Anyone who has ever sung in our home venue, the Victoria Theatre in Halifax, will testify that it is a challenging experience! The acoustics of the venue can make it impossible to hear other voice parts – it demands full concentration from the first note to the last. Our pre-concert rehearsals are often a little fraught when our minds inevitably wonder or our heads sink into the music folders to the eternal despair of MD John Pryce-Jones. However, come concert time, heads magically rise, minds are switched on and off we go.
Physically and emotionally, if I’m being honest, I can feel a little detached from the audience. The concentrated effort of singing, following JPJ and connecting with the rest of the choir leaves little room for a two way communication. However, our Autumn 2016 concert, The Armed Man, was a different experience.
For the 2016/17 season we have been inviting refugees and asylum seekers brought together by an organisation called Together We Grow, based in the Upper Calder Valley. Every month families living in Rochdale are offered the opportunity to engage in a variety of activities from cooking, growing fruit and vegetables, and socialising in a relaxed environment in Blackshaw Head. We all know of the terrible, unimaginable situations some asylum seekers are trying to put behind them, so it was with a little trepidation that we invited twelve of the group to The Armed Man.
Anyone who’s ever heard or sung this piece cannot fail to struck by the visceral descriptions of war and suffering – experiences some of the refugees can relate to first hand. However, far from being an oppressive, the whole concert experience was enervating. The refugees are so positive – they seem to take most things in their stride so to sing for them was deeply moving. They enjoyed the spectacle, the music and the occasion and for once I could let my mind drift, a little, to them, in the audience.