A love song to my chorus

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I sing in this chorus (that’s me, at the end of the third riser). It’s the reason I enjoy whatever level of sanity I manage to cling to. We’re called Amersham A Cappella, and we have just won the Gold Medal at the annual convention of the Ladies’ Association of British Barbershop Singers. And however far you may choose to position yourself from the wonderful world of Ladies’ Barbershop, believe me, it won’t be as far away as James, whose text to me before we went on stage was this

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and whose text after we came off stage was this

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For me, the story starts just over ten years ago. The Musical Director and the Chair of a lovely Ladies’ Barbershop chorus were at the Amersham Carnival when they saw a pregnant woman sitting on the grass playing with a baby and chatting to the nice man beside her. Something benevolent moved in the universe and prompted them to go and give that pregnant woman a leaflet about their chorus, because they loved their chorus and thought that she might love it too.

And that woman, who was already juggling a toddler, an unexpectedly enormous building project and an equally enormous baby bump, felt the thrilling fibrillation that comes when the universe does a good thing, and told the nice man she was with that she was going to audition.

But you’re pregnant/ the back of the house into which we have just moved is falling down/ what about the baby? Both babies? 

She auditioned, and once a week (you mean this choir thing is every week?), she put the babies (both babies) to the back of her mind and went and sang. For three hours, she exercised her diaphragm and her lungs and her once-active mind. She chatted to other people – not about lead piping and new gas meters and structural timber and pureed cauliflower and blood pressure and breastpumps, but about songs and notes and the illuminating power of the right choreographed move in the right place. When other babies came along – when a bulldozer inadvertently sliced through the gas main serving her house – when her husband became terribly, terribly ill and her life became a nightmare whirlwind of appointments and consultants and ghastly drugs with names that sounded like the more obscure planets in Star Wars than anything that could cure anyone of anything – her chorus was still there. And the power of the right choreographed move in the right place still illuminated the music.

Year upon year, this chorus sang at the annual convention of the Ladies’ Association of British Barbershop Singers. But nothing could shake the dominance of two other choruses, which between them took the coveted gold medal in alternate years. The White Rosettes and the Cheshire Chord Company are both brilliant choruses, entwined into the very DNA of the Ladies’ Association of British Barbershop Singers, and the status quo seemed set in stone. Year upon year, Amersham A Cappella sang on that convention stage. And year upon year, they came home with nothing, or bronze, or silver. Why no gold? people asked. Should they change their song choices? Their character? Their frocks? Were certain people missing too many rehearsals? Oh the frustration. But Amersham A Cappella’s amazing MD had a bigger goal than the elusive gold. Her aim was simply that her chorus should get better. Improve their scores. Develop their technique without compromising their style; sing what they loved singing, and sing it as well as in them lay. Bronze? Never mind. The marks went up. Disappointed with that silver? Not at all – the marks went up. And again (silver). And again (silver).

And then, finally, this year, it happened. The years of steady, committed improvement paid off, and the Ladies’ Association of British Barbershop Singers has a new champion chorus. Contestant number 28, under the direction of Helen Lappert – Amersham A Cappella.

My chorus, and our inspirational, supportive and truly talented MD.

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This medal did not happen because everyone in chorus made chorus their life. This medal happened because everyone in chorus has a life. Because, through bereavement and divorce, and marriages and breakups and house moves and redundancies and professional triumphs and births and exams and birthdays and crises and chemotherapy and major surgery and dreams coming true and dreams falling shattered to the ground, we sing. Once a week, we exercise our diaphragms and our lungs and our active minds. Once a week, we turn off the demands of our lives and we sing. Not for gold, but for the sheer joy of a talent well used.

(And James – the sausages take twenty five minutes in the roasting oven. I love you, and I’m off to chorus.)

 

56 thoughts on “A love song to my chorus

  1. Hi Antonia, thank you for making me smile at such a heartfelt prose. I have been a member of Cheshire Chord Company for 20 years and I just love singing four part harmony; the joy it brings and the friendships I have built over the years.
    Unfortunately I didn’t see you performance on Saturday 29th, let me explain why. Convention always falls on the half term holiday and having a 12 and an 8 year old, we have always driven down to the Dordogne for that week. Usually this is before Convention and I have to shorten the holiday to fly back leaving my long suffering husband to drive the 14 hours home to. Cheshire with the two kids. This year the half term holiday came after Convention so I arranged a lift from a fellow chorus member and booked a flight from Leeds/Bradford airport to Paris. Poor hubby and kids having to divert their on the way down on Sunday afternoon.
    Just as I was going in to listen to Amersham someone said something about holidays and I suddenly thought -“passport!! I’ve forgotten to pack it”. A text to hubby confirmed it was still sitting in my bedside cabinet.
    At this point most normal people would have made their excuses and rushed home, but not a Barbershopper. How could I possibly miss the results and the afterglow! So sadly I missed your performance as I was on the phone to a courier who had to pick my passport up and deliver it to the hotel inHarrogate at 11pm. Hubby not amused at the cost.
    Anyway, I’m back from a lovely week in France and looking forward to watching your recorded performance.
    Amersham did a cracking job and I’m chuffed that choruses are pushing that top spot all the time in the name of our wonderful “hobby”. CCC received higher marks for our performance this year than we did when we won in 2014 so we’re improving too.
    Keep on singing, laughing and loving Barbershop.
    Julie x

    1. Thank you Julie. Your passport episode sounds like a typical day in our household! Reading your account made me smile.

  2. Fabulous bit of writing. Loved reading it as a mum of two who often finds it so hard to juggle everything. But chorus, Viva Acappella, is my saviour each week. And I love it. And I always will.

    1. Thank you Helen. Chorus is my saviour too and it is important, amidst the chaos that is family life, to keep a little something just for us.

  3. This is wonderful Antonia and sums up what is at the heart of our wonderful hobby…Our love for the craft and just as importantly each other

  4. Hi Antonia. I so enjoyed reading your blog. It definitely hits the spot. There was a time when the Avonbelles (now Avon Harmony) reached the dizzying heights of silver and bronze positions but that was way before my era (I’ve only been a member for 22 years!) But we were ecstatic this weekend to improve our marks by 10.4%. I don’t think we’ve stopped smiling yet, so I can scarcely understand how you all must be feeling now. It has given us a massive boost and well needed encouragement.
    Many, many congratulations on Amersham’s gold medal – very well deserved ( nice outfits, too!) 👏

  5. Lovely, heart-warming blog, Antonia. I’m a big AAC supporter and sing with Chas Owen for Knights of Harmony.

    Intrigued to know if James is son or husband? If the latter, you may want to enrol him on a Delia Smith ‘basic cooking’ course.

    1. Thank you Tim x James is my husband – I do have two sons (as well as two daughters) and the 11 yo does a mean burger and potato wedges, and the 8yo is very proud of his (excellent) roast chicken – so I might leave it to them to take their dad on!

  6. Hi, we were gutted this year to get 6th, our lowest for years. Don’t know what happened but hey ho! But, for me, it was partly mitigated by your gold. I’m from Berkhamsted originally and have always cheered Amersham on as my hometown local chorus. You were amazing and totally deserved it. Your article says it all, I’ve sung with Gem for 18 years, through all that life throws and gives you, been up at 5, expressed milk to leave the baby at home, driven to Harrogate to compete, then back home to feed the baby again. Why do we do it? Because singing bohemian Rhapsody with 2000 other women, getting your vowels right to create nerve tingling overtones, to experience the pure feelings of joy at getting a medal (Gem have had silver and bronze) is just amazing, and totally totally worth every moment. We’ll come back next year, ever stronger and better. Well done Amersham for breaking the 2 chorus gold swapping and opening up the competition. Fab performance from Cheshire as always and next year should be really interesting! Bring it on! Sarah, Gem Connection

    1. Hello! I’m so sorry you were gutted, there are always the downs and they can be hard, but I do remember your medal years and know they’ll come again, Gem are a fabulous chorus and the competition is wide open. Bring it on indeed! Antonia x

  7. Every thing you say is so true. Through life’s ups and downs chorus members are always there for you and help to keep you sane and on the straight and narrow. Many congratulations on Amersham Gold medal, well deserved result. From a member of Crystal Chords x

    1. You were brilliant – the timing of the day meant we didn’t get to see many of the other choruses perform, but we saw you and it was just stunning. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, and congratulations to you all too! x

  8. Antonia, your superbly written description of life with Amersham A Cappella is a great insight into just how much the chorus supports each and every member.
    As a long standing (mainly sitting) supporter, Lynne joined in 1982, I have watched the Chorus grow in numbers, ambition, dedication and ability. But the chorus is not just about singing it’s about the love and camaraderie that engulfs everyone, especially each new member,
    long may it continue.

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