Second annual BeVox summer picnic

On Saturday 12th August, we had our second annual BeVox summer picnic at Clumber Park. With the exception of a few light spots, the weather stayed fine (if a little overcast) – but nothing would have damped the enthusiasm of everyone who came! It was fantastic to get together with people again and renew the friendships that have built up between us all. It was particularly lovely to hear stories of how people have been getting together socially whilst we’re on our summer break – it seems that having no sessions to go to just frees people up to spend fun time together anyway!

Of course, it would be impossible to get a bunch of BeVox singers together and have no music. We had a sneak peek of a couple of the tracks on our forthcoming CD, “Blue Skies”. We also had a quick blast of a few of the rehearsal tracks for next season’s music – and I have to say I was impressed to see some people starting to sing along already! What was even more impressive was that some of the people singing along weren’t BeVox singers at all – they were their children! All part of the big BeVox family, of course…

Getting together for an afternoon of fun and relaxation together has bridged the gap between the end of the summer season and the start of the autumn one quite nicely. There’s still a little while to go before we all get back to our usual weekly sessions, but the wait seems a little shorter now. Of course, Toni and I aren’t twiddling our thumbs during the break – we’ve been working on a variety of things, including finishing off the artwork for the Blue Skies CD, preparing sheet music for next season, writing orchestrations for the backing tracks, and making plans for a number of forthcoming events – including our big mystery event on 14th July next year. We’re very excited!

We’re looking forward to seeing everyone when we start the autumn season in September – let’s rock!

BeVox Summer Picnic 2016

To round off the BeVox year in style, we had a picnic at Clumber Park today. It was a really great experience – sharing good food and good company with so many members of the BeVox community. We had everything from fun games (Frisbee, hula-hooping, bubble-blowing), to a sneaky peek at next season’s songs. That was particularly funny as it happened – the expressions on the faces of the other families around the park was priceless when the “Christmas: Impossible!” medley started blaring out! It was also really lovely to see how many “supporters” had joined us – the husbands, wives, children, and friends that are just as much a part of BeVox as the singers are. We recognise that being a family member of a BeVox singer can require a little patience occasionally, so it’s great to share the fun with everyone together.

The BeVox Summer Picnic 2016, Clumber Park
The BeVox Summer Picnic 2016, Clumber Park

Of course, this wasn’t just our summer picnic – we were also celebrating my Dad (Rob)’s 70th birthday. It was lovely to have several members of my family sharing the fun with us all – my brother Dan and his partner Sam, my Mum and Dad, my Grandma Joy and Uncle Phil. The birthday boy had a really incredible day, and I was very touched when he told everyone assembled that it was great to spend the day surrounded by so many new friends. Toni made him a birthday cake, which was admired by all!

The birthday boy - my Dad on his 70th birthday at the BeVox Summer Picnic
The birthday boy – my Dad on his 70th birthday at the BeVox Summer Picnic
The cake that Toni made for Rob's 70th birthday
The cake that Toni made for Rob’s 70th birthday

Quite a large number of us had taken my brother Dan up on his offer of preparing food for the picnic, rather than bringing our own. Boy, what a spread he brought! I’m very lucky to have such a talented and accomplished chef for a brother – the only reason why I’m not twice my size is because he lives so far away! The comments from everyone who sampled his food were that it was really first-rate – I overhead one of our singers telling Dan that the trifle he prepared for dessert was the best pudding he’d had in years.

Smoked salmon for the BeVox 2016 Summer Picnic, prepared by Daniel Allen of "Gravy & Custard"
Smoked salmon for the BeVox 2016 Summer Picnic, prepared by Daniel Allen of “Gravy & Custard”
3-day roast pastrami for the BeVox 2016 Summer Picnic, prepared by Daniel Allen of "Gravy & Custard"
3-day roast pastrami for the BeVox 2016 Summer Picnic, prepared by Daniel Allen of “Gravy & Custard”

After we were all stuffed from the food, a good number of us strolled over to the beautiful chapel in the grounds of Clumber Park, where we had planned to have a bit of a sing. Technical gremlins forced us to be creative, as all the backing tracks seemed to have flown from my phone – so we sang a number of songs a capella. This was quite a different challenge, as most of our songs really aren’t designed to be sung without accompaniment, and the end result was… variable – but huge fun regardless, and when it worked, it really worked!

All in all, the day was a fantastic chance for us to celebrate what BeVox is really about – the people that make up our incredible community. It was about friendship, fellowship, and coming together. We had an absolute blast – so much so that we’ve decided that this needs to be an annual event. We’ve spoken to the people at the National Trust who look after us whenever we perform at Clumber Park, and they are very happy for us to return every summer, so today can now be referred to as the inaugural BeVox Annual Summer Picnic!

The start of Evolution

For a long time, I’ve wanted to do more than I currently do with BeVox. I love everything we do with the choir, but there are natural limitations to the musical standards that it’s possible to achieve with a non-auditioned, amateur community choir. A few years ago, I thought the answer was to start a separate, professional ensemble. I tried that for a year, and it didn’t work out. Ever since, I’ve been trying out different ideas in my head about how I could scratch this musical itch. It was only at the beginning of this year that I realised why I couldn’t find an answer – I was looking at the problem from the wrong angle. If I wanted to work on higher musical standards, I needed to do that within the context of BeVox, not separately from it. I needed to work out how to do that without compromising on the open-access nature of the choir, as it’s so important for BeVox to remain open and welcoming to those who may not have sung before. At the same time, there was a real opportunity to offer something more to those people who were ready to take the next step – to begin a gradual process that would improve the musical standards of the whole choir by offering additional training and insights to those who wanted them, and were ready for them. It was time for Evolution.

It took a while to work out exactly how this process would work, and as with every transformative process, it’s still a work in progress. It has already changed in response to feedback from within the choir. One of the most important aspects of what we’re trying to achieve is that it mustn’t create an “us and them” situation, where people who aren’t part of Evolution feel like they’re missing out or being left behind. Everything we do with Evolution needs to be for the good of the whole choir, not just the people involved in Evolution. There are lots of things we’ve put in place to make sure this happens – not least, the process of teaching more advanced techniques and skills to the Evolution group will help me develop my ability to teach at this level, which I can then start to feed into the choir as a whole. The whole thing is very much about learning together, and sharing the fruits of that learning with everyone. As the idea has grown over the last few months, I’ve been more and more excited about it. Yesterday, we held our initial workshop – the first time people could try out what we’re offering with Evolution, see if it was something they wanted, and see if they were ready to work at this more focussed intensity. The results were thrilling.

We had nearly sixty singers at the workshop – more than I’d initially thought would be interested, and that was exciting in itself. A lot of them were very nervous about what they’d be asked to do. I’d asked everyone to learn and memorise three songs specifically for the workshop, so we could focus just on the techniques I wanted to teach, and not spend time learning the notes. People were aware that, if I didn’t think they were ready for Evolution, they might not “get in”, and for some people that was a real worry. No-one needed to worry though – it became clear during the course of the workshop that everyone there was ready to work at the level I was expecting, so I was able to let everyone know on the spot that they could be a part of Evolution if they chose to. I think the sense of relief in the room at that point was palpable!

It was really rewarding to be able to focus on some detailed bits of technique during the workshop. We took the songs to a new level, even just within a single afternoon. It was also a fantastic opportunity for me to identify what further work we can do – even though the songs we worked on became a lot stronger during the workshop, I could see just how much stronger they could still become. I’m really excited about developing the content of the coming sessions so we can really hone those songs, and our collective technique, to the point that they’ve achieved their full potential. It’s going to be an amazing journey, and I’m absolutely buzzing about taking the next step.

Happy New Year 2016

Happy New Year!

2015 was a big year for us, in many ways. BeVox celebrated its fifth birthday, which felt like a real milestone. We recorded our first ever CD, and had our busiest year ever when it comes to number of performances, and number of singers singing with us. We helped to raise nearly £12,000 for charity in 2015, taking the total we’ve helped to raise since we started to over £42,000. And amongst all that, we managed to squeeze a wedding in too!

The New Year is a time for looking forward as well as looking back, and we have lots to look forward to. We have a number of big concerts planned for 2016, as well as continuing our smaller, community-based events too. The bigger events include “Let us entertain you”, our first big concert in Lincoln, at the Lincoln Performing Arts Centre on Sunday 17th April. We’ve also got exciting plans for our big concert for the summer in Wakefield, which will see us at a new venue (for us) – more details will be available soon. We’re exploring a couple of different options for our 2016 Christmas concert too (yes, we’re thinking about next Christmas already!) – one of those options would be absolutely jaw-dropping if we can pull it off, so we’re working hard to make it happen if we can.

On top of the usual run of events, we have some other plans for 2016 too. Not all of these are ready to be revealed yet, as we’d always rather wait until things are definite before announcing them. I will mention though that we have ideas for some exciting workshops this summer, and a brand new initiative that will really raise our standards – without changing our open-to-anyone ethos. We’re also planning to develop our relationships with other leading musicians, which could open some very interesting doors…

2016 feels like a year of possibilities – a year in which change is inevitable. That sounds rather exciting to me, and I can’t wait to get started!

Anniversary celebrations

We’re just home from our incredible weekend celebrating the 5th anniversary of BeVox. It’s been a brilliant time, shared with so many people, with lots of others willing us on from afar too. From the moment people came together for the workshop on Friday afternoon, we knew we were in for a pretty amazing time. The camaraderie was brilliant, with people forging new friendships as well as strengthening existing ones. Throughout the whole weekend, the support people showed for each other was second to none. This ranged from the big things (real emotional, physical and even financial support), to little gestures like the whoops and cheers people gave to EVERYONE who got up to sing at the party, and the singers who bought coffee to surprise the recording engineer on Sunday. It’s all this support and camaraderie that makes BeVox the community that it is, so it felt utterly right to have it shown in such abundance for our anniversary celebrations.

The flash mob on Friday night was great fun – and showed that even if you plan something, you can always improve on it with a little improvisation! Instead of trying to cram everyone into the foyer of the Spa theatre, after a quick meeting with the duty manager we headed outside instead – so we really were “dancing in the street”! Ben, the husband of one of our singers, Anne, filmed the whole thing, which is now on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/TEMD9DgHihU

Quite a lot of us then went to watch the show in the Spa theatre that night – “The Best of Thoroughly Modern Musicals”. The performers were great – and they clearly appreciated having such a lively and vocal audience! I wasn’t expecting it when they made reference to the flash mob in their show, so I was even more surprised when the following day I was passed the phone number of their producer, who is apparently interested in doing some work with us – who knows, maybe next year we’ll be doing a whole summer season in Scarborough!

The Best of Thoroughly Modern Musicals
The Best of Thoroughly Modern Musicals

We got stuck into the recording on Saturday and Sunday. This was a new experience for virtually all of our singers, and a very different one from singing in concerts. The focus and concentration needed was hard work, particularly when we were also trying our best not to get too serious and lose that fun edge that defines us as BeVox! Both days of recording were tiring, but very rewarding. Although we got a couple of sneaky peeks at how things sounded on the day, of course these were only the raw tracks before they’d been mixed and properly produced, so we’ll all have to wait a while before we hear the finished product. I know everyone will be keen to hear it when it’s ready!

The view from the conductor's podium
The view from the conductor’s podium

Then of course it was party time! The Spa’s magnificent Ocean Room had been transformed from recording studio into glitzy party venue, and everyone arrived in high spirits. Toni and I even got to practice a “receiving line”! It was lovely to see everyone letting their hair down, and sharing in good food, good music, and exceptional company. A number of people got up to sing to everyone – hats off to each and every one of them. We had a few trips down memory lane by singing some BeVox songs from the past, and then we partied until midnight with some serious dancing!

Dancing at the party
Dancing at the party

Thank you to everyone who has shared in the first five years of BeVox, in whatever form and for however much of that time. We’ve had a blast, and we can’t wait to share the next five years with you too!

Until next time...
Until next time…

Things to look forward to

It’s been a busy summer for us so far, and we’ve only got two weeks to go until the next season starts. We can’t wait!

The end of the Summer season was really busy, with lots of performances in varied locations. We’d hoped that we’d then be able to put our feet up and relax for a bit, but life doesn’t work that way! Recording next season’s music early ended up being a very good plan, and we were very glad to get that out to everyone before the summer break really kicked off. We then got started on a number of plans, and we knew we’d only got a few weeks to sort them out.

Over the summer, we’ve got everything in place to launch our latest area, Lincoln. We’ll be bringing a number of singers over to the city to sing in some really iconic places throughout the weekend of 6th/7th September, then we have our big launch on 10th September. We’ve got adverts in lots of local press, and we’re really looking forward to getting Lincoln singing.

We’ve also been working on our big 5th anniversary celebration next summer, and it was great to be able to release those plans last week. We’re off for a weekend at the seaside, recording a CD and having a big party at the incredible Spa Centre in Scarborough.

Other things have taken up our time too, including a couple of short trips (we had a couple of days away to celebrate Toni’s birthday, and we’ve just got back from a week in Scotland). Toni has been working very hard on designing lots and lots of publicity material, and you’ll be seeing our adverts in newspapers and magazines across Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire over the next few weeks. We’ve also been sorting out more performances for the Autumn season, and there are still more in the pipeline – we’ll release details as soon as they’re finalised. Finally, we’ve been working on our “Christmas at the Cathedral” – we have another meeting lined up in the next couple of weeks to get everything nailed down, then we should be able to put out all the information you’ll need. For now, just keep the date free – Saturday 13th December. We’ll have an amazing show for you!

Utterly inspirational day

I’ve just got back in from our workshop with David Grant today, and I’m struggling to express the incredible jumble of emotions I’m feeling. I think the over-riding one is pride. I’m proud of what every one of us achieved today, proud of this community of singers, proud just as much of the sound we make as of the support we have for each other. I’m also incredibly grateful – to David, for everything he brought to the day, to Katie for her invaluable support on keys, and to every single singer for the dedication, passion and sheer hard work you all put into it. I’m humbled, both by the warmth from all of you, and from the really flattering things David had to say about Toni and me as leaders of this community. I’m worn out – not from exertion, but from laughing so much! And finally, I’m inspired – as much by the sound of all our voices raised in song as by all the things David had to say. He spurred us on to achieve more than we have ever done before, and you all raised your game to match his expectations. It truly was an awesome experience.

All the feedback I’m already seeing on Facebook and Twitter is incredible – it’s clear that people had an amazing day, and got so much out of it. I’m utterly thrilled with what we’ve achieved. I can’t wait for the coming week’s sessions, so we can cement all those fine details into our performance, then go out and share this music with as wide an audience as possible.

Now, I have a plea, and this really isn’t a commercial one – I want to get more singers into the choir. The sound we made today with 136 voices was incredible, and I’d love for us to make that kind of sound every time we come together. It’s hard to match that experience when we have groups of 40-50 singers, with sometimes only a handful of people in a section. There is strength in numbers – not just because you don’t feel as exposed, but because the enthusiasm of the people around you encourages you to sing out. The best way of encouraging people to come and join us, and share incredible experiences like today, is for them to hear us perform. There are two particular events coming up where we can all really help grow the choir, and enable other people to get the same great buzz we’ve had today – although we can do this at all our concerts, of course. One is our promo event at Victoria Centre on Saturday – we’ve currently only got 16 singers signed up for this – think how much we could excite the people of Nottingham if we had twice that number singing with the passion we’ve sung with today! The other one is “Voices at the Lakeside” – you’ve all worked so hard to make such an incredible sound and put together a truly memorable performance, so let’s share it with as many people as we possibly can. They will then go away inspired and uplifted by the energy you bring to this music, and spreading that joy goes just a little way towards making the world a better place. Point people towards www.bevox.co.uk/lakeside, or www.bevox.co.uk/performances-forthcoming. How many of you first heard of us by coming to a concert and deciding, “I want to be a part of that”? Let’s inspire more people to take up singing, to come and join us and become a part of our incredible community.

My final thought for the night? As David said, we are all singers. Not just people who sing because we can, but people who sing because we must. It’s our way of expressing something that can’t be expressed any other way, or of escaping from the world, or of finding a place for ourselves where we belong. It’s very un-British, but let’s become evangelists for singing, let’s shout it from the rooftops – “I AM A SINGER, AND YOU COULD BE ONE TOO!“. If we could each make one other person feel as uplifted and inspired as we all have today, we would have given an invaluable gift – a gift that truly keeps on giving, and becomes part of a virtuous circle where we feel good because we sing, and we sing because we feel good. It’s why BeVox exists. Let’s share it with the world.

Start of the new season

We had a great time at the first session in Wakefield last night. It feels good to get back to singing after the Christmas break, and it was made even better by having such a full room! Fantastic to see a number of people coming back to us after having a few seasons off, and lovely to welcome so many new singers too. And it needs to be said – what an awesome sound by the end of the session, especially on the last number – who knew we could sound so good after just 20 minutes on a song?!

We’re really looking forward to Nottingham tonight, and then Sheffield on Thursday. See you there!

Auditions

We held our auditions for solos, duets and small ensembles this weekend, which was great fun (well, fun for me – I got to listen to lots of great singing!). I know that all the auditionees find it less fun, as it’s always stressful auditioning. It was really useful having the panel with me too, and their input into the process was invaluable.

I then had the really tough job of deciding what to offer people. This is always difficult, but was made even more so this season by the plans and restrictions I’d put in place for our “A Circle of Life” event. I hate having to turn anyone down, so it’s been a really tough process trying to work everything out. The offers of solos have just been sent out to everyone though, and once the acceptances come in over the next few days, I’ll be able to share who is singing in each event. Congratulations to everyone who gave it a go – it’s a nerve-wracking process, and I salute each and every one of you!

A great weekend

We had two really lovely events this weekend. On Saturday, we had our first ever Discussion Picnic – a kind of very informal Annual General Meeting, where we shared food and company, before sharing our thoughts and ideas about how we can shape BeVox for the next year or so. We’re grateful to everyone who was able to be there, and to the large number of people who couldn’t make it on the day but sent their ideas and viewpoints via email beforehand. We had a very lively discussion, as I’d hoped we would, with a good range of opinions aired. It was really reassuring that there was broad agreement on the majority of issues, and also fantastic to hear people’s ideas for how we can improve what we do. We’ll be reflecting on the whole experience over the next few days, and producing a document that outlines how we’ll respond to all this valuable feedback.

We spent Sunday celebrating the wedding of John and Lyn, two of our singers in Nottingham. We had a group of over 30 singers, beautiful sunshine, the relaxed surroundings of Langar Hall, and a very happy bride and groom! It was lovely to have the chance to socialise together for a while, and then the singing was great fun too – lots of slight panicking beforehand as people realised they hadn’t sung these songs for months, but then lots of relieved looks when they realised it all came flooding back as soon as we started singing! The sound was strong, the camaraderie stronger. Thanks to all who took part, and congratulations to John and Lyn – may you spend the rest of your lives blissfully happy with each other!