On Friday 30th April, Millman Street Community Centre again played host to an All Together Opera singing workshop by the Royal Opera House. Rebecca (ably accompanied by Ashley on the piano) had our members singing along to a variety of songs. These included Shosholoza, a part South African, part Zimbabwean song; Mozart’s Il Dominio, Verdi’s The Anvil Chorus and My Ship.
There were exercises beforehand, to warm the members’ muscles. “It’s like warming up before a marathon,” Rebecca said. She then led members in making a series of noises, which, though disconcerting, were again designed to loosen up the vocal cords.
Then the lesson proper began. “Shosholoza,” Rebecca explained, “Is the sound that the trains make,” before getting members to say the word quicker and quicker, over and over, which did indeed approximate the sound of a locomotive (try this at home for yourself and you’ll soon get the idea). She went through some of the lyrics syllable by syllable, breaking them down for the benefit of those not fluent in the Zulu language (i.e: all those present). Soon, members were singing along as if they’d known Shosholoza for years. Even Sue – on her last day – emerged from her office to lend an ear to the performance, and seemed quietly moved by this soulful song.
The Anvil Chorus proved more familiar to members, who sang along with gusto. Lyric sheets were handed out, as with the other songs. To finish the workshop, members sang My Ship (by Kurt Weil, with lyrics by Irving Berlin), with which they seemed familiar, having practiced it during previous workshops.
There was some good-natured banter between Rebecca and Ash, after the latter hit a bum note or two. She explained the difficulties he faced: “Ashley is reading the music in one key, changing it in his head, playing different notes and this piano – God bless it – is in a key of its own!” This resulted in a round of applause for the pianist.
Throughout the session, some HCA staff also sang along to the songs, but, mercifully, everyone was spared this reporter’s atonal caterwauling.
Members’ reactions to the workshop were largely positive. Fred said: “It’s good exercise for breathing, and you learn about how to sing,” adding, “During the war, we had no singing teachers, so we had to wait years and years before I found out how to sing at last!”
Olive also enjoyed herself. “She claps in time,” Fred explained. “They say she’s good at it.”
The workshop was “Very, very nice,” according to a beaming Margaret. Helena agreed, though Queenie said, “I can’t understand the words. I can’t follow the words.”
Ivy was still singing to herself, smiling beatifically. Asked if it could be taken as read that she’d enjoyed the workshop, she gave an emphatic, “Yes!”
John and ‘King’ Canute also enjoyed having a sing-song, and we’re still in high spirits afterwards. “We’ve been doing it for years,” Canute said.
Ashley had to rush off to another engagement, having been given only a couple of hours leave by the Royal College of Music to perform at HCA. Modestly embarrassed to be interviewed, Rebecca said of the workshop: “It went really well. It was lovely, it was really nice. There’s already a kind of group confidence. The learning time,” she added, “Is a lot quicker when you’ve got a lot of people.”
As a freelancer, she works at a lot of different companies aside from the ROH; community education and outreach projects, going into schools, children’s operas and she also runs quite a few choirs. Perhaps this busy schedule explains why, when asked if she would like to plug any of her own music, she said, “Do you know, I actually don’t.”
“This is mainly a project to get people singing together,” she said of the All Together Opera workshops. “We know the benefits of that; It’s a great activity to do. There are lots of health benefits to it, as well as mental health [benefits] as well.”
The workshops continue this Friday (13th May) and conclude on Friday 20th May with a performance at Millman Street Centre. As for this week, don’t be superstitious; the workshop is open to all who are prepared to learn to sing opera.
Report by Notes Smudger