All Singers Great & Small

“June is busting out all over…” There are only a few more days left to sing this song as Midsummer’s day has now been and gone. The song reminds me of my late father who once told me with great glee that when the musical ‘Carousel’ first came out he and his mates used to whistle or sing it loudly in the streets, much to the embarrassment of a local girl called June who was blessed (or not) with an ample bosom!

We don’t hear many people singing and whistling in the streets these days but Musicals are still very popular and sing-along events draw great crowds. Mama Mia is a perfect example of that and those of us who have put on an event using the DVD can testify to its success. It’s currently on SKY TV and we think it will be around for years to come – so if you haven’t tried it yet (or even if you have) then you’ll get the chance to sample it at the weekend away in November.

People love to sing and it is so good for you. My friend Nicola and I were chatting about exactly that earlier this year. I was reminiscing about the occasional choir at my last parish and she was saying how much she missed leading the local school choir since she left and became a travelling Piano teacher. I think she calls herself Peripatetic but I can’t spell that!

Anyway one of us casually said “We should start a choir” and we stared at each other as the potential began to dawn. We went away to ponder the possibilities, and practicalities.

Nicola’s husband is the Pastor of Mill Lane Independent Methodist Church in the heart of our community and they had been thinking about how they might serve the local area, for which they pray regularly. When we voiced our idea they offered us the use of their cosy little church building, the cover of their liability insurance and music license, and the use of the kitchen afterwards for refreshments. A door had opened wide and the invitation was clear.

We sent an email to the local newspaper saying we were going to meet to sing for fun and wellbeing. No auditions, everyone welcome. They ran it as a News feature and our phones started ringing. About a dozen people rang to say they wanted to come. Our opening night was March 25th this year and 22 people turned up. Some people we knew by sight, some were from local churches but others had no church connection. The unanimous comment was “I’ve been looking for something like this for years”.

A great bonus was the arrival of my daughter’s friend Kathryn, a professional musician, who offered to conduct the choir and help us learn new songs. She lives 15 miles away but comes because she enjoys it and insists it looks good on her CV. We have to literally force her to accept petrol money. We don’t charge anyone for coming but have a basket for donations and it covers all expenses and enables us to give donations to the little church as a thank you for their open handed hospitality.

A computer teacher within the group designed, printed and laminated some posters for us and 3 months on we have doubled in numbers. The question kept being voiced “What shall we call ourselves?” Several names were suggested and everyone voted – the winner being “All Singers Great and Small”. Very appropriate as the ages range from 11-80 (the majority being women 30-50) and we are an eclectic mix of experience and abilities.

People have brought friends and family along, but friendships have also sprung up within the choir. Everyone helps with drinks and washing up, some even bring cakes. One person announced a Garden party with a raffle for Charity and someone else in the group painted and donated a fabulous framed landscape picture to the cause.

The atmosphere week by week is warm and enthusiastic, with lots of laughter and banter. It’s great to be part of it and the singing is top quality. We’re now planning a concert, just for our nearest and dearest, on August 19th preceded by a ‘Jacob’s Join’ tea. In addition to choir songs, people are offering to introduce items, sing solo, or in duets and small groups. Some of the songs are funny, others heart-stoppingly beautiful, and it promises to be a great evening. A choir member is designing the programme.

On the first night we were so encouraged and choked by the turn-out that we asked if we could just say “thank you” to God at the end. No one seemed in the least phased by this and a brief final prayer and blessing is now an accepted part of the proceedings.

On one occasion I actually read out the Aaronic/ Priestly blessing from the book of Numbers in my big battered Bible and mentioned the John Rutter song “The Lord Bless You & Keep You” which echoes the prayer. We’ve just included it into our repertoire which otherwise consists of a mixture of Songs from the Shows, Pop Classics and Folk Songs.

Recently I was away on retreat with local clergy. The choir members all knew about it and teased me about the improbability of maintaining silence for any length of time. While I was away someone suggested that they should secretly learn the theme tune to The Vicar of Dibley. They all think it’s a great hoot and obviously I saw the funny side, but I love the song and just think “Praise God they are singing Psalm 23”.

The choir continues to grow and go from strength to strength. Mill Lane Church have invited us to sing at their Harvest Service and there were lots of assenting nods when we announced it, so we’ll see what happens next. That’s the Boss’s department.

We just offered him our dream and we turn up week by week to see what he does with it. We’ve got our music in alphabetical order in our folders. The first one is “Any dream will do”. It was the first song we attempted and I can’t help thinking that those words are prophetic. Why not trust him with yours?

Jan Harney.

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