We’d decided to sing on the flat car park outside Meersbrook Hall. The barrier is shut at weekends so there wouldn’t be any vehicles there, and opposite the hall there is a grassy slope, just right for sitting on, lending the place an amphitheatre feel.
I started laying out the coloured cones to show people where to stand, pacing out the gaps. I’d been nervous all day, feeling slightly sick. How would we sound? Would the one bass survive? Would the tenors and sopranos be able to hear each other? Would the occasion get people too excited to concentrate? Would they remember to watch me? Would my amplifier work? Would I forget the words or steer people wrong? Would it spoil the balance, or help it, if I sang with the sopranos? I decided I would sing with them if there were only three. I knew that we would have an audience of at least eight, as well as a couple of choir members who did not feel ready to perform but wanted to listen.
What was it for, this performance? It wasn’t linked to any event. We hadn’t promoted it much, because most of us are still nervous about crowds. It was a date plucked out of the air, and a time designed to maximise participation. I’d just felt we needed something to look forward to, a time and a place to say, “Hey, we’ve learnt some songs!”
I saw the first singer arrive in turquoise and I smiled. She was happy, excited, wearing something special. I’d forgotten this feeling. More people arrived, in ones and twos, and greeted each other warmly. The cones were done. My music stand was up, set list anchored to it with a heavy-duty clothes peg (Where were my other pegs? Why did I only have one? On cue, a gust of wind blew across the car park.) The sun peeked out from behind a cloud like a blessing.
There were singers there who had not made it to a rehearsal for several weeks but had been practising at home, and some who have loyally attended every practice come rain or shine. This particular group of people had not been all together for a year and a half. It felt like an Occasion.
We were ready. I initiated a little warm-up, for my own benefit as much as anyone else’s, since I’d not done anything vocal all day. It was still only 4.28: one singer and a couple of expected audience members – including our chairperson, Isobel – had not yet arrived so we sang a few short scales. There was an air of expectation, into which rode Isobel, on the glorious semi-recumbent tandem she shares with her husband. They waved like royalty, took their seats, and the occasion was officially open.
The singing was everything I’d hoped for – rhythmic, unified, with some lovely light and shade. The richness of harmony in E Malama was particularly gorgeous – it was worth taking the risk of those four-part songs when the number of singers in each part was so unequal.
We sang for a full half-hour – and for our choir, thirty minutes is a long programme. As we reached the end, I knew that organising this small happening was completely worthwhile.
We were there to celebrate singing, joining together to raise our voices, and being a band – bound together by something that unites us.