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If you were already a member of ChoirCommunity in May last year, you probably received an e-shot from us with news about a project we were working on to investigate the true provenance of the many of the unattributed songs which we have arranged and published from the African continent.
We have continued to work on this with Umoya Creations, a South-African charity set up to bring healing, education and reconciliation to people affected by Apartheid, set up and run by the International Percussionist, Composer and Workshop Leader, Eugene Skeef.
It has been a fascinating journey of discovery and we are very excited to announce the partnership with Umoya Creations which has come out of the work. Firstly though, a little bit of background…
We published Dan’s introductory collection of arrangements on ChoirCommunity just before Christmas. Everyone was probably quite distracted with concerts then so we’re making sure the collection gets a proper promotion now.
In this first video of a new series covering all our new arrangers, Craig chats to Dan over Zoom about his musical journey and his approach to choral arranging.
It’s ‘acapella’ week this week as we’ve got a bumper crop of new unaccompanied arrangements published – a fantastic addition to our collection from Gitika Partington and Wendy Sergeant. As long-time members of the ChoirCommunity team, Gitika and Wendy both have well-established collections on the website, but these latest additions bring something new and fresh as always.
Wendy has recently undertaken an “Innovative Choir Leading” course at the Royal College of Music in Denmark and I think you can definitely hear the influence of that in her latest arrangements. In particular, her version of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ and an original composition called ‘Winter Waltz’ are well worth a listen.
As a Co-founder of the website, Gitika now has 164 titles in her collection and these latest ones are great additions, mostly harking back a few decades and including some of the greatest song writers of the time. Her version of the Rolling Stones ‘Paint It, Black’ is understandably one of her choirs’ favourite songs. I also love the melifluous feel of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ which also has a recording you can listen to on Gitika’s Soundcloud channel.
Hi ChoirCommunity, Gitika here!
Last week I got a little ping in my inbox to say someone in our Choir Community had bought one of my Christmas titles, and for some reason I had a little sneaky look to see who it was and found Kari!
I got in touch and found out that Kari Olsen-Porthouse and I did the same Performing Arts degree at the same college…. and possibly slept in the same room in the same hall of residence! I am (a little!) older and was there a few years before but was completing my Secondary Music PGCE at the same time Kari did her degree.
Piers, Craig and I have been thinking about doing some sort of special series of blogs where we introduced some of the other wonderous choir leaders who have signed up and joined the website. This felt like the ideal opportunity to let you know two things – not only is it never too early to think about Christmas Repertoire and to publish the first of our MEET OUR CHOIRCOMMUNITY MEMBERS blogs .
I am going to let Kari introduce herself and also say a big belated happy birthday to her! I am particularly excited by her Liberty Belles who rehearse in Kari’s friend’s Hair Salon
Take it away Kari!
We had a really great response to this competition over the first few months of the year and have enjoyed judging all the entries immensely. Thank you to everyone who took the time and effort to send us something. We enjoyed listening to every one and have been assured that the community choir scene is thriving around the world!
The range of entries was also impressive. We received over 30 submissions in total and the winners chosen span three continents – North America, Europe and Australasia. It’s rather gratifying to be able to say this was a truly international competition!
….but now, onto the results!
It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no denying any big royal event here in the UK is a great excuse to do some singing, preferably loudly and in public. Many choirs are making plans of one sort or another to mark the day by taking part in street parties, singing festivals and concerts. Even the BBC has got in on the act with an ‘X-Factor’ style hunt to find a choir to sing at a royal concert at Windsor castle on 7 May.
Well, it’s been quite a year hasn’t it? Despite all the challenges for so many people in 2022, there was still plenty to be thankful for at ChoirCommunity so we thought we’d look back on a few highlights of the year. We hope you enjoy looking through them and sparking some positive memories of the last 12 months!
2022 Was The Year We……
We thought we’d try a new way of showcasing some of the great music we have on ChoirCommunity and especially the fantastic talent embodied in our wonderful team of arrangers. Each week, we’ll put a new video up on YouTube created by one (or sometimes more than one) of our arrangers of a song which is available from our library for download. The format will be a mixture of ‘virtual’ and live performance and we hope you’ll enjoy subscribing to the channel and having a listen each week.
The first video to be published is Wendy Sergeant’s version of I’m Still Standing, sung by Wendy herself along with Doug Watts (another of our team of arrangers), Catherine Smith and Katherine Everett. The video was created by Doug as part of the Portishead Festival of Song in 2020.
The sheet music and learning tracks for this arrangement can be downloaded from the website here.
Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel and click to receive notifications of videos as they come out each week at https://www.youtube.com/c/choircommunity
It’s only taken four years, but we’ve finally got around to having a chat with Craig – Co-founder of, and prolific contributor to ChoirCommunity! Many thanks to Gitika Partington for taking Craig out of his comfort zone and putting him through the same sort of paces he has set for all our other arrangers over the last few months.
There are some great stories, as well as lots of insights into Craig’s approach to musical direction, arrangement and composition, influenced by exposure to some of the greatest musicians the country has produced from a very early age!
Despite the latest boom in Sea Shanty interest they have been a regular feature of the folk session that our resident soprano, Laura Featherstone has taken part in for many years. The annual Sea Shanty festival in Falmouth is also a very popular event every year, so they have always been big business down in Cornwall. However it’s fair to say that the same favourites are sung often, so Laura thought she would try and create something new!
In this week’s blog, we finally present a chat between Craig and our other founding arranger and ChoirCommunity co-director, Gitika Partington.
Gitika has been a wonderful supporter of the ChoirCommunity initiative since the very start and it’s been great to have her support (and of course here fantastic music) throughout the first three years.
Photograph is of the Bristol Gasworks Choir by James Barke
The first time I learned songs in unaccompanied harmony by ear was at a “Sweet Soul Sisters” Bristol workshop in the early 1990s. I remember feeling my musical brain being challenged in a new and exciting way – trying to remember intervals by feel rather than counting the lines on a stave, noticing how the five parts of the song fitted together and letting the notes slowly seep into my brain – without the help of a musical score. And I was moved to tears by the sensation of singing in harmony with a large group of people. Two members of the Sweet Soul Sisters (Dee Jarlett and Ali Orbaum) later started the now legendary Gasworks Choir teaching large numbers of people in this same way, by ear.
Community Choirs come in all sizes and shapes and the diversity across these variations is wonderful. When my own choir started out around 12 years ago we majored on singing quite straightforward songs with repeated verses, things we could grasp fairly quickly yet were very effective and fun to do. Songs from the African continent, Folk songs and Spirituals fitted that category. And we still love singing those sorts of songs, it’s really the core of what we’re about.
The wealth of classical choral repertoire has a reputation for being beyond the reach of most Community Choirs but we have over the years found this not to be the case, and if chosen carefully and taught in the same way we learn all our pieces, there is much pleasure to be had in dipping some toes in the waters of this great rich ocean.
On my first Sunday at university back in 1982 I attended an evening service at St Michael Le Belfry in York – it was specially for students to welcome them to the town and there was lots of singing. I noticed some particularly good harmonies emanating from the row behind (I’m not impartial to departing from the tune myself occasionally). At one point in the service we were encouraged to turn to the person behind or in front and welcome them, so I turned and was surprised to find that the source of these extra tenor lines was in fact the well known hymn writer Graham Kendrick, who was already a household name in contemporary church music circles even back then.
Move this on 38 years.… As part of my musical life I have the privilege of being musical director of Young Voices and I am always looking out for suitable songs for all the children’s choirs each year. It so happened that two totally unrelated friends wanted to introduce me to Graham and emailed me within days of each other encouraging us to meet, because my friends thought he had a song we should look at.
Very nearly a year ago today, we posted a blog announcing a brand new deal we had just signed with Hal Leonard, the largest publisher of sheet music in the world (Read the original blog here). This was a very exciting moment for us, as Hal Leonard own or manage the rights to the vast majority of the most popular music produced over the last few decades. The deal meant that many of our arrangers’ favourite songs could now be published on a worldwide basis, something previously denied to us.
Since launching ChoirCommunity at the start of 2018, one of the things we’ve continued to ask ourselves is “what kind of website are we?”, or perhaps more specifically, “what kind of website are we striving to be?”. On a superficial level, we are simply another digital marketplace for choir music, bringing choirs on one side and arrangers and composers on the other side together. From the start however, we wanted to ensure we were more than just a ‘Wanna-Be Ebay’ for choirs. As choir leaders and singers ourselves, we wanted to project something of the experience and enjoyment of what being part of a choir means to people and ensure that all our members shared that experience as well. In order to do that, we knew that we had to maintain the highest standards of quality and variety with every piece of music we offered and present it in a way which is accessible and enjoyable to browse for.
That is the primary reason why we have retained a relatively small and ‘curated’ library of music and group of submitting artists. We will continue to grow both, but always with a view to ensuring that what you can find on ChoirCommunity will always be interesting, satisfying, enjoyable and above all, great to sing!
Jane Edwardson approached us last year with a song called ‘Dark Water’ with a view to seeing if it was something we might be able to publish. We immediately recognised that the song was all of the things described above, as well as carrying a important message about hope and friendship. As an experienced choir leader and arranger of 30 years, it also helped that Jane had a large portfolio of other great arrangements which we could also have a look at (Watch this space!).
Jane has written some more detail about the song and why she arranged it for her choir below. We hope you enjoy it and give the arrangement a try!
We have had another busy year at ChoirCommunity and like last year, thought it was worth taking a break to have a look back over the last 12 months and appreciate how far we’ve come – with the help of all our fantastic community of choirs of course!
In last year’s blog, we did this month by month but this year I thought I’d group our highlights into different themes, so here goes……
Even though I grew up in the late 60s and early 70s the Goon show formed an important part of my childhood. The original shows had long been recorded and were definitely of the previous generation (I was more of a Goodies fan and later Monty Python of course), but they were still played regularly on Radio 4 and we had a Goon Show script book in the library at choir school which my friend David Fisk and I would avidly read through trying all the voices.
One of my very earliest memories is my Dad putting on his 78 record of the Ying Tong Song and singing along syllable perfect, there was also “Bluebottle Blues” and “I’m Walking Backwards for Christmas”, played endlessly till the groove was worn out.
I was reading “Silly Verse for Kids” from a very early age, which I loved. Then my uncle gave me the “Book of Milliganimals” for my 7th birthday, and that sealed the deal. I was officially a lifelong Spike fan, memorising most of the poems and re-reading the Bald Twit Lion more times than I could say. When something you read makes you laugh out loud when you are on your own until it hurts you remember those times fondly. The concept of monkeys hanging in the sky waiting years for the trees to reach them resonated with me like nothing else, and it has been wonderful to discover as I grew that many other people feel the same about this unique imagination. Spike Milligan has been and probably will be the single most influential comic mind of our time and possibly any other, and it would be a brave person who could argue otherwise given the weight of evidence that supports this claim.
They say you should never meet your heroes but I very nearly did. In the late 80s I was starting out as a professional musician and often sang around London churches building up a list of contacts and deputy lists – one of these places was in Knightsbridge where they often hosted celebrity weddings. So I found myself as one of the quartet booked to be the choir at the wedding of Bill Wyman and Mandy Smith, complete with TV news cameras and more paparazzi than could fit in the churchyard. Normally you just turn up at these occasions, sing the hymns and a Rutter anthem, no one says anything and you are ushered out of the vestry door unceremoniously. This was a little different as apparently they were so taken by the “singing” of the choir that we were invited to the reception at the Grosvenor House Hotel Park Lane. Well we weren’t going to turn an offer like that down and found ourselves in a melee of celebrity. Literally everyone you ever heard of was there, and we had to explain ourselves quite a lot. I was sat next to Jimmy Perry and David Croft (writers of Dad’s Army) and across the table from Jeff Banks the fashion designer, who was very friendly as I recall.
Suddenly there was a commotion and everyone looked over to where the fuss was – Spike had arrived bringing with him his wedding present for Bill – a zimmer frame. Of course it brought the house down in the same way that his infamous outburst about Prince Charles at the award ceremony would in later years. All this time later I’m not sure why I hadn’t plucked up courage to say hello. I think I started offering peanuts around awkwardly and Kim Wilde took one, but that was as close as I got.
In 1998 “On The Ning Nang Nong” was voted the Uk’s most popular comic poem of all time. There are musical versions, including one for an Australian kids TV show, but recently I thought this really deserves a proper choral treatment, so here it is; along with settings of “There Are Holes In The Sky” and “I’ve Never Felt Finer”, both among my personal favourites. We are so very honoured that Spike’s family have agreed to an exclusive publishing deal with us here at ChoirCommunity so this is the only place you will find these settings. They have also never been performed as a set so you have the chance to present a World Premiere if you act fast! Click here to preview the arrangements.
…and if they go down well you might be getting news of possible additions to the set – as the great man once said – “And there’s more my friends where that came from!”
Craig McLeish – September 16th 2019
Past and Present – The Partington Singers and The Roaring Trowmen
When I was young I was a member of ‘The Partington Family Singers’ of which my dear brother Dave was the youngest member. We didn’t sing together for many years after we left school, until our dad (who taught us everything we know about singing) sadly died in 2014 and we sung together at his funeral. We have been doing our own singing ventures thought the years, and one of Dave’s was being a core member of The Roaring Trowmen, a wonderful Sea Shanty group who have played all the major British Folk Festivals.
When I got more involved in ChoirCommunity it became apparent that we were looking for more pieces for men and one day Dave (a keen long distance cyclist) stopped in for large amounts of cake on the way to a place many miles away by bike – the penny dropped! His group have two albums out, and by chance also had audios of each voice on its own, so I started trawling through, transcribing (with the help of Kate Gessey and Doug Waller) and making them available for you to sing. I had fun taking Dave’s bass parts and then arranging a couple for mixed voices, so got to sing with my brother again (even though he was not even in the building).
The shanties for men are labelled TTBB (tenor 1 & 2 bass 1& 2) and mostly the parts do work from high to low, but Douglas Watts (who with Sam Burns has also added to the collection) says they really are just ‘parts for men’ and don’t really follow the more conventional rules of who sings high and who sings low. Looking at them on a score, sometimes the parts feel a little curious, but these are the real deal – parts made up in the back room of a pub and really true to the aural tradition, so there is no need to be precious with them. They are not set in stone and are to be played with and changed as often as you see fit. We hope you enjoy them.
Have a look through the selection here and let us know what you think! (also try and work out who is the same person in the images above)
We’re always striving to provide music which can be enjoyed by as many different types of singing group as possible. Many of you have often told us that you are often constrained with the music you can try out by many different factors, such as which voices you have to work with for a particular rehearsal or the unexpected lack of an accompanist, for example.
Craig has created an initial pack of simple rounds which can be used as warm-up exercises or just enjoyable pieces to have fun with. They are completely flexible so can be tried among any group and will always sound great!
This is the start of another brand new section on the website which we intend to expand with all sorts of creative ideas and enjoyable exercises to try, whatever mix of voices your group is comprised of!
The first Rounds pack can be found here. Please check it out and let us know what you think!
Image by Karen Kodish Photography
We’ve got a new look to our homepage this month. We hope you like it as much as we do! Hopefully it looks lighter, sharper and also a bit clearer. We have introduced featured music panels, which showcase different aspects of our library, each of which is illustrated with a unique icon. We will be rotating these over the next few months to see which work best and also to introduce new music as it becomes available.
…which leads me onto the real reason that we did this. I am delighted to be able to launch a whole new section of the website for ChoirCommunity. Thanks to our partnership with Making Music, we have reached an agreement to publish the original works created as part of their ‘Adopt a Composer’ initiative. This is a scheme which runs every year and encourages music groups of all types to commission original pieces of work from composers working in the UK. All of the completed works are performed by the group in question and most are broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
For the launch of this new section, we welcome Mark Boden, Aran Browning and Rosie Clements whose original compositions are a wonderful examples of the contemporary choral music scene in the UK. Meet them on the new composers’s page here and take a look at their submissions.
We have also added one of Craig’s original works here too and will be adding more from him, as well as many others in the future.
It’s no great secret or surprise I’m sure that the biggest challenge we have faced with this venture is the clearance process for copyrighted material. We are extremely proud of our arrangements created from songs in the public domain, but we know that the arrangements which really get hearts racing are those adapted from popular favourites of recent (and not so recent) years.
We have had some success in getting rights-owned songs approved for publication. As of this post, we have 33 cleared titles available on the website. The problem is that it has taken a great deal of effort, time and cost just to get these 33 titles approved.
I am very excited to announce therefore that this is all about to change!
One of the organisations we have teamed up with in 2018 is Young Voices. This made a lot of sense, mainly because Craig has been Musical Director of Young Voices since the year 2000, and his arrangements for school choirs have gone a long way towards the astonishing growth of the phenomenon that is YV.
Young Voices is the brainchild of one David Lewis, a former Glamorgan cricketer and entrepreneur who was appalled at the lack of singing at a Wales rugby match in 1992. He phoned 8 choirs before the next match, they all said yes, sang their hearts out and it was a huge hit. Soon after the first World Choir concert took place in Cardiff Arms Park with 10,000 singers accompanying Tom Jones, and a second event was led by the indomitable Shirley Bassey.
Lewis was spurred on to try a similar thing in America but for all sorts of reasons it flopped and he lost everything. Luckily a conversation with his friend Donald Woods, the South African journalist and anti-apartheid campaigner, pushed him back on course, and his tenacity resulted in a 6,500 strong children’s concert at Lansdowne Road in Ireland in 1996. The first UK series of 4 concerts was held the following year. Today the series is 24 nights long and will feature 160, 000 children from nearly 4000 schools.
At a time when school music seems to be on the decline Young Voices is providing a much needed service of quality music participation and education, culminating in a world class arena event where the children are the stars of the show. Those of you who have either taken your choir to be part of one of these events or if you are a proud parent of a performing child will know how special these nights can be.
We are proud that some of the YV back catalogue is exclusively available as a series of resource packs on ChoirCommunity and we plan to feature much more in the coming year. Just like the concerts these arrangements always seek to provide a memorable musical experience for those taking part. Backing tracks are high quality and medleys are skilfully designed to flow like a single piece. Find out for yourself by browsing the Young Voices page and watch out for more releases soon.
The 2019 season is now in full swing with concerts in the Sheffield Arena, Birmingham Arena, Manchester Arena and finishing up at the O2 in London for 7 dates! You can follow along with the excitement as it unfolds on facebook, twitter and other social media channels.
We’re all going to see a lot of retrospectives over the next few weeks, looking at 2018 from every perspective and point of view. Many of them I expect will have an element of negativity, given what we’ve been experiencing in politics, environmental issues and troubles of various sorts around the world.
So this is going to be an unrepentantly positive one! We’ve had a great first year at ChoirCommunity thanks to all of you who have supported us, signed up and given our arrangements a try. It’s not been without its challenges, but the experience of setting up a new digital service for choirs in 2018 has been a constantly joyous and rewarding one. As an occasionally grumpy businessman and IT professional, I have learned that choir leaders are some of the most positive, energetic and beguilingly lovely people on the planet – I guess you have to be to get the results you do out of your many choirs – and that has been an enormous factor in making our first year so enjoyable.
We have got some very exciting plans in the pipeline for 2019, but we’ll wait until the New Year to reveal them. For now, I thought I’d look back briefly on each month to show how far we’ve come in such a short space of time. I hope you enjoy the most positive review of 2018 out there!
We’ve added two more simple and lovely arrangements this week – both from two of our newer arrangers.
Wendy Sergeant has created a beautiful version of a traditional Spanish carol ‘A La Nanita Nana‘. The arrangement is extremely versatile as it can be sung in two or three parts and works beautifully accompanied by a guitar or a cappella. This is also makes a great duo of ‘World Music’ carols with Wendy’s other title; ‘Te Harinui’ which comes from New Zealand.
If you’re still in good voice come the New Year, Alison Crutchley has created a simple arrangement of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ for upper voices which would work beautifully at any event to see in 2019!