By Bernie Kennedy:
Elspeth stood up after choir practice the other night to announce it would be her birthday shortly and she would like to invite everyone to come on a walk and sing around Sefton Park in two Sunday’s time.
So, I did. I made a good start on the way as a kingfisher sped past me along the stream, stopping to perch on a branch overhanging the bank, twenty feet away. I bid it good morning before it darted off back and, further on, a second kingfisher, resting in a bush, watched me curiously – peep – and, not long after that, a robin nodded in my direction.
Inside the hotel function room, around thirty of Elspeth’s friends were gathered. We quickly got to the warm up work – all tongues and tums; a lot of up- and down-reach, which always makes people laugh, especially when in a collective. We sang ‘Happy Birthday…Ha, ha…ppy birthday!’ and all got there in the end.
Members of Liverpool Voice and Liverpool Socialist Singers choirs and from none had come together to practise – This Land is Your Land, Rolling Hills, Down to the Greenwood and others…a special programme put together to honour the park by Elspeth and her husband, Martin. When we were all confident of our words, rhythm and parts, we set off into the chill, dry parkland, once the home of roaming deer, the hunting targets of royalty and their friends.
We paused by a cave to sing ‘This Land is Your Land’. At the bandstand, we sang ‘Building Bridges’ and ‘Hey ho to the Greenwood’ and a round of ‘Happy Birthday’ in as many languages and tunes as we could muster. Impromptu dancing and smiles broke out on the floor to celebrate our friend’s birthday as well as to keep warm. Hot grog was dispensed and no injuries, thankfully, were reported.
On the way, I fell in to walking with Elspeth, telling her what a good idea I thought singing and walking was. ‘You know, I was talking with my GP last week (she’s also interested in singing, though too busy at the minute to join a choir) and told her how, over Christmas, I had felt a real sense of wellbeing, which stood out from previous ones. I even cooked Christmas dinner for four people for the first time ever and enjoyed it! I asked myself what had changed and the only thing new I could think of was singing in a choir. With concerts, rehearsals and listening to music all the time around Christmas, I was filled with music and singing.’
In turn, Elspeth told me about her singing and cycling holidays. And she and Martin had been on a singing holiday along the Settle to Carlisle railway. Much of this involved singing rounds of song, repeated, in carriages, tea rooms, and pubs. Another seed planted, then, I thought, to go with our wildflower seed bombs, lovingly assembled by Ingrid and her friends.
We arrived out of the cold at The Palm House and the relief of toilets! Here, we sang ‘Rolling Home’ and ‘Keep You in Peace’ rather beautifully for ‘two choirs and none’ who had never performed together before and for whom some of the songs had been completely new just an hour earlier. We even had an appreciative audience.
Chatting with a friend while eating vegan scouse later, I told her about a Facebook posting I’d read about learning music. It explained a lot about why I had been having difficulties in the choir at the start. My usual way of learning was to take the long view and practise and keep going till it comes together, making mistakes along the way and learning from them or not. But with a carol concert just round the corner, you don’t have the luxury of time. And it was forcing me to learn in ways I only used when I had to, using concentrated bursts of thought and energy. The posting spoke of how scientific studies show we use different parts of our brain, areas which are often underused, while learning music. I certainly felt this as my head was often hurting leaving our weekly practices. Still, it is doing me good, yes..? And yes, it’s getting better. Hope so!
Our last stop before returning to the hotel was at the Meadows, where we belted out ‘We all love the Meadows’ along with spontaneous outbursts of ‘Turn Your Partner’!
Another friend at our table spoke of having her enthusiasm for singing rekindled by today but she was nervous. She’d not studied music for many years. ‘Ah,’ I told her, ‘not everybody reads music in our choir. Quite a few record the songs in the room. But, once you know which line you’re singing for which part (alto, tenor and so on), then, as long as you’re given the first note, you can learn to follow the notes; sing higher when they go up, lower when they go down and on the level when they’re flat. And you begin to learn the rhythm, to count the number of beats in time too. And you can usually find the song with the arranger on youtube and listen to that as well as downloading midi-files for the different parts; often a backing track with a keyboard playing your part. I’ve found this very helpful,’ I told her. ‘Maybe, I will come along then,’ she said.
It had been a memorable morning; a great sing and hearing new songs and old. Doing something different was amazing. We really made a thunder under the greenwood trees! And what did the birds and the park visitors make of us? Hard to say with grown-ups but their children gave us their smiles and the ‘thumbs up’!
Just remains for me to say thank you and ‘Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-ppy Birthday, Elspeth!’…and wonder when and where we are going to go walking and singing next time?