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
and whose text after we came off stage was this
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.
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.)