Posts Tagged ‘ concerts ’

Suppose you was a little cat…

I have performed many songs, but if there’s one I’ve performed more than any other, it has to be ‘Mr Cellophane’ from Chicago.  It’s my party piece, the number that gets pulled out when I’m asked to sing outside the context of a musical, and as such has had outings in Darley Dale, Bakewell, Elham, Postling, Canterbury, Whitstable, Newport Pagnell, Dover and possibly other places I’ve forgotten about.  Each time is different, as the circumstances change.  Sometimes it’s a capella, sometimes there is musical accompaniment ; sometimes the audience is largely friends (or at least friends of friends), sometimes they’re complete strangers.  And each time is different because I’ll put a slightly different spin on things, bring out different aspects of the song.

Needless to say, I love this number (music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb).  It strikes a difficult balance between being funny, being sweet and being terribly sad.  It is the lament of an ‘invisible’ man, who gets passed by in life, feeling that even those people he sees every day don’t notice him.  When I first performed the song (over 10 years ago now), I felt very much like him and I found that singing his story was cathartic.  These days, when I take on the properties of cellophane it is out of choice – there are times when it can be quite useful to fade into the background.  As a performer, part of the song’s appeal is that is builds gradually from a tentative start, taking on more force and power as the character gets more frustrated with the way people see (or rather don’t see) him.  Then, in a stroke of songwriting genius, it drops off again sharply, half way through the final line, ending with a completely appropriate moment of bathos as the man’s normal state of quiet transparency returns.

A little cat

Last week, Mister Cellophane made his most recent appearance in my repertoire. Bearing in mind how many times I’ve sung the song, it ought to be possible for me to perform it in my sleep. However, this was not to be. Having completed the first verse and chorus, I began the second verse. “Suppose you was a little cat…” Then…nothing. A complete blank. My thought process ran something like :

  • “Suppose you was a little cat,”
  • Oh. Oh no.
  • What on earth comes next?
  • It must rhyme with “cat” and…there’s something about scratching ears, but that’s not yet.
  • Don’t look panicked – look sad, look meek.
  • It’s very quiet…
  • Oh, that’s because P won’t carry on playing until I sing something.
  • I am so embarrassed. What happens if I never remember the line?
  • I ought to make something up.  Something about what the cat does.
  • What do cats do, anyway?
  • !!!  Got it!
  • “Residing in a person’s flat.”

The whole thing can only have taken moments, but it felt like forever. I’m told that it was barely noticeable (the musical director thought I was simply ‘acting’ and other members of the company either didn’t notice or said it was a second or two at most, though that’s still an age in performance time), but those moments were absolutely terrifying.  I’d like to think I’m never complacent when performing, but this was an excellent reminder – no matter how well you think you know what you’re doing on stage, you could know it better and you still need 100% concentration, every single second.


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Concert season

It’s the summer, so the population of Great Britain has both umbrellas and barbecues at the ready, anxiously peering at the sky.  In addition to outdoor meals and disappointing weather, the summer tends to bring a whole bunch of concerts with it.  The Proms are on in London, and the prospect of warm weather seems to get music makers and music lovers going.  Over the last two weekends, I’ve taken part in two very different concerts.

The first was with Reach Out Gospel Choir, a group which was formed in January.  I started going because it’s organised by a good friend, and I carried on going because it was so enjoyable.  We’ve been having fun singing a mixture of traditional gospel music and pop songs, with this being our first public performance.  The choir performed diverse material from ‘Steal Away’ to ‘Can You Feel It?’, all in 3-part harmony and mostly with broad smiles on our faces.  My personal favourites to sing were ‘Magnify the Lord’ and ‘I’ll Be There’, encompassing the range of our repertoire.  The first is very simple, a short and catchy piece which shifts up a key after every chorus, and the second is just a joy to sing thanks to my friend’s fantastic arrangement.  I also sang a solo, stepping out of the musical theatre world to have a go at Michael Buble’s ‘Haven’t Met You Yet’, which was brilliant fun to sing.  I may have to delve into his songbook again!

Next was West Side Story From Scratch, which was (as the name implies) put together with a minimum of rehearsals.  In an outdoor venue, we got the audience to join with us as the Jets, the Sharks and their girls as we sang through the score with the help of two very accomplished pianists.  My part in the concert was pretty mad, even by the standards of a year where I’ve been a wolf and sung a song in my underwear!  For the ‘Tonight Quintet’, I sang the part of Bernardo, leader of the Sharks.  I then got to play the Jets (all of them!) in ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’, a feat that involved four different accents and a workout for my falsetto range.  I think I can safely say that it was a unique version of the song, and it certainly got a very warm reception from the audience.  The Quintet, on the other hand…  well, let’s just say that it could definitely have gone better.  But I suppose that’s a “From Scratch” performance for you.

I have the possibility of one more concert before the summer ends.  In many ways, I prefer doing a fully staged show, partly because I do like to have a character to hide behind, but concerts are a lot of fun and I think the audiences generally feel more a part of proceedings, even if they aren’t being asked to join in with some of the songs.

In which the Singing Librarian is very busy

I had thought that my weeks would be quiet and peaceful now that the librarianship course is truly in the past, but this was clearly foolishness on my part.  The life of the Singing Librarian is rarely quiet, and I’m not sure that I’d like it very much if it was, which is a rather good thing.  Aside from the usual work and church life, I have managed to pile rehearsal upon rehearsal in a glorious mixture of different ways to fill my evenings and weekends as I work towards four different projects.

First, a series of concerts with Canterbury Operatic Society, to be performed from 12th to 19th July.  These include a mix of old and new tunes from George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ to pop hit ‘You Raise Me Up’ and numbers from Spamalot and Wicked.  In addition to the choral work, some of which I love, some of which I’m really not enjoying, I’m wheeling out old faithful ‘Mister Cellophane’ as a solo.

The next project is West Side Story, to be performed in August at the Marlowe Theatre.  I have managed to get myself drafted in as a replacement for an adult cast member who disappeared somehow, possibly lost down the back of the sofa, and am in the slightly bizarre position of rehearsing the role of Doc, who owns the store which the Jets hang out in.  It’s a nice part, appearing in only three scenes but going quite an emotional journey.  However, Doc is usually played by someone about twice my age, so I don’t yet know (having only had one rehearsal so far) whether I will be aging up or whether Doc will just be unusually young in this production.  I’m working with Phoenix Performing Arts, a local performing arts school, so I have the privilege of working with a whole host of enthusiastic, talented young people.  This role is very different to anything I’ve done recently, as Doc does not sing a single word – I haven’t been in a show where I have ‘just’ acted since I left school eleven years ago.

Once the whirlwind of learning and performing West Side Story is over, my main focus will return toTitanic, which is to be performed in November, also at the Marlowe.  We are currently learning the music at super-speed, which is great fun but somewhat scary, trying to remember everything, particularly as very little of it is easy.  But, as is also true with West Side Story, I do enjoy a challenge when I’m performing.

Last, but certainly not least, is a Christmas oratorio written by a very talented friend of mine.  This will be performed in Dover in December.  At present, I’m laying down some vocal tracks for his demo CD of it, which is intended as an aid to members of the choir, and also attending some early rehearsals.  It’s wonderful stuff, great fun to sing, in a variety of different styles.

Most days see me attend at least one rehearsal or performance, with some days involving more than one of my projects.  Thus far everything has stayed straight in my head, but before long I expect things will start to leak over.  I shall communicate with students in Morse code, or arrange the Jets according to a strange interpretation of Dewey Decimal System.  Harold Bride will tell people to “call him Jesus, the Messiah and the king” or the ‘Quintet’ in West Side Story will unexpectedly gain Bride’s refrain of “the night was alive with a thousand voices”, which appears at least 18 times in the Titanic score.  Or perhaps my brain is handily compartmentalised.  We can but hope.  The Singing Librarian is very busy, and he’s loving it.

Having a junior moment: the sequel

I’m sure that the readers of my blog found my account of my singing-related memory loss to be as thrilling as an extremely thrilling thing, so it only seems fair that I share the sequel – what happened following this nerve-wracking episode?

The sequel begins at the end of the concert.  The church we were performing in likes to make it quite clear that it appreciates our presence, and does so by having an extended period of embarrassment at the end where a speech is made and presents are given to the performers.  Chocolates were handed round the choir, the accompanist got something, the conductor got a bunch of flowers, and the soloists got a little something as well.  Except me.  It seems that somebody had miscounted the number of soloists and had not bought quite enough wrapped chocolate goodies to go around.  And it was assumed that once the supply of chocolate goodies had run out, so had the supply of soloists.  I didn’t mind this at all, as I hate taking curtain calls of any kind, and receiving flowers (for the ladies) and chocolate (for the men) meant that one had to stand up and acknowledge the assembled company.  I was quite happy to be overlooked, particularly since I wasn’t ever supposed to be performing the song in the first place, being a stand-in for someone who couldn’t make that concert.

As it turned out, I did get some chocolate anyway, as one of the men has no sweet tooth at all (how is that possible?  how can one live without chocolate?) and passed their lovely Cadbury’s delights on to me.  So I got chocolate without having to take a bow – best of all possible worlds.

And then…

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Having a junior moment

Once people enter middle age, whatever that may be, they seem to feel entitled to put any lapses of memory or outbreaks of bizarre thinking down to a ‘senior moment’.  I’m not sure what age allows entry to the senior moment club, but I’m fairly sure I haven’t reached it, being a spring chicken of 28.  My intriguing memory lapse at last night’s concert must therefore have been a junior moment.

There I was, happily singing the man’s half of ‘I’ll Know’ from Guys and Dolls, when I suddenly realised I didn’t know what the next line was.  I couldn’t stop, and although the music was on a stand nearby, I had no idea where on the page I actually was.  Nobody could have rescued me, so I just had to smile and keep singing.  Anything.  Any old words until I reached a point where I knew exactly what I should be singing and when.  Unfortunately, the point I was aiming for was also the point where my duet partner comes back in to the song, and I could see in her eyes that she wasn’t sure that I’d be on the right words by this point.

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A lot of learning to do

Under normal circumstances, the summer tends to be a quiet period for amateur performers.  Everyone goes off on holidays, so rehearsals dry up for a couple of months before gathering momentum with the coming of September.  However, my diary for July, August and early September is peppered with a number of concerts with different groups of people, in sundry locations around the Garden of England and with varying contents.

Somehow, I have managed to pick up quite a variety of solo and duet material in addition to the ensemble work which includes everything from a lovely Cole Porter medley to a stupid (in my opinion) arrangement of ‘Mack the Knife’.  In approximate order of singing, I have ‘I’ll Know’ from Guys and Dolls, ‘Suddenly, Seymour’ from Little Shop of Horrors, the Sergeant in ‘When The Foeman Bares His Steel’ from The Pirates of Penzance, ‘All I Ask of You’ from Phantom of the Opera, ‘Being Alive’ from Company and ‘Agony’ from Into the Woods.  Oh, and possibly singing Marius’ part in ‘One Day More’ from Les Miserables, though I’ve not really agreed to that one yet.

Quite an assortment of pieces, using all of my performance muscles as they cover comedy, romance and drama, and using pretty much all of my vocal range from the deepest depths to those notes which make me want to switch to falsetto.  The pieces, only one of which I’ve sung in public before, were written between 1879 and 1987 and range from songs which the audience will know very well to a couple of numbers which will be new to the majority of people.  I am at least on nodding terms with all of them, but I have an awful lot to learn over the next month or so, getting the words and tunes right and trying to blend my voice to four different duet partners, all with much more musical training and technical proficiency than I have.  Still, I like most of the songs and I enjoy a challenge…

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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More summer singing

Tonight I sang at another summer concert, with many of the same people as last time, and with a similar selection of music.  This one was to raise money for one of those wonderful small village churches that pepper the English countryside, and I can vouch that it’s worth saving, as the church was our concert venue.  The audience was a few dozen local people, filling the pews.  I’m not sure whether it was the acoustics of the building or our collective frame of mind, but we sang better than we ever have before.  Continue reading

Summer singing

Let’s have another attempt at a post about singing, shall we?

This weekend I performed at a garden party along with eight others from my operatic society.  The sun couldn’t be bothered to shine very much until the garden party was over, but a good time was had by all, and our vocal cords were given a good work-out.  Singing with a small group was good fun, and the rehearsals were nicely balanced between being laid-back and managing to get everything done.  You can hear the overall effect so much more easily in a small ensemble, as the people singing the other parts are right next to you.  This makes dynamics (volume) easier to play with, as you can balance your voice with those of your neighbours, creating lovely swells and fading away much more effectively than a chorus of 50 can fade and swell!

We sung a variety of pieces, mostly as an ensemble, but with some solos, duets and so on scattered throughout.  The average age of the audience meant that our selections from Rodgers and Hammerstein, plus the gorgeous ‘Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man’ from Show Boat were received particularly well.  Of the solos, the woman who sang ‘Summertime’ was astounding.  I contributed Chicago‘s ‘Mister Cellophane’, a favourite song for me as it gets the audience on your side, and you can really work with your nerves, as the character starts the song in a fairly shaky way.

As ever with such things, I was very nervous, but as ever I’m glad that I did it.  As we sung the final chord of ‘As Long As I Have Music’, a warm glow came over me.  Music is a great gift, and it’s so much better when it’s shared!

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