SING MISS MELODY, SING

A recent enquiry led us down new Sidetracks and Detours and gave us this idea for this new post. It also took me hurtling back in time all across the arts to the days when afternoons in Manchester city centre were peopled by someone at every street corner yelling out headlines, in a ´grim up North´ accent, trying to sell to passers-by their copies of the latest edition of The Manchester Evening News.

Among these street vendors, one who caught particular attention was a young lady who would quickly scour a copy for ´good´ news headlines and then sing them out in a beautiful voice, in an attempt to lure buyers towards her pitch, if you´ll pardon that pun. I had just started working (in a bank!) in Manchester and would always buy my news time edition from her. I had, at that time, just begun to hone my craft as a writer and poet, (a bank, I know!) and was aware of a country song called Jimmy Brown The Newsboy that I later bought on record by the wonderful Jimmie Dale Gilmour.

The song I wrote about our own news-seller would eventually be performed in folk clubs a few times by a folk group I later formed called Lendanear. The chorus was

´Sing Miss Melody, sing do,  a song we can all sing along to

´cos the words that you sing are like ´a friend dropping in´*

so sing Miss Melody, sing do, Sing, Miss Melody, sing.´

Of course I hadn´t become Dylan Thomas by then.

The enquiry that led to this diversion down memory lane came in an e mail from Carol, in the UK, a few days ago.

´I enjoy reading your reports on https://lanzaroteinformation.co.uk/  and your recent report on choirs prompted me to contact you, so I hope you don’t mind me asking for your help.

Would you know of a community choir in Playa Blanca? 

I am a member of the Baltimore Singers in West Cork, Ireland.  If there is no community choir already in Playa Blanca, our choir director, Katy Salvidge, has kindly offered to give me all her scores if I can find someone to run a community choir in Playa Blanca. She records items and sends, on Dropbox, the parts for Soprano 1 and 2, alto and men, so we can practice at home. Our repertoire ranges virtually from A to Z, beginning with Adele, Beatles, Coldplay, and Leonard Cohen and continuing right through the alphabet.

I shall be living in Playa Blanca from October 2019 until April 2020 and I love singing.  I am a member of local social groups on the island such as Ladies Of Playa Blanca and The Lanzarote Swallows.  There are members of both groups who would love to join a choir but like myself don’t have the musical skills to run it. I wondered with your experience and connections if you could help?´

My reply, regular readers will not be surprised to learn, was wordy but not particularly helpful, and I re-print it below if only to confirm your worst fears.

´Hi Carol, thanks for your query and for reading my articles on Lanzarote Information. I´m pleased to share such a great platform as I think Miguel´s web site is a really useful resource to residents and visitors on the island

I´m really interested, too, in the repertoire you talk about,..  Leonard Cohen work especially.

The problem is that no choir in Playa Blanca comes to mind other than the Voices Choir which really only performs at Christmas.

There is a German rock choir that sings around the island but not specifically in PB. Another excellent choir that performs quite extensively and excitingly is the Lanzarote Gospel Choir. My wife has yoga friends who sing, too, in a Yaiza choir but that is a very small group and focuses on religious, ceremonial music.

I will, however, happily drop a piece into Lanzarote Information and into my Sidetracks And Detours blog and see whether somebody can identify a more locally based choir.

Another avenue for you to follow might be to contact a couple of the excellent musical directors who lead choirs on Lanzarote and see whether they can recommend anything, or might even be interested in taking on a newly formed choir of friends at The Ladies Of Playa Blanca and Lanzarote Swallows. I could include in my article a request that any such person interested in that role might contact you or a colleague.

You would presumably require someone English-speaking, but I have to say I have only ever heard musical directors over here address their audiences, who are of course primarily Spanish, in Spanish! However, I think the leader of the German choir can speak English so I could have a word with her.

My understanding is that the musical directors / choir leaders over here work at least on a semi-professional basis so that might mean weekly fees or some such for any choir you can collate. That said, I think they perhaps also receive some funding from The Department Of Culture at The Cabildo, the ´government´ building in Arrecife. Whilst the staff and council officers are mostly Spanish speaking they seem receptive to ideas that promote cultural awareness and tolerance, and I think if you made it clear that your ´English´ choir would be looking to perform and introduce new sounds to a Spanish audience that could be an idea they might be interested in promoting. (Brexit notwithstanding !!)

It would certainly be worth trying to make an appointment with an English speaking person in that department. It´s a lovely building to visit, anyway, and we have always found them very receptive when we visit to reserve tickets or make enquiries.

Anyway, I´ll put out some feelers and place an article and if things move along I could even circulate residents on our complex here in Playa Blanca, to see who fancies singing a bit of Adele!

Regards, Norm´

I then made a note of people who might be able to help me, thinking of friends and acquaintances like Dena Emerson or Christine Want who we know sing in various choirs, or Jacqueline or Isabel from Coro de Yaiza, or perhaps Marianne who ´manages´ and conducts some excellent choral productions throughout the year.

There were some events due in the following week or so that would afford me the opportunity to make further enquiries, on Carol´s behalf, of those contacts I thought might be helpful.

Before I could get that aatada (all across the arts detective agency) into full swing, though, there came another reply from Carol, presumably seeking to give me further details that might help me in gathering relevant information.

´Thanks very much for your prompt reply.

The importance of our community choir was that there were no auditions and it was about community.   We all paid and at its height we had about sixty members.  We opened a concert for the Hothouse Flowers and were asked to come back again and do a repeat the following year.   We were paid to sing at weddings and took part in the Cork Choral Festival as well as being a requested group at Christmas events.  

Katy Salvidge, our musical director, is very much the professional but now winters in the Algarve.  Some of our choir travelled out to do workshops with her last January. We sang Cohen’s Hallelujah and also a wide range of popular songs to which Katy re-wrote the scores to suit our choir members.

Although we have several other choirs in West Cork, delivering a different range of music, my interest is in the joy of singing with a choir. To also do that during the period of each year that I live on Lanzarote would be brilliant.   I would expect to pay a regular fee.

All the best. Carol´

As I had hoped I might, I bumped into the hard-working and ever helpful Marianne Whelpdale at a musical event a few days later and pretty much told her Carol´s back story and request for information. She promised she would give it some thought and drop me an e mail with some information to pass on to Carol.

True to her word she sent me an e mail a few days later of two or three choirs Carol might like to approach.

How much help this will be to Carol, I am not sure. Playa Blanca is on the southernmost tip of Lanzarote, and to be honest, it being a tourist centre for young families, it doesn´t present as many arts events as other places on the island. It therefore, perhaps does not have as many arts groups, such as choirs, to choose from.

The Lanzarote Gospel Choir

To be honest though you can never be more than forty five minutes away by car wherever you might be on the island, so Carol might come to consider she has a much wider choice of choirs than she first thought. Looking at the kind of material she has covered before in Cork, she might be impressed by our incredibly impressive and energetic Lanzarote Gospel Choir. On the other hand, even a quick reference to the programme for the recent San Gines Festival 2019 might provide her with half a dozen other choirs, including the wonderful Cora De Yaiza, always directed impeccably by Nuvy.

I looked into my archives to see what I had written about this event, featuring six choirs, in my review on https://lanzaroteinformation.co.uk/ and on re-reading my notes I am even more certain that any of these choirs might suit Carol´s needs.

Theatre Victor Fernandez Gopar “El Salinero” recently hosted several musical events, of very different styles, all organized by the Cabildo de Lanzarote, in the course of one wonderful week The choral performances were designed under the co-ordination of Óscar Pérez, Advisor, and as they had been in previous years, were aimed at promoting one of the most popular manifestations of Lanzarote music. Choral singing is entwined in the long tradition of folk lore music in particular and with other genres of music too. These showcases aimed to raise awareness and give value to the musical work done by these cultural groups.

This was a larger venue than has been used in previous years and although it is renowned for its wonderful acoustics, this Arrecife city centre theatre takes some filling.

Despite the best marketing efforts of the choirs themselves, and of  Juan (aka by us as ‘The Cabildo Kid’) and all his enthusiasm from the arts box office, I have to say the hall looked to be holding a disappointingly low turn-out by the time lights were dimmed on the first evening.

This was especially disappointing because we know from previous years how well these choirs can perform, and a ticket cost of only 5 euros was not at all unreasonable. With three choirs, on the first night, each of more than fifteen members, we could have expected somewhere between 150 and 180 friends or family of the singers to attend. The event had been well enough publicised, in The Cabildo’s monthly cultural agenda booklets and Miguel had published what details he had in his weekly newsletter what’s on column over the previous couple of weeks.

Nevertheless I invite artists or those serving as publicists for groups such as choirs or drama to send their advance information of events to me here at all across the arts on normanwarwick22@yahoo.com .

That way we can perhaps write a preview article to place on these pages, or perhaps even print an interview with an artist or organiser concerned with the event. Whether that would help increase audiences I´m not sure, but it couldn´t do any harm could it? We would certainly reach an English speaking audience that The Cabildo or artists indigenous to the island might not.

The first choir to perform on the opening night was that of El Cribo Canta, founded in 2002 by Mariola Ferrer. Since then, conductors Cristian Morales and Beni Ferrer have had time directing the choir, which is now under the baton of Arnold Bonilla. El Cribo Canta was originally formed by members who had themselves, or had family members and friends who had, suffered with mental health issues.

El Cribo Canta

The aim of the choir, therefore, was to raise awareness of, and open doors to, the social inclusion of those suffering poor mental health.

Sartorially, at least, this was to prove the most colourful of the choirs over the two nights, though they began with a lovely, but slightly dark Hallelujah. That, though, seemed to settle any nerves they may have had and their musical director, whilst playing guitar, led them into a song of softer colours and more carefree times. He clearly took great pride in their performance and his choir patently adored and trusted him, and the male members of the choir, after a somewhat rigid and nervous start now began to relax and were seemingly having the time of their lives, taking lead vocal duties on the romantic folk lore song that followed. An a capella offering was lively and joyful, and the last couple of songs in their set continued to delight the audience.

A good number of other nationalities are actually represented under the banner of Coral Alemana (German Choir), In Dulci Jubilo. We saw some members of this choir perform recently, and brought a review of their excellent performance of a Handel piece to these pages. They reprised a selection from that show here at El Salinero. The music they sang and played tonight all emanated from workshops of Baroque music that became a presentation of the oratorio, L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed Il Moderato.

The guest conductor that night, in the smaller teatro of Tias, had been specially commissioned from his home in Argentina and he had made much delight that although this music was a contrast between Melancholy and Merriment, it was perhaps in the piece called Moderation where a haven was to be found. 

Tonight Marianne Whelpdale stepped out front from the orchestra to musically conduct the choir from her keyboards. Haste Thee Nymphs, with its libido and calls for hedonistic delights, was a sparkling offering but Come And Trip It As Ye Go was, in both title and type, like one of those contemporary but traditional sounding English folk songs,

It could have been written by a wonderful group of the sixties, The Incredible String Band. I know that those my folksy friends of those days would have loved what In Dulci Jubilo achieved here.

For the British of a certain age it is also almost impossible to listen to a work entitled Come Pensive Nun without thinking of the somewhat less reverent song of a similar title and ilk by Jake Thackery, also from the nineteen sixties. However the choir erased all such memories from our minds with an engaging and engrossing delivery.

The splendidly moustachioed Alan Taylor, a ubiquitous figure on the choral music scene in Lanzarote, gave us a solo performance of joy and mirth with Oh Let The Merry Bells Ring. Harmonies on the final number, These Delights If Thou Can Give’st, and indeed, throughout the performance, were of the precision and excellence we have come to expect from this choir, who were all dressed in dazzling white.

Coral De San Bartolome

The evening was brought to conclusion by Coral De San Bartolome, founded in 1997 at the initiative of the town’s council. The first director of the choir was Professor Carmen Siverio, but that role is currently undertaken by Mariola Ferrer. This is no simple task, for the choir is comprised of thirty female voices, who can deliver in three, four, or five threads depending on the harmonic requirements for the music.

In direct contrast to the previous choir, San Bartolome were attired completely in black, but painted a pallet of warm colours for us with their song selection. From an offering that was a gentle a capella piece, they jumped comfortably into a song that was full of complex and lovely melodies. They were equally at ease with their choice, too, of folk lore with a dance feel and high harmonies.

Tonight’s repertoire included titles like Dos Gardenias, You The Beautiful Lola and When The Sun Warms Up.

This had been a lovely evening of  ‘ordinary’ members of the public taking their hobbies and learning to levels of excellence they might never have dreamed of when setting out on this road, by ‘nipping out to join the local choir.’ Indeed, such had been the height of this excellence that we were already looking forward, even as we left the building, to returning the following night, to see three more choirs.

When we did return on the Saturday evening we had grown from two into four, and settled into our seats near the front of the stage as if we were X factor judges. Indeed, we were perhaps more like Cowell and his acolytes than we would have liked as our foursome now included my wife Dee, and her visiting friend Lynne, and these two were once colleagues in Rochdale Festival Choir.

Lynne continues to sing with the choir that was almost devastated by my wife’s emigration over here to Lanzarote. Any choir would miss such a great mime artist as my wife !

The opening choir on this second evening took to the stage before another slightly lower turn out than we might have hoped for, but Coral Polifonica San Gines are the best known and perhaps best loved choir on the island, so we had no doubt they would rise to the occasion. They are also one of the longest established choirs on Lanzarote and have been around now for almost fifty years, with Braulio de Leon currently serving as musical director. He has performed all over Europe including the UK, France, Italy and Portugal as well as across The Canary Islands. The choir has collaborated with chamber and classical orchestras and even solo musicians such as acclaimed timple player Jose Antonio Ramos.

Tonight’s delivery was entitled Limelight and accompanied by a backdrop of edited silent shots from silver screen classics that added hugely to our interest in the songs on offer. As an example, I Will Wait For You, which I had forgotten was included in the soundtrack for the film The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, was beautifully sung.

This is perhaps why I and too, some people like freelance arts curator Estefania Camejo, enjoy multi-disciplinary arts presentations.

One art form often works in such collaborations to lead us to further investigation of the other, and after hearing many of this choir’s selections tonight I found myself not only wanting to hear more of the film score each came from but also wanting to see and understand more of the narrative of the films that had also informed this offering. The choir had fully captured the interest and attention of the audience and safely opened the gate for the following choirs to step through.

Agrupacion Vocal De Yaiza

Next on stage was the choir we were all particularly looking forward to. We have seen Agrupacion Vocal De Yaiza many times, in performances that have been for public entertainment and sometimes, too, as part of a church service.

The group also includes several ladies who are members of my wife’s yoga group and Dee had been extolling their virtues to Lynne all week. The performance of the choir justified Dee’s recommendations of them and under musical direction from Nuvy Tavio Garcia they gave us a repertoire that included Dindirin Dindirin (not as similar to the Dr. Who theme tune as it might sound) and Ay That I Come and Vive Tutte Le Vezose. These were all lively and beautifully delivered and some members, like our friend Jacqueline, were clearly having a great time. 

That brought Coral Polifónica Villa de Teguise on stage to close the event. Founded in the year 1988 driven by the municipality of Teguise and directed then by Josefina González Gil, this choir now boasts more than thirty years of history.

Throughout the year, it works both in Teguise, and beyond its borders and has worked in the Canaries and on the Peninsula in various festivals and musical events. Tonight they delivered Nobil Pacem by W. A. Mozart, Oh Sad, That I Come by Juan de el Encina, Piel Canela by Bobby Capó and their version of Viva Tutte Le Vezose, composed by Felice Giardine.

All the choirs then united, in response to the shouts of bravo and encore from the audience. Their combined power in the encore they delivered was simply amazing.

I love to hear these wonderful choirs delivering complex pieces, with great timing and harmonies. This is despite the fact that, for some of them, no audition is required, as Carol had mentioned was similarly the case in Ireland for her. Sadly though, I wouldn´t pass even my own audition as a singer. Even with my own band, Lendanear, in the nineteen seventies, I used to come off the stage with my ribs black and blue where Colin and Pete had kept elbowing me to stop trying to join in with the vocals !

The Choir Of The Voice Unspoken

Much as I love singing, I know I can´t. In fact, when I was fourteen, my dad came home from a parents-evening at my school. He burst through the front door and began bellowing at me at the top of his voice. ´Its alright,´ he yelled, ¨We´ll get help for you. Mr. Wilson explained. Don´t worry about it.´

Worry I did indeed, though, all through the darkness until I could ask my music teacher Mr. Wilson what had been said to my parents the previous night. It transpired he had told mum and dad that although I obviously loved music I was, in his opinion, tone deaf. With supreme irony, dad mis-heard him and had come home thinking I was stone deaf !

It would be some forty odd years later that I formed a poetry choir in Rochdale, called The Choir Of The Voice Unspoken. It was the only way I could think of to join a choir without actually having to sing, and I enjoyed some wonderfully anarchic performances with them. Our version of Singing In The Rain might have lacked some of the magic of the silver screen or Broadway but we all had fun, though our audiences might not have.

You know that song that says ´All God´s Children Got A Place In The Choir,´….. well, the following line should say ´except Norm.´

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