At the end of March this year, I started attending rehearsals at Tottenham Community Choir. I wasn’t sure it was going to be the kind of thing I would stick with, but stick with it I have.
When I tell people I’m part of a choir the differing reactions are quite interesting. They range from bemusement, to jealousy, to disbelief, and tend to be followed by a barrage of questions. There are usually too many questions, all at once, and I hardly ever feel like I answer them sufficiently.
With Tottenham getting a lot of attention for the wrong reasons at the moment, now seems like a good time to talk about something positive in the area.
Therefore I have decided to compile answers to the questions I am most frequently asked about joining Tottenham Community Choir.
- “Did you have to audition?”
- “Do you need to be able to read music?”
- “How do you know whether you’re a tenor or a bass, etc?”
- “Do you have to wear a cossack? (sic)“
- “Do you have to wear a hassock? (sic)“
- “Do you have to wear a cassock?”
- “What songs do you sing?”
It’s a mixture. There are pop songs, hymns, bits of opera. I like the mixture of material, it prevents any one style taking over. Since I joined, songs we’ve we’ve worked on have included:
- “Do you do choreographed dance moves, like in Rock Choir?”
- “What do you wear?”
- “How often do you perform in public?”
Not very often at the moment. We’re concentrating on building up our repetoire so that when the performances become more regular, they’re really good. In my time at the choir we’ve done a wedding and a couple of end-of-term school fetes.
We’re going to perform at the Haringey Green Lanes Food Festival on September 18th, and we’re also looking at doing a benefit gig for those affected by the recent riots in Tottenham (follow @TottenhamGig for details). We’re also going to do a winter concert in the run-up to Christmas, which is the biggie we’re working towards.
- “How often do you rehearse?”
- “Do you have a conductor?”
We have a musical director: Nick Williamson. Nick has the borderline impossible job of arranging, playing and teaching everyone the music we perform. In live performance he conducts us and – depending on the set-up – plays the piano as well (no mean feat). I think we’re looking for a piano player to help Nick out, so he’s not stuck behind the piano in rehearsals.
One of the things I’ve been struck by is the amount involved in teaching a choir a) how to sing properly, b) how to sing their individual bits while listening out for everyone else, c) the discipline involved in getting all that stuff right. It’s not easy to communicate all this without behaving like a tyrant and pissing people off. Nick is immensely skilled at doing all this – he’s firm but good-humoured, knowledgeable but charismatic and strict but patient.
I think the result of his approach is that people want to gain his approval, which is an added incentive to put the effort in and nail the songs.
- “Is it like ‘Sister Act’?”
- “Do you do solos?”
- “What are rehearsals like?”
Rehearsals are where we learn the songs. They’re fun, laid back and yet, by nature of how little time we have, they require a fair bit of concentration.
We start with Nick leading us in breathing and singing exercises. This can be anything from taking deep breaths to singing suggestive tongue-twisters designed to make you feel like a berk: “Lick a lolly, lick a lolly, lick a lolly lolly lolly” is a regular. As is “Suck a sweet, suck a sweet, suck a sweet sweet sweet”.
After ten minutes or so of this it’s on to rehearsing the various bits in the songs we’re concentrating on that week. We’ll tend to cover a couple of songs a week, going through each part of each one and then doing a couple of renditions from – as I believe it’s called – “the top”.
- “What’s the age range?”
- “How many people are in the choir?”
With full attendance it’s probably about 50-60 people; in performance it kind of depends how many people can make the date in question. Women outnumber men, which means the alto and soprano sections are sizeable. My section, the tenors, is probably the smallest.
This can be difficult if one or two people can’t make it one week; but on the other hand it means those of us who are there need to take responsibility, step up and belt it out.
- “Do you pay a fee to be in the choir?”
- “I’m thinking of coming but have questions I’d like to ask. Who should I speak to?”
- “Where do you rehearse?”
- “Do you enjoy it?”
- “Where can I learn more about Tottenham Community Choir?”
- “What if I’ve only ever sung drunkenly at karaoke?”
Then you’ll be starting from the same position as I did.