Thursday, August 04, 2011


Last night, at the RSA Choir concert (that's the Returned Services Association Choir) I made my debut as a singer with the acapella group, Sunny Side Up. I wrote about them back in May after going to a concert in which they were one of several singing groups. At the time I said to my wife, if I was going to join any singing group, it would be them. At a meal with several people a couple of weeks later, three of whom were members of SSU, the subject of me thinking about joining them came up, and a week later I'd started going to their Sunday afternoon rehearsals. And then a couple of weeks later my wife started to come too.

I've always enjoyed singing, and though New Zealand society on the surface seems to imply that it's not a thing for males to do, plenty of them around the country do it. In fact the two soloists at the concert last night were young men, and the 50-plus RSA choir is (still) all male. (There's another all-male choir here in Dunedin too: the Royal Male Choir, and plenty of secondary schools have male choirs.)

I grew up in a Catholic family, so we always sang at church - admittedly it was the same half dozen songs, year in and year out, taken off a cardboard sheet that had been printed before I was born, I suspect; it was still in use when I left my home town in the 60s. And as a young pianist I used to sing my way through complete musical comedy scores. No one ever commented that it didn't sound that hot, but I suspect it didn't always.

And then I was continually involved with singers from my teenage years, as an accompanist - that's continued to this day. After my wife and I came back from overseas we joined a Pentecostal Church, where the singing could go on for half an hour or more before the preacher got up to speak. So singing's 'in the blood' as it were.

The only time I've ever sung solo in a concert, that I can remember, was maybe 15 years ago when a group I was involved in presented a night of George Gershwin songs. The director had found one called 'Blah blah blah blah blah' (yup!) and as a bit of a joke, I sang it and accompanied myself. I think it put that particular director off my singing for good: he's never encouraged me to sing since...

Anyway, as a member of the thirty-plus-strong SSU, my singing blends, (read: doesn't stand out). I wondered once or twice last night if a note I was singing wasn't quite what the rest of the basses were singing, but the notes still seemed to harmonise!

SSU music is often lively, and in the slower songs, full of striking harmonies. My wife and I have heard the group on a number of occasions over the years, and have always been attracted to their particular sound. Last night we sang a couple of African-based songs (easy for the basses: we provide an ongoing rhythmic line underneath), a fabulous arrangement of Total Praise, the powerful Up Above My Head and a joyful spiritual. And we sing again on Sunday, at Knox Church, along with several other choirs. Different songs, mostly, so it's quite a full-on week for the group.

The RSA itself was in good form, though we missed the first part of the first half of the show, being backstage getting ready. I particularly liked Shenadoah and Cwm Rhondda (which was sung in its English version: Guide me, O thou great Jehovah). Some of the faster songs suffer a bit from so many voices trying to get their tongues around lots of words in a way that's tidy, but there seemed to be plenty of energy in the choir, which is great - the oldest singer is ninety (!)

The two soloists were Ben Madden and Alex Wilson, and, from what I heard of them, these are splendid pair of voices, with promising careers ahead of them.
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