I did sing at school.

I joined New Mill Male Voice Choir in 1994, following a year at night school tutored by Len Williams, the choir’s Musical Director. It was a welcome distraction from family and other problems.

The following are two pieces from the book ‘Let All Men Sing’ – see Shalliley Books – which might explain some of the attraction. Occasionally it’s about the feelings that follow music and singing.

“What can you say about rehearsals?

  • – somewhere you go every week and don’t like to miss. 
  • – a fixed point, a bit like work, a bit of structure in the life.
  • – a people comfort zone. Blokes you enjoy hanging out with, albeit for two hours a week. 
  • – not quite the same as a shed.
  • – time away from the job, housework, gardening, TV and shopping.

Two hours a week for twenty-one years, given time off – say six weeks a year – is a quarter of a year, a season. Which season would you like? Is the choir winter, spring, summer or autumn? Could be autumn for most of us – brown yellow leaves, crisp mornings, 6.00 pm wine on the verandah – one long autumn of rehearsal. Time for reflection. It’s more than half over. More behind than in front. Realistic but not giving in, not yet.

 Some choose to meet between rehearsals. Gluttons for punishment or spending time with mates who share the same interests. Perhaps simply extending the time away from the things you have to do, but don’t want to.

 A new skill; a relearned skill; or no skill at all? It doesn’t matter. Almost everyone gets well enough in tune. It never goes perfectly. Always something to work on – quiet period of silence afterwards, and then another flick of the pages. Let’s try bars so-and-so again. Very different to a concert – only one chance there, like batting in a cricket match.

 Once a year, for a new year weekend, the choir sets off for a ‘men-only’ tour. Called rehearsal weekends. Plenty of singing, plenty of laughs and plenty of beer. Llandudno and Scarborough. Donald Lister specials.”

Anon (otherwise the editor)

“I have always loved music and enjoyed the rich sound of a male voice choir. For me, music is relaxing and healing and singing has a wonderful way of lifting the spirits. Thanks to Ed Turner, who brought me to a rehearsal. Despite little musical experience, the choir’s comradeship, picking up with old friends and making new ones, made me feel at home. Learning new skills has been a stretch, but very rewarding.”

Robert Coombs 2011

I sing baritone, somewhere between a tenor and a bass and very rarely the tune. The tenors wander along above and below the top lines of the music and they, more often than not, have the tune. They have to hit notes I can only dream of. The poor dears. Has a fading baritone once been a tenor and is destined to be a bass? Like the centre-threequarter who moves into the forwards, or the fast bowler who turns his arm to off-breaks. No. Section transfers are rare and basses are weird.

A fading baritone, like the ageing sportsman, has learned to pace himself. When to hide, when to go for it. ‘Rhythm of Life’ can kill you otherwise. So a slot on the back row is ideal, as far away from the poor dears and the weirdos.

Another quality of the fading singer is fading memory. It’s increasingly difficult to remember anything. And when you forget your words you need to be in the shelter of the back row.

You get surprises. We did a gig in an old established north west seaside venue with a large screen above the choir. No one was immune from the camera’s gaze. Those who didn’t know their words were cruelly exposed. Our nearest and dearest are usually kind, but there’s always some fussy bitch in the audience who is willing to to tell the truth.

How else would I have sung at The Albert Hall, The Opera House, Blackpool, The Spa, Scarborough, Eden Project, Tate St Ives, York Minster, Fountains Abbey and Auschwitz to name but a few.