Thursday, 4 July 2013

Big Singing at Kingston's Big Sing

This Sunday hoards of people joined in Kingston's Market Square at 3.30. A sense of anticipation hung in the air as 4 choir leaders took to their mics and all together............they started to........sing.

Maybe we should rewind a little...........

Months ago I was approached by Kingston Borough Council to discuss this year's Big SIng. The event, an annual event which is now commonplace in cities and towns across the country, is an attempt to bring together the 'already singing' (members of local community choirs and singing groups) and to possibly entice some of the general 'non-singing' public to a day of community singing.

My views on the power of community singing are already well documented (mostly in pub conversations and a few articles) but I have a special place for the Big Sing. Particularly because of the sheer scale of it - after all these years there's still a very excited tingly feeling about large scale singing events. The sound can be electric and there's nothing like it.

So, at 12 noon choirs and general public came together at the Rose Theatre as myself, Mary Bourne (Singing it Back), Max Barley (Thames Youth Choir) and Simon Toyne (Tiffin Boys School) took them through their vocal paces learning two songs - Ke Aronaa traditional South African song arranged by Siphiwo Lubumbo and edited by Tony Backhouse, and Sit Down, the anthemic James classic arranged by myself.

What was so fascinating in the learning was a very lovely clash of musical cultures. Mary and I are very used to one another's leading style, co-leading a weekly choir in Kingston. The choir is non-reader (members don't have sheet music), unaccompanied (no instruments) and always leads to good humoured and very friendly 'banter'. Simon and Max both come from more traditional singing backgrounds, very much rooted in the dots and the technical aspects of the music. It was so wonderful to come together on an event such as this - we learned from each other. By the end Max was throwing his hands in the air to signal each section of the music with great aplomb.

We also seemed to work well together - a bit of light competition between the basses and....well, everyone else. A few jokes to the crowd and gradually coming further away from the mics - trusting the singers and enjoying the sound.

After the rehearsal Kingston was treated to a wide range of pop-up events across the town, and such a singing smorgasbord was on offer. Singing it Back performed in the ever-glamorous rug department of John Lewis, with a great acoustic and wonderful sound.

In the Bentalls Centre shoppers were treated to a musical outburst from Surbiton Escaltor Choral Society - the look of bemused enchantment was a thing to behold as a moving choir slid past. Thames Youth Choir and The Tiffinians also took their leaders Max and Simon to glamorous locations, delighting passers-by. As well as many more in pop-up events cross the town.

As the sun shone, we came to Kingston Market Place to round off a wonderful day. Throughout the day we had drawn people along with our musical caravanserai and there was quite a crowd watching and delighting in the event.

So many lovely comments, some great stories from the day and another affirmation of the importance of community singing. This was a day to be remembered but also to be replicated - it is possible to make something happen, and get people involved.

For more information about singing in Kingston please see the Singing it Back website -

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