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Sing up and enjoy the feel-good factor

Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 11:17

WIGHT LIVING UNCERTAINTIES may re-main over the future of the IW Music Service but there can be no doubting the growing popularity and success of one spoke leading to the Island’s musical hub.

Recent stories about the future of the IW Music Service have made gloomy reading but, in the last few weeks, two new choirs have formed on the Island and another has appeared on the BBC.

Meanwhile, the Medina Community Choir, which has set the bar for success, has recorded a CD with a royal band, ahead of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

If somebody had told Medina Community Choir’s musical director, Hannah Brear, it would end up gracing the IW Festival stage and performing with the likes of Lesley Garrett, she probably would have laughed at them.

Back in 2006, when Hannah was directing the 90-strong Medina High School choir, some of the pupils’ parents said they wanted to become involved.

That led to the formation of the Medina High Community Choir but, after a slow start, someone suggested opening it up to the whole Island.

Within weeks, the renamed Medina Community Choir went from about six members to 60 and today it has 130 people on its books from all corners of the IW.

Teenagers, pensioners and people of all ages in between are involved and the wide spread includes students, a care worker, a secretary, a barmaid, an anaesthetist, an archaeologist and a teacher.

The list, quite literally, goes on as there are about 20 people waiting to join and there is only room for more men.

Among its achievements, the choir competed against national and international choirs at the BBC’s Choir of the Year, where it performed Over the Rainbow in an eight-part harmony.

In 2010, the choir performed at the IW Festival in front of 55,000 people with Woodstock legend Melanie and alongside Lesley Garrett at last year’s Isle of Arts Festival.

It also performed in cathedrals and churches during a tour of Brittany, France, and only last week the choir sang with the Band of HM Royal Marines to record a CD to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

The CD goes on sale on Thursday and it is available to buy at www.royalmarinesbands.co.uk
The choir’s success is even more remarkable considering around 85 per cent of its members cannot read music.

Proud musical director, Hannah, 33, of Cowes, who was previously principal voice coach for the choirs of a conservatoire of music in the south of France, said: "I had no idea the choir would ever be as popular, as professional sounding or as fabulous as it has become.

"I was used to working with professional or semi-professional singers at a very high standard but when I started the community choir, it was doors open to everyone with no audition process.

"I kept the standards of teaching the same and with more modern music I found ways of working with them to make the notation and complex harmonies more accessible, even for those who can’t read music."

The diversity of the choir has proved to be one of its strengths as singing is the common ground for members, no matter where they live or work.

Mother and daughter Maggie and Christine French are one of several families involved.

Christine, 29, a GP in Freshwater, said the choir provided them an opportunity to socialise, which was often difficult because of her work commitments.

"We give lots of support to each other and everyone is always very welcoming — no-one judges.

"Mum and I have been known to sing down the telephone to practise. We love being part of it."

Retired policeman Brian Wells, 62, of Victoria Avenue, Shanklin, joined the choir four years ago and said the best part was feeling a sense of achievement and belonging.


Brian said: "I can guarantee the last song we sing at rehearsals will be the first song I sing the following morning.
"Even if you have had a bad day, you feel much better after singing with the choir because it has a feel-good factor."

The entire choir meets for rehearsals at Newport Congregational Church every Thursday, while sections — sopranos, altos, tenors and basses — meet with Hannah at Cowes Baptist Church on Mondays.

The choir proved a big help to mother-of-one Hannah, a French teacher at Medina College, after she lost most of her sight five years ago.

After several operations, she can see again but at the time it was the choir that helped her through.

Hannah, who will carry the Olympic torch through East Cowes when it visits the Island on July 14, said: "It motivated me to keep going as I know how much pleasure the choir brings.

"It gives everyone a bit of respite from work, children and stress, because for two hours a week we can just concentrate on creating something beautiful with other people.

"When we are not singing, we are laughing and I think the enthusiasm the choir feels shows through in our performances."

Success is not exclusive to Medina Community Choir, as the Island Community Glee Club, run by Hannah and Medina College student, Cyrus Dean, recently appeared on the BBC’s Sport Relief show.

Members of the choir, made up of young people from the IW, performed on the show and finished sixth out of 1,000 other participants.

And in recent weeks, two new choirs have formed on the Island.

Around 20 men have joined the new Niton Male Voice Choir, which was initiated by Stephen Wilkinson, 62, of Newport Road, Niton.

The choir will be directed by Carol Court, who has previous experience of working with male voice choirs.
Stephen said: "I went to a funeral and the singing lifted the roof off.

"I thought after too many unhappy occasions recently, it would be a good idea.

"We are not fit to be heard yet but we have a lot of fun."

Meanwhile, the first choral gathering of the Community Choir of Brading attracted more than 30 people last week.

Sue Birch, chair of Brading Residents Association, said people from Brading were joined by residents from Shanklin, Wootton, Ryde and Ventnor.

It is hoped the choir, under the direction of James Gurd, will perform for the first time during Brading’s jubilee celebrations in June.

Sue said: "We wanted to bring the community together and make people feel good.

"The first few rehearsals have gone really well."

The choir is looking for new members, particularly men, and it needs a piano stool.

For more information about the Community Choir of Brading, call Sue on 01983 407723.

New members are also welcome at Niton Male Voice Choir, which meets at Niton Village Hall on Wednesday evenings at 7.30pm.

And for more information on Medina Community Choir, visit www.medinacommunitychoir.org.uk

Reporter: [email protected]

 


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