A Magic Weekend Away – Part 1

Well a great big “hi there” and “hello and welcome” to the South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus Blog. We haven’t posted in quite a while but there’s no better time to start than after a fantastic weekend away, so here we go…

I’m Gaz and I’m the Choir Liaison for SWGMC. You can have a bit more of a read about what I and other people on the committee do on our committee page, but my main role is feeding back and forth between the committee and the choir and helping to organise all of the wonderful social things we do. However, on one glorious bank holiday weekend very recently I had the pleasure of joining all the boys on an unforgettable trip I had very little part in organising…

You will probably be unsurprised to hear that arranging for a very large group of people to go anywhere en masse is an unenviable task, and these boys are no exception. It was mentioned to me by one anonymous source when I first accepted the post of liaison, that marshalling 30 plus gay men through any form of task or social gathering tended to be like ‘herding cats’, but by and large our exceptional committee team did a lot of the heavy lifting for the significant task of organising our 4-day weekend away in Cornwall for 40 of the choirs members, and I offer particular thanks to our two Mark’s (our Secretary and Treasurer) and Nick (our chairman) for all the work they did.

Our attendance at the Cornwall International Male Choral Festival has been something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time (it only happens every two years). The festival is always such fun, and Cornwall is of course well known for natural beauty and sunshine, and (just to stereotype for a minute) if there are two things most of our boys love… The festival takes place all over Cornwall in a range of towns, villages and landmark locations like The Eden Project, The Minack Theatre and the Lost Gardens of Heligan (where we were lucky enough to appear this year). So, if you’d like to know what we got up to then read on…

We departed on the VERY long journey on Friday morning and finally arrived (in some cases rather the worse for wear – what possessed M&S to sell cocktails in cans at the motorway services I don’t know, but I wasn’t complaining – thanks Exeter services!). We had just enough time to freshen ourselves up for the evening, and we had good reason to, as we were being followed for the entire trip by a lovely documentary crew from the Iris Film Festival (who have all of our best bits on tape now for a documentary appearing soon – we’ll keep you posted). After a quick walk to a beautiful nearby beach and back, someone had the bright idea for everyone to change into beachwear and give an impromptu concert next to the hotel swimming pool. The only trouble with this (as many of you may have experienced on trips to the coast) is that when the sun goes down it can become very cold, VERY quickly. In our case, by the fourth number most of our resonance was coming from teeth chattering!

Next up we all descended upon the dining room and properly met our host for the weekend, the hotel’s owner and manager Fiona. And what a host she was. If you ever have the good fortune to holiday in Newquay the ‘Priory Lodge Hotel’ is a little gem. We had a welcome second to none, and every time Fiona let out her raucous laugh (which seemed to channel the best elements of Barbara Windsor and Sybil Fawlty) the entire room would spontaneously burst into giggles with her. After a most acceptable evening meal in the lovely restaurant everyone began to wind down to an early night, ready for the big day…

Saturday in the Hall for Cornwall in Truro is ‘the place it’s at’ as far as the festival goes. It’s competition day and we’ve just arrived in the late morning to do a quick ‘flash-mob’ style concert before we enter the hall and get ready. Sadly because of the way the competition works, and the very limited performance time, it’s over quite fast, and if you’re one of the later choirs to perform you tend to miss all the other acts. We were reliably informed that there were some crackers though, and we’d expected the likely winners of the competition would be one of the overseas choirs who attend from all over the world to compete. We particularly had our eye on a Finnish Choir called Manifestum who have an excellent reputation (but not much in the way of clips I can plug them with on YouTube – come on guys!) Unfortunately we missed their performance, as we were getting ready for and rehearsing at the time prior to going on.

And what a rehearsal it was. There are some rare moments in life when you have a day without rain and everything just seems to go perfectly. You can probably imagine that for a choir of nearly forty members, those moments when everyone and everything just blends so perfectly… are very rare. Just such a moment happened during our rehearsal – directly prior to going on stage in the hall. The atmosphere in the room came over so blissful, I imagine it can only compare to a Buddhist, when they are perfectly aligned and seeing out of the third eye (or myself after the third glass of Sauv Blanc when I experience many of the same sensations). At the end of the rehearsal everything went deathly quiet almost as if anyone spoke we might jinx it. Andy (our MD) cried (he’ll claim it was wind, but we saw it) and said sometimes we made him really proud. This set everyone off and several other people joined in this moist-eye-a-thon (including me), but my rather more pessimistic side muttered internally “I think we’ve just peaked”.

After a nervous few minutes waiting we all stepped on stage, and during that time we got some of the most useful advice anyone going out into a stressful performance situation can ever have. Judith (our vocal coach) passed down the line, got us all to loosen up and breathe, and reminded us that the acoustics of the hall were completely different to the room we’d just rehearsed in, and we would sound quieter to ourselves and feel like we weren’t ‘carrying’. She said “don’t worry, you will be, you are, and you’re all sounding beautiful”. Wise words indeed that lady. We opened with a number that selects itself as the most nerve racking possible way to open a competition program ever. The song ‘Sweetest Kick’ is by the Spooky Men’s Chorale and is sung completely a cappella, but it starts with all the sections of the choir hitting a perfectly pitched but VERY quiet and resonant note. It is REALLY hard to do! (Like only eating one Pringle hard!) And we did it (about 300 times before the competition, and thankfully once really well during it!). With that nerve-wrecker over with we worked through our other two numbers (an awesome arrangement of Somewhere Over the Rainbow by our assistant MD (and my trouble and strife) Chris, and a very tongue-in-cheek version of ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’), and in a blink, it was all over.

After killing a couple of hours (and receiving some lovely compliments from other choirs and audience members that had watched us perform) we returned for the results, and were absolutely shocked and thrilled to find out we had won our category – by half a point! Talk about knife edge! It didn’t stop there though. It was then announced we had won best UK Choir; queue more tears. Then last, but not least, one of the proudest moments of my life so far; Chris’ arrangement of Over the Rainbow won the ‘Best Single Piece of Music’ prize for the competition too. I can’t remember much of what happened next due to how utterly surreal it was that we – a community choir from South Wales – had just won one of the biggest amateur choral festivals in the world. A few drinks may have passed my lips following (you’ll notice a theme emerging here I’m sure). There was precious little time to let the victory fully sink in though, as straight after the competition you then move on to the rest of the festival engagements (we had another four concerts still to perform at this point!)

The evening concert was in St Austell and we were performing with a professional choir, a local one from Mevagissey, and one that had travelled all the way from Australia who had taken part in the competition earlier also. The lovely atmosphere and camaraderie was only heightened by the fact that just before we opened the second half of the concert, we were told that the final results for all categories were in, and we had been declared festival champions too. Someone joked that they were gutted we hadn’t won Best Cornish Choir and that ‘we woz robbed’. After the concert we were then taken down the road by the Mevagissey MVC to their local, where we sang ourselves hoarse drinking local ales and inhaling their free-flowing pasties, all supplied by festival sponsors (and very welcome they were!) You would probably think after all that we’d be up for partying all night, but the day had been so emotionally exhausting that no one lasted very long. Myself and Chris and some of our friends from other sections had a quick tipple in Fiona’s homely lounge and then returned to bed with our Ovaltine like good boys. Others were far less exemplary in their conduct but I have received payments from each of them to keep my counsel here…

Well that was part one of our Cornwall adventure but please stay tuned, Part 2 will be coming next week to fill you in on everything else that happened before we went home!
And most importantly before I leave you…

We welcome new members whenever they want to join, however we have special New Members Evenings throughout the year, and our next one is Thursday 18thMay 2017 at 8pm at Roath Church House and if you like what you’ve read so far and what to give us a try please come along, we promise tea, coffee cake and laughs!

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