Preparations for the New Year

I hope everyone has had a really great Christmas, and that you’re looking forward to 2014. I know I am! It’s been an incredible year, filled with drama and emotion – both personally and professionally. It was the year in which Toni had her life-saving transplant operation, which had its highs and lows – it was one of the most worrying times of my life, waiting for her to come out of theatre, and the weeks after the op were incredibly stressful and difficult, but since then the changes in her have been incredible to see, and that has been truly remarkable. It was also the year in which I finally proposed, after seven years of us being together.

Professionally, there have been some real highlights to 2013 too. We’ve done three incredible “big concerts” with BeVox (“Music at the Minster” in Southwell Minster, “Music for Life” at Wakefield Cathedral and “A Circle of Life” at Elsecar Heritage Centre). We joined with City Voices Cardiff and the Rodillian Singers to create three memorable flash mobs in London for Victoria BID. We’ve sung at weddings and funerals, in exhibition centres and greenhouses, in pubs, hotels and pumping stations(!), and helped to raise over £7,000 for several charities. And although it wasn’t a BeVox event, I was also thrilled to be the artistic director for the “Donate Life” concert at Sheffield City Hall, with Matt Cardle, Aled Jones and the National Transplant Choir.

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the Spring season, which starts on 6th January in Wakefield (7th in Nottingham, 9th in Sheffield). We’ve got some interesting music this time around, and a great venue for our big concert. We’re working on a little extra something for towards the end of the season (we’ll announce the details here as soon as they’re confirmed). We’re also putting a call out for any local places you’d like to perform in – we want to really get out into the community this season and give as much back as we possibly can.

One final reminder before I sign off for this year – if you want to sing with us in January, you need to sign up via BeVox OnLine – and if you want us to print your music or burn you a CD, you need to sign up and request this via the OnLine system by the end of this year!

Happy New Year to you all, and I hope we’ll see you in 2014.

Reflections on an incredible journey

Almost all of our performances for the Autumn season are over now – we just have Papplewick Pumping Station to come on 22nd December. In the morning, I’m heading down south to spend a week with my daughter, so I thought I’d take a little time to reflect on what has been an incredible season – actually, an incredible year.

Toni and I started this season, back in September, feeling a little flat. We’d had a lovely week away over the summer, but we’d not managed to do most of the things we’d hoped apart from that – we’d wanted to spend lots of time relaxing with each other and enjoying Toni’s continuing recovery after her operation in February. We knew that the Autumn season was going to be hard work – we’d committed to putting on a big concert in December, and I’d outlined my plans to make it a different, unique experience, unlike anything we’d done before. I had my reasons for wanting to make this one special of course, but Toni didn’t know that, and we had serious reservations about the budget, and the amount of work we were taking on.

Within the first week or two of the season, we had our first ever Discussion Picnic – a chance for everyone to get together socially, but also to share their views about the direction BeVox was going in, and feedback any concerns. This was a really valuable process, and helped shape a number of changes. It was very grounding, hearing people’s concerns and being able to respond to them, whilst also being really rewarding as people shared what they love about BeVox, and what they want to do more of. Some of the issues raised have continued to be present throughout the season, but the way in which they’re being handled has improved no end.

As the season progressed, the workload got heavier, but it was made easier by the energy people were bringing to the weekly sessions. Although some of the music was difficult, everyone attacked it with enthusiasm, and that helped to keep us going. We had a number of setbacks behind the scenes, and sometimes it was hard to keep going – weeks of 12-16 hour days take a toll. Nevertheless, I was sure it would all be worthwhile, and the fun we had in sessions was a lifeline – it’s the most visible bit of the work we do, but it’s the most fun bit too!

The last week of sessions was a turning point, I think. Having got all the songs to a good standard by Week 11, we could easily have spent the last session running everything through and feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. Instead, everyone voted to push harder and find new emotional levels in the performance, and as a result, that final session was hard work, but very rewarding. I threw a bucketload of new techniques at everyone – material that would normally take 5-6 workshops to cover was absorbed in just 2 hours. Not everything worked entirely successfully, but everyone embraced the journey and it really transformed a number of the songs.

The week leading up to “A Circle of Life” was just incredible. Having got the vast majority of the work and planning complete by this point, we could sit back and enjoy the performances. The Wakefield end of season on the Monday set the tone for the week, with some fantastic singing, and an utterly lovely atmosphere. The support from the audience was great, and it reminded us of our community roots – something we really want to build on next season. Heading to Nottingham on the Tuesday, we were both excited – Wakefield’s performance had given us a boost, and the acoustic of the Nottingham venue is always a joy to sing in. It was another great night, with everyone raising their game to give a splendid night out.

Then came “A Circle of Life”, and what a day that was! Elements of that performance had been in the planning for the best part of a year, and it was so satisfying to see it all coming together. I had such admiration for the professionalism virtually everyone displayed in the tech rehearsal, handling all the challenges with admirable patience. I’m sure that the couple of people who didn’t play ball with the seating arrangements will have learnt from the experience, and the team spirit will pull them into line next time. We had our share of technical problems too, although they were small fry considering the amount of technical stuff we’d thrown into this show, and the time constraints the production crew were under.

After a frantic drive home to fix a technical problem during the lunch break, the matinee performance passed by in a blur – my head was focussing on so many different things at once, I barely had time to register it was happening before it was over. It was great to see so many supporters in the audience, including a number of our singers who hadn’t been able to take part but had come to watch. I’m sure everyone was grateful for the break between the matinee and the evening – a chance to come down, relax, and reset for the evening. And what an evening it was. From the beginning of the show, the atmosphere was electric. It’s great to perform to a sold-out house, and the audience were so incredibly supportive – they were clearly on this journey with us, and were cheering us on at every turn! The performances from everyone on stage were exemplary that evening – soloists, duettists, ensemble singers and choir members alike. I could feel the energy coming from every voice, every face. It was a very, very powerful experience.

Then of course, we ended the show with an event that has been seven years in the making. Toni and I would like to thank every single person that’s shared in that journey with us, and it was so absolutely right to celebrate our engagement with this community, this family, that is BeVox. We’ve been bowled over with the love and support everyone has shown us, and we count ourselves very lucky indeed to have such a great bunch of people around us. Thank you.

A Circle of Life

Wow. What a day. I know it will live in my memory for the rest of my life, and I’m sure it will stay with a lot of other people too. Thank you to every single person who was a part of it in any way. You all helped to turn it into something truly unique and incredible. The feedback I’ve heard from the audience so far has been overwhelming – it really was a landmark experience. And to top it all off, she said yes!
I’ll try to write more fully soon, but for now, we must to bed. Thanks once again for sharing this magical experience with us.