Sunday, April 14, 2013

Music at the Minster - raising money for pancreatitis research: a BeVox event at Southwell Minster Saturday 13 April 2013

So, this has been my third big event with BeVox:
  • Nottingham Variety Show: under the stage lights at Nottingham Arts Theatre last July BeVox performed a replacement event for the usual 'end of season' performance the choir does at each of its venues [now Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield]. I sang just in the matinee performance of an event where BeVox headlined, but which was part of a multi-act Variety Performance Concert
  • the matinee and evening mammoth event that was BeVox at Buxton with Brass
  • Music at the Minster: this took place last night, and I sang with the fullest BeVox choir at Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire - our event to raise money for pancreatitis research (for reasons explained later).  This was instead of our local Nottingham 'end of season' concert, so I've actually only done one 'standard' end of season gig, when the lovely Tim and Sarah joined Neil and my friend Helen in the audience at the Becket School, West Bridgford, Nottingham.

It was quite an experience: there is SO much to consider when doing an event like this, and how Timothy Allen (our choir director) managed to co-ordinate everything with so many people is mind-blowing.  Being part of the choir - even as a relative newcomer - I've seen first-hand the upheaval that the choir has had to cope with this season (see Tim's post 'A test of what BeVox is Truly About') and for Tim to have kept going and kept *US* all going is a great credit to him.

But co-ordinating an event like yesterday requires immense attention to detail and teamwork, so thanks go not only for Tim's co-ordination with all the following, but those individuals and teams as well:

  • our hosts, the Dean and Chapter at Southwell Minster; 
  • Pauline and the Totally Boxed team who got us in place and in and out of the Minster from our dressing room spaces without us causing them too many problems; 
  • the music co-ordination [Dylan - that is right, yeah?] and the piano-playing brilliance of Rickey, who did an amazing job both with cueing backing tracks, playing Tim's exquisite arrangements and getting the sound balance right in the capacious space of Southwell Minster
  • everyone else behind the scenes, not least Tim's parents
  • all the members of choir, including all the soloists and the ensemble

You can get a bit of a flavour of the concert from this video: I wish there had been more video taken as it would have been lovely to get more of this event out there (you just miss the first bit of Tim's opening Swahili solo here).

(FYI: I'm on the far side away from Tim, four rows up with a blue scarf that looks larger than it was, one person away from the rails at the side of our seats near the pillars).

The running order for the “Music at the Minster” concert:
  1. Lean on me
  2. The circle of life
  3. Feelin’ groovy (59th Street Bridge Song)
  4. Nothing compares 2 U – Shelley Tidgwell
  5. You’ve got a friend
  6. Think/Respect
  7. The life I never led – Cat Allcock
  8. The rose
  9. Shine
  10. Footprints in the sand – Martin Clarke
  11. My favourite things
  12. True colours – Louise Beard
  13. Higher and higher
  1. Somebody to love (soloist Cat Allcock)
  2. Evergreen – Lis Luke
  3. You were always on my mind
  4. Ave verum corpus – Ensemble
  5. Can you feel the boogie?
  6. The sound of silence
  7. My way – Hugh Bland
  8. Fields of gold
  9. Les Misérables medley (including Stars solo by Tim Allen)

The concert was a big deal for everyone but especially the Nottingham singers taking part: the event was to raise money for pancreatitis research, in memory of Carl Cropley, one of the singers at Nottingham.  Carl died from this horrible illness just as I started going to the choir - pretty much the first circulated email I got when I joined was about his death.  He had friends at the choir; he was much loved by the choir; and he had been an integral part of one of their biggest events - creating a film for their large scale performance at Magna in Sheffield.

But most importantly, he had met his partner at the choir.  You can imagine what that impact that had and still has.  Carl only a sang a solo once with the choir - and it was "Stars" from the medley of songs from Les Miserables that Tim had put together.  The medley is an emotional rollercoaster anyway, but to hear Tim take over and do the full-length solo of "Stars" in Carl's memory.... *exhalation*

...and for the performance at Southwell, I was stood next to Carl's partner who still sings with BeVox.  Despite all of Tim's advice that we should, could and probably would need to let go of our emotions, I felt I just *had* to hold it together.

Did I say that Southwell was nigh full?  People were having to sit on the seats down the side of the Cathedral as all the seats in the central aisles were full.  The event raised over £3000 for the cause, well worth doing.  I was knackered by the end but I hope everyone got as much out of it as I did.

Oh yes, and if you want a flavour of the Les Mis medley, then the Wakefield branch of BeVox did a cracking job (including the choir version of "Stars") at their own end of season concert.

Now if Tim would just bring back Radiohead's "Creep" to one of the upcoming performances, I'd feel that I have caught up on some of the best bits missed from previous seasons (since the Les Mis medley was one of the ones I had felt most gutted about missing doing when I belatedly joined in!)

Monday, April 08, 2013

I heard the news today, oh boy: Thatcher's death and society

I've ducked from much of the news coverage, and taken in only a glance of remarks on social media.  'It's pretty torrid out there' seems a sufficient description of the atmosphere.

Margaret Thatcher (nee Roberts) on her wedding day

Old lady, sad, lonely and very unwell, dies alone in a hotel (it's unclear whether either of her children were with her when she died from a stroke).

That's clearly, on a basic human level, pretty horrible as a way to die.  Those who were friends and family will clearly want to, and should be able to, mourn her death.

Moreover, acknowledging someone who dies in a hotel, sad, lonely and unwell, as something that shouldn't be celebrated
is just basic humanity. But I will not confuse that basic humanity with mourning, which is an entirely more intimate emotional reaction. I'm not gloating but this is someone who made the experience of dying alone, the poverty of existence, something that became embedded in the way her social policies affected people (this and other quotes from my Facebook posts).
Mourning is generally something I believe is for those who KNOW someone: I would be sad if someone I thought wonderful, talented, culturally important died, but I wouldn't feel entitled to mourn and nor would I expect others to agree with my response or dictate my response.  Others can mourn if they want to; but equally I don't want to get into a contest about appropriate behaviour and 'respect':
That she formulated and implemented policies and attitudes that left so many people to die in far worse circumstances than she did (whilst similarly sad, lonely and unwell) is what minimises my empathy for her situation. She died living in a hotel paid for by the tax-dodging Barclays Brothers. 
She's apparently also going to get a ceremonial funeral at taxpayer expense (at least thank HEAVENS not a state one).
I wonder how this will be policed? I'm in the 'not mourning' camp (minus any unnecessary ghoulish cheering) but it isn't hard to see that the divisiveness Thatcher has created is likely to lead some numpties to fancy a day out chanting. Can I put out a plea for people who feel strongly to NOT be anywhere near London when it happens and to NOT feel the need to yell and be stupid? A mass LACK of banners and provocation of mourning right-wingers would be REALLY appreciated. It's only adding to the cost to us the taxpayer and frankly she isn't worth it.
I know there will be those singing "ding dong the witch is dead".  I understand that reaction even as it makes me wince.  Glenn Greenwald's notes about the etiquette of grief is worth reading at this juncture, since it provides a valid context for why we can't necessarily expect an homogeneous response, even as its wildest excesses may be personally distasteful.  And chiefly that is because however brutal the criticisms, there are plenty who do come to praise Thatcher in the wake of her forthcoming wake.  All voices should to be acknowledged - criticism and praise.

And I will freely admit to being one of those who still think that an early 1990s call for epitaphs for Thatcher's grave was most ably served by the line "Licensed for dancing".  It limited the bile whilst still capturing the need to challenge the usual hagiographic memorialising around any public monument to her.

But mostly... mostly it's important to remember how little differentiation there is between Thatcher and current Tories.  There is much still to be active about and still to challenge as wrongs in society (on this day when yet more changes to benefits affecting disabled people come into force - a subject worthy of another post in itself since there are insidious problems with this and other changes).  Harking back to the past of Thatcher and making her chief bogeywoman is only part of the story because her legacy lives on in ways that are far from positive.

As I've noted:
I find it very interesting how commentators point to the current Tory concept of 'The Big Society' as evidence that modern Tory belief differs from Thatcher's belief of 'there is no such thing as society'. Cobblers: they're both about the state having almost no role in supporting those in need. Whether you're being expected to help yourself in an individual way (Thatcher) or helping yourself/communities from amongst small groups (Cameron) it's still about reducing the role of the state as a safety net. We've gone back to Thatcher's beloved Victorian Values about the deserving and undeserving poor. We have a reintroduction of the Poor Law in all but name: charities having to make 'do you deserve it?' decisions on an ad hoc basis. No real change at all.
Moreover, it is worth remembering all things that Thatcher did that created the atmosphere of hatred which now - as it did in her lifetime - spirals against her: social and economic misery and division of neighbour against neighbour, the destruction of social housing and of the manufacturing base of the UK, the selling off of national assets enabling the rich to get richer, the deregulation of the banks that underpinned the banking crisis of 2008.  She was a friend to Fascists like Pinochet and described Nelson Mandela as a terrorist whilst blocking sanctions against the apartheid regime of South Africa.*

Understanding these things does not excuse gloating. Analysis and considered critique are always better. But emotions run high in the wake of any death, on all sides of the political spectrum.

I lived through Thatcherism in a city that felt the negative impact of her policies harshly.  I cannot claim neutrality even if I have no desire to jump on the many gleeful bandwagons of 'celebration' about her death.  (I can never believe that 'celebrating' a death in the way some are doing is constructive ---- I can see how it may feel cathartic for some, but I can't do it myself and I don't feel able to condone it either).

Some - trying to be 'respectful' - note her passion for Britain, her defence of the Falklands, and those old chestnuts that women are especially supposed to feel grateful for: Thatcher being the first woman Prime Minister of Britain and her having risen from 'lower middle-class origins' to Tory Party Leader, The critiques of the first two will no doubt be part of the maelstrom of comments over coming days, but it's those last two where I'd make a personal categorical refutation of their importance: Thatcher didn't just pull up the ladder once she had climbed up, she practically destroyed it by putting in place policies and beliefs to undermine women in countless ways and embedding economic divisions that still cut into class issues today.  A personal belief on my part and today is not the wrong day to be making a statement of it.

I read the news today, oh boy...

* Bizarrely, many of these points were noted by - of all people - Terry Christian on Twitter.  I hate the tone of some of his points but they're all still valid.

Friday, April 05, 2013

A New Bourne Identity: A ballet Review for Sleeping Beauty @ Nottingham Theatre Royal, Wednesday 3 April 2013

With a friend working in the world of theatre, I've known for many years of the brilliance of Matthew Bourne's dancing and dance companies.  Yet somehow, despite having done ballet briefly as a child, I'd never actually been to see a ballet on stage.

Sure, I'd watched my fair share on TV, and *adored* the TV series 'The Agony and the Ecstasy' that focused on the English National Ballet company.

But Matthew Bourne's 'New Adventures' production of Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance was my first live ballet.  Well: if you're gonna start late, start at the top.

It's beautiful music (more on that later), the dancing was bound to be sublime, and the setting (Gothic!) promised everything I could want to see.  You can get a flavour from this promotional video.

Sumptuous hardly covers how beautiful this production actually is - the costumes are spectacular  and the colours of the costumes alone were a feast for the senses. (I definitely wanted to raid the wardrobe room several times over - fairy frocks, elegant Edwardian dresses, dramatic red coats). The sets and backdrops are also superb.  Sunsets over grand houses, statues, wrought iron gates, bedsteads from a by-gone era: all created with such attention to detail you wanted to walk - or rather dance - among them.

We were lucky enough to have Hannah Vassallo as Aurora and Chris Trenfield as Leo, and they were ably supported by the rest of the cast, including a terrifying performance in the role of the dark fairy Carabosse (and as her son Caradoc) by - I believe - Adam Maskell on the night I saw it (The cast obviously rotates and I stupidly forgot to note the casting for Wednesday).  The dancing was breathtaking - such variety of styles, movements, leaps and grace.

So: I loved it.  It was the most magical experience I could have hoped for and I felt electrified by everything about the show.  The show tours on to Wimbledon, Liverpool and Bristol after it finishes at Nottingham tomorrow, but I would have to say that unless you've already booked, you're unlikely to get a ticket.  It was PACKED at Nottingham.  Look out for future performances.

Final note: music and audiences
Whilst to my left I had the most lovely elderly lady with some of her family, on my right I had Mr Grump of Grumpsville who persisted in complaining about how loud the pre-recorded music was for the production.  He insisted on bending my ear at the start and end of the interval about how unnecessarily loud it was and how he had complained to no avail about the sound levels.  I get that everyone has varying degrees of sensitivity to noise and crescendos (he already had earplugs in), and he was clearly very unhappy about it.  But as a note to future visitors to anything, please do not feel that you have a divine right to everyone agreeing with you.  It was ultimately exhausting to try the 'smiling and not really nodding' to this gentleman who clearly thought the sound was so obviously a problem that it was inconceivable that anyone would not feel the same way.

Oh yes, and whilst we are on the topic of irks, can people please SHUT UP when the show is underway?  I don't need your running commentary conversation with your friend about the show drifting across the rows into my ears.  That was far more of a problem in the first half than the music levels ever were!