Archive for the ‘ Singing ’ Category

Singing Librarian flashback: S Club Library

Last weekend’s charity concert of The Pirates of Penzance put me in mind of another charity singing event, and one that was much stranger than dressing up as a pirate and a policeman.  I was, however briefly, a pop star.  With screaming fans, signed photos, farewell performances and everything else that goes with great fame.

When I joined the merry staff of the Library of Doom, men were few and far between on the front line, and young men even more of a scarce commodity.  But after a while, a number of young men were recruited almost simultaneously and someone remarked that we now had enough to form a boy band.  The seeds of a very silly idea were sown.  As the annual fund-raising opportunity of  the BBC’s Children in Need appeal approached, I decided to attempt transforming this ridiculous idea into a reality.  Why not, for one performance only, form a library boy band to raise some cash for this very worthy cause?  Unfortunately, one of my colleagues chickened out after initially agreeing to take part, and we were left with a trio, including one chap who just can’t sing (much like many members of real boy bands, then).  The obvious solution was to invite a couple of carefully selected young lady library staff members and form S Club Library, a take-off of a group who were very popular at the time (November 2002).

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Vocal cords as bus stops

Well, you go for months without singing in public, then three very different sings arrive at once, within 24 hours of each other.  Like busses, only on a more extreme scale.  Or bad things, though I can’t honestly say I’ve ever noticed them coming in threes.

I’m certainly rehearsing a lot at the moment.  Kiss Me, Kate went a bit strange for a while, but is back on.  I’m playing the role of Ralph the stage manager, a small and fun role which also means that I get to double as a chorus member and generally keep busy for most of the evening.  But that performance isn’t until March.  This coming weekend, my vocal cords are going to be in almost constant use.

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What’s my motivation?

Generally, it’ll be the most pretentious person in the company who ends up uttering the immortal query ‘But what’s my motivation?’ when asked to move to the side of the stage, sit down or stand in a particular place in a grouping.  Generally the answer should be ‘because I said so’, or ‘because if you stay there, you’ll be in Fred’s way when he comes in’, but many directors will give in and supply a motivation, generally very spurious.  Personally, if I have to do something that doesn’t make all that much sense, I’ll just go with it unless I really, really think that my character wouldn’t do it.  Come up with any old reason, or at least make it look as though you (both actor and character) know why you’re now standing behind the chair, and everything will generally be fine.  There are more important things to worry about, and I have found that if the reason for your character’s actions is at all significant, you’ll already know what it is.

But that’s not the focus of this particular bit of rambling, which is about a different sort of motivation.  Recently I have been wondering what my motivation is for performing in the first place.  Continue reading

The other side of auditions

One of the duties that comes with being on the committee of my operatic society is being on the panel for society membership auditions.  Most of the other duties involved letters or e-mails, so interaction with real people makes a pleasant change.  And although I’d never want the responsibility of being on the casting committee for a show, I rather like doing this.  Tonight we had eight auditionees, as we’re beginning show rehearsals and that always brings a stream of people in.  It was a mixed bunch, but a pleasure to listen to.

We had songs from stage and screen, including ‘Chim, Chim, Cheree’ and ‘Music of the Night’, and even a traditional Welsh song.  Lovely.  None of it was painful, and it was heartening to see people overcoming nerves to sing to us.  Some just sang the notes and some really performed the song, giving it their all.  Some had ludicrously large ranges, one was very limited.  Some sang scales beautifully, some rather raggedly.  But it was interesting to sit and focus on someone else’s voice, hear the potential in it and think about its possibilities.  You’re really willing the person to do well, and feel a bit nervous on the behalf of anyone who’s shaking or sweating.  Having been on the other side of the divide many times (and soon to be again), being on the panel for this is probably very good for me, giving me an insight into the mind of the panel members and reassuring me of their good intentions.

We inform the auditionees of our decision by post, so thankfully there’s no call for immediate feedback, positive or negative, which would make me squirm.  I’m no Simon Cowell.  I’m just a young man who wants to see talented people join the society and have fun.  And hopefully that’s what most of tonight’s auditionees will do.

Liquid comfort blankets

I’m trying to decide whether or not the ever-present bottle of water is a new thing or not.  It seems that Western society is suddenly unable to function unless everyone totes a small plastic bottle of water, whether shop-bought or from the tap, literally everywhere they go.  Clasped in our hands in the street, at work, at the theatre, at church, at the gym and anywhere else you care to mention.  We don’t necessarily use the contents very often, but the bottle can not be too far away before we begin to panic.  You may be late for Cousin Doreen’s wedding, but if you forgot your bottle of water, you still need to stop off at the petrol station to get a new one.

I am certainly not immune and have noticed with alarm my extreme attachment to my silly little bottle at rehearsals.  In performances, I can obviously only drink when off-stage and manage perfectly well with no ill effects, but in rehearsals, I sneak sips of water in the middle of numbers if the sopranos are warbling away on their own for a few bars and practically inhale the stuff after particularly taxing numbers.  A few hours at rehearsal, even if we’re just singing, will see me get through at least 500ml of water.  Of course, hydration is a good thing, but this strange psychological dependence can become compulsive and sometimes inappropriate.  Surely it must increase the number of visits we all make to the little boys’ and girls’ room each day?  And isn’t it just a little distracting when your neighbours insist on using their liquid comfort blanket at the most ridiculous times?  In the midst of silent contemplation at church, or a quiet solo at the theatre, for instance.

Have we all gone mad?  Is there something in the water?  Or is this all perfectly normal?  I’m not sure, but my throat suddenly feels very dry…

Getting sucked in by G&S

It may have become apparent through recent entries in this blog that the works of Gilbert and Sullivan are gradually taking up more space in my consciousness, having been creeping in stealthily (with cat-like tread, perhaps) before I had a chance to notice them.  I’d never really paid their work much attention before now.  What never?  Well, hardly ever.  I had assumed that it would all be outdated, silly, pointless and trite.  And it seems that I am wrong.  My growing appreciation for their tunes and lyrics is most intriguing. Continue reading


Firstly, I do apologise for the length of yesterday’s post, particularly as it didn’t really have a point.  Ah well.  Shorter today, though whether it has a point I don’t know.  A confession.

I’ve never done karaoke.

And I don’t particularly intend to.  The very idea fills me with horror, which is really rather strange.  I sing to myself in the shower, in the office, walking down the street and probably in my sleep.  I sing in concerts, sometimes solo.  I once performed a set of songs a cappella at an open mic night.  And I sing and dance in front of hundreds of people from time to time.  So why don’t I want to do karaoke? 

I just don’t think it’s for me.

Firstly, I can’t imagine that many karaoke organisers have songs in their machines that I would actually want to sing.  Pop doesn’t really suit my voice, and rock even less so.  Can you do karaoke to songs from musicals or big band standards?  Maybe, but most people would probably rather hear a bit of Abba, Oasis, the Beatles, Queen or the latest boy band.  I like some of those songs, but have no burning desire to perform them.

Secondly, performing is not something that comes easily with karaoke, as there’s little room for interpretation.  Any decent accompanist will go with the singer, speeding up or holding back as appropriate to the way the song is being sung, but a machine carries on at the speed and volume that someone decided is right.  I never sing the same song exactly the same way twice, so it seems unlikely that I’d want to sing it the way that the karaoke machine wants me to sing it.

And finally, it all seems so corny.  I have sometimes enjoyed watching people perform karaoke, but I’d just feel completely wrong, and would certainly blush to a disturbing shade as I watched the words change colour.  It’s probably a snobbish thing, but the very idea of singing karaoke is just embarrassing – and this from someone who skipped around in sock suspenders singing a silly ditty for a week in March!  Nerves are always a part of my singing experience, so I have no idea to add cringe-worthiness or embarrassment to the mix.

Perhaps the oddest thing about this is that when I’m alone I do, to all intents and purposes, do a spot of karaoke.  Various books of sheet music come with backing CDs with piano accompaniment, and this is very useful for learning a song, though also restrictive in terms of tempo and dynamics again.  In my living room, this is fine (and to be honest, I’d quite like to have a go on the SingStar game that various people rave about), but take the same track into a smoky pub with a dodgy compere and the chance to win a small prize, and the useful tool becomes anathema.  Isn’t that strange?

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