival at the hostel and here was a chance to learn a little about Welsh culture. The night air was chilly and we were glad to get inside the pub. It was a lovely sight! The decorations and the open fires made it feel very Christmassy and welcoming on a cold winter’s night. We made ourselves comfortable by the window and had a look through the song booklet which Jayne, the hostess, handed to us with a smile and some words of welcome and encouragement to join in. She said she arranged this sing-along every year for her locals and she asked us where we had come from. Alex and Radka were given the honour of being called locals as they had by now worked locally for six months. More than half of the carols were in Welsh, and as none of us speak or read Welsh, we realised this was going to be a fun challenge!

The pianist started up and Jayne eased us gently into the singing with Once in Royal David’s City in English. Then it was a Welsh carol, the Welsh version of Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, in fact, so we did at least know the tune. We gave it a good bash and the locals took our attempts in good heart and encouraged us to sing along. They even gave us some pronunciation tips: dd is pronounced as th, for example. Mark thought it hilarious that you can have four d’s in a five letter word: ddidd, I think, or was it ddudd? The singing was hearty – none of this embarrassed mumbling into your beard which you get when English people are asked to sing along! Welsh and English songs were alternated for the first half of the evening. This was followed by a serving of free nibbles straight from the oven, little cheesy pastries, mini home-made mince pies and muffins. We were joined at our table by another group of locals. The lady next to us had played Buttons to Jayne’s Cinderella in the local pantomime and she told us how they had done a double act with Jayne standing behind her using her arms to replace those of Buttons and singing while Buttons mimed. It had gone down a storm!

As the second half got under way and the wine started to take effect, I felt I just had to join in with Jayne on the descant lines (well, you have to embarrass your children some time at Christmas!) Jayne had a wonderful voice which soared in harmony over the melody. She didn’t seem to mind my attempts to join her, despite the fact my voice was nowhere near as good as hers. Radka added some lovely alto harmonies too. As the evening progressed, there were fewer and fewer English carols sung and more and more traditional Welsh songs with tunes we didn’t know. We listened until we got the hang of them then had a go at joining in with them too. One of the last songs we sang was rather like a yodelling song. It was called “Wrth ddychwel tuag adref” and if I remember rightly went: So la ti (with drumroll on the table) Holiati-hia, holia-cw-cw and every time you reached the chorus you added another coo-coo. We loved it!

When the singing had finished, we thanked Jayne for the terrific evening and asked her how to say Merry Christmas in Welsh. It is Nadolig Llawen so I hope you all had a very Nadolig Llawen!

If anyone knows what the Welsh song title means in English, I would love to know!