After Manchester Arena Bombing

Submitted by huw on Mon, 06/10/2024 - 10:43

After the Manchester Arena bombing…

After escaping the deadly attack at the Manchester Arena with her son, Cath Hill suffered with survivors’ guilt. She helped create a choir for people, like herself, unable to get back to normal life. The first time they sang together they were 18 singers, from there the choir grew to around 120 members.

Cath Hill continues to research how young people get support after disasters. She says “The choir is still going strong, although I decided to step back from it after the pandemic. The choir had given me a focus, and a chance to do something positive.”

To read more, click here

The Science of Singing Along

Submitted by huw on Mon, 06/10/2024 - 10:40

The Science of Singing Along

“We can’t all talk together at the same time, but we can sing together.”

This 16-minute episode in the Science of Happiness Radio 4 series, explains why singing with others makes us happy and can even help noisy snorers! Apparently it’s all about mood-boosting oxytocin; not released when you sing alone.

A phrase that sums up the purpose of singing informally with others… ‘It’s not about perfection, it’s about participation.’

To listen, click here

Musical Claims to Fame from two Sues

Submitted by huw on Mon, 06/10/2024 - 10:35

Alto Sue Collins writes…

In 1997 I joined a scratch choir of 500 to 'Sing for the Homeless' the Messiah under the baton of Sir David Willcocks at Douai Abbey in Berkshire.  All proceeds went to the Cardinal Hume Centre Trust for the Homeless.

MessiahSir David conducted us two years later to sing Bach's Christmas Oratorio Parts I-III and two years later again to sing Parts IV-VI, all at Douai Abbey. Very memorable occasions.










Fellow alto Sue Pegram recalls a VIP grate-crasher…

At a Parish ChoJohn Rutterir rehearsal for a wedding last year, we were ‘gate-crashed’ by composer (now) Sir John Rutter who had heard us rehearsing [two of his works] The Lord Bless You and Keep You and The Music’s Always There with You – a new piece for us to learn.

Our choirmaster was oblivious as he had his back to him, but the whole choir could see this familiar figure ambling towards us!  Dr Rutter (as he then was) even sat in the church porch to listen to the wedding service the following Saturday!

Notes from a new alto

Submitted by huw on Mon, 06/10/2024 - 10:29

Notes from a new Alto – Pauline Rowe

Joining the Royston Choral Society felt a little daunting for me at first.  Although no audition is necessary, the standard of the Society is very high and many of the members have a professional or semi-professional background and years of experience.  I, on the other hand, wasn’t even sure which vocal range I should be in. I thought I’d give soprano a try but soon realised it was well beyond my capabilities. I’m much more comfortable with alto.

I was also concerned about my poor sight-reading skills but fortunately there is a wealth of support material available.

Despite my lack of experience, I found that the members were welcoming to a new face and already feel as if I’m making friends. It’s rewarding to learn the material, and rehearsals are always enjoyable with Andrew [O’Brien] who, although demanding the best from us, does so with a light sense of humour.

A view from the choir

Submitted by huw on Mon, 06/10/2024 - 10:23

A view from the choir…or the piano stool?

Alto Lyn Grove recently joined the Choral Society. Below she reflects on her musical route to Royston and her first RCS concert at the end of June.

For most of my life, music has played a fairly prominent part. I played clarinet and then flute when I was younger and, although I took a somewhat convoluted path to it, I did go on to take a degree in music (thanks to the encouragement of a particularly lovely flute teacher in Bangor, North Wales).

Despite this, until the last couple of years I had never sung in a choir and nor was I very familiar with vocal repertoire. So what has brought me to the Royston Choral Society?  Well, over the last few years, as my kids have been growing up and I’ve had a little more free time, I have been trying hard to improve my piano playing. Through this I discovered a love for lieder and other song repertoire (not that I can play much of that repertoire, but one can dream!) But more importantly, this made me realise how much I miss being part of a music ensemble. When I was at university I thought playing in an orchestra was the most amazing feeling - something unique, that nothing else could equal. So I have been amazed to discover that singing in a choir feels very much the same - it’s that feeling of being buoyed up on the swell of sound and gorgeous harmonies, but at the same time the more humbling sense of being a small part of a greater whole. It’s the creation of something amazing, sometimes so powerful, often sublime.

I may not be a great singer (but don’t worry - I won’t spoil anything, I may just mime a little at times!) but I’m loving being a part of the choir - thank you!


Inheritance Tracks - Andrew O'Brien

Submitted by huw on Mon, 05/13/2024 - 12:14

As a child I always loved Welsh folk songs and hymns. I was always drawn to their beautiful melodies. Suo Gan and Lisa Lân were favourites as were hymn tunes Llef, Tydi a roddaist and Calon Lan.

Growing up in Merthyr, there was no way you could hide away from the beautiful hymn Myfanwy written by local composer, Joseph Parry. The singing in my local chapel was always quite extraordinary.

When I started playing the piano, I immediately fell in love with Beethoven.

Getting into county and national youth ensembles widened my tastes and I was drawn to Britten, Shostakovich and Stravinsky. 

As a child, I would go to a huge variety of concerts and operas. I loved classical opera but also used to enjoy going to rock and heavy metal concerts. I was always open to all types of music (except Graham Kendrick). I remember one week watching a ballet in Cardiff, travelling to Birmingham to see Blur, then singing in a Cymanfa Ganu [A Welsh festival of sacred hymns]

A track I inherited Suo Gan .

One to pass on Myfanwy

Why singing in a choir brings me joy - Chris Lee

Submitted by huw on Mon, 05/13/2024 - 12:07

When author Oliver Burkeman talks about his experience of singing in a community choir he notes “the boundaries of the self grow fuzzy, and time seems not to exist’. This is what I understand by the term ‘being in a state of flow’ – something I most often experience when woodworking. It got me thinking about my own experience of singing with the Royston Choral Society for nearly 25 years. For much of that time, I’ve been pleased to have made the effort to attend each weekly rehearsal, and science tells us why.

Stacy Horn - a self-proclaimed poor choral singer - has identified a cocktail of health-giving chemical stimulants associated with singing with others. “Music is awash with neurochemical rewards for working up the courage to sing. That rush, or ‘singer’s high’, comes in part through a surge of endorphins, which at the same time alleviate pain. When the voices of the singers surrounding me hit my ear, I’m bathed in dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that is associated with feelings of pleasure and alertness. Music lowers cortisol, a chemical that signals levels of stress... and also releases serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of euphoria and contentment.”

The all-consuming demands of singing – listening to my own and other voices, watching the conductor, reading the music, and listening to the accompaniment – demands focus. Singing is a very mindful activity and, yes, for the best part of each rehearsal, for me as well as Oliver Burkeman, time does not seem to exist.

Early on in my time with the choir I was asked why I liked to sing with others and I replied “The buzz I get when it all comes together in harmony makes all the effort worthwhile”. 25 years later I still get that buzz.

Further reading on singing in a choir

My Songs - William Bains

Submitted by huw on Mon, 05/13/2024 - 12:01

1    The first single I bought… I literally never bought singles. I jumped straight to Cassettes (remember them?) and I ‘think’ it was Elgar's Enigma Variations, which also had Vaughan William's In the Fen Country  on it, which introduced me to R V-W, who became my favourite classical composer. Either that or Tubular Bells

2    The song I know all the words to …. The first was probably Humpty Dumpty. Now? I am really bad at remembering song lyrics, other than my own (as below)

3    The song/ piece of music I want played at my funeral… Not touching that question!

4    The song/ music I listen to most often is… Depends entirely on mood. If I am reading or writing I cannot listen to vocal music - different words coming to the eyes and ears at the same time confuses my poor old brain! I find that Status Quo is a great cure for low mood - you cannot listen to Caroline with the volume turned up to 11 and still feel depressed. 

Three Musical Memories

Submitted by huw on Mon, 05/13/2024 - 11:56

Graham Palmer, a tenor with RCS, recounts three musical memories and tell of a recent discovery.

Pianos at dawn
As a lad whose voice had just broken, trying to practice with Dad acting as répétiteur while from the other side of the wall another much stronger tenor did a good job of drowning us out!

It’s MAD
Diving out of the way of huge Dalek-like cameras as an audience-member on Top of the Pops while Gillan played Mutually Destroyed Destruction on guitars strung with bungee-cords. (I think it was more in protest at not being allowed to play live, than at the stationing of US nuclear weapons in the UK).

A bit of a Goon
Being the only streaky grass-skirted South Pacific islander in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Utopia Ltd, directed by Harry Secombe’s brother (I had smothered myself in barrier cream before the body paint was applied).

An archeological discovery
Having sung (and completely forgotten) Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal as a solo competitor in the local music festival 40 odd years ago, rediscovering in the last few weeks that I really like Quilter [Roger Quilter, British composer]. I’d have remained ignorant if my current teacher hadn’t given Come Away Death and Fair House of Joy to help develop my reawakening voice.