We’ve all seen Gareth Malone turn office workers and reluctant teenagers into cohesive, dedicated groups of committed singers. We are used to the idea that singing makes us feel good, gives us as big a buzz as a trip to the gym or a cross-country run, but we all lead increasingly busy lives and find it hard to squeeze even all the essentials into our weekly routine. The Vivace Chorus is testament to the fact that busy folk can always find room for something extra special!
The Vivace Chorus is a vibrant, versatile group of singers based in Guildford. Their interests are wide-ranging, and they come from near and far, brought together by a shared passion for choral singing.
Among their ranks we can find bespoke jewellers, eco-warriors, cardiac consultants, physiotherapists, writers, researchers and wine experts. These are people leading very demanding lives who somehow manage to find the time to sing with the Vivace Chorus.
Meet some of them, and discover why they want to be a part of this great choir.
Jean, one of the altos, works with WWF, the conservation organisation, leading the push to reduce carbon emissions in order to protect the natural world. When not being an eco-warrior, she loves long-distance walking and has recently organised and completed a 140mile pilgrimage with her church, from Winchester to Canterbury. She somehow managed to squeeze Vivace’s May performance of Rutter’s Mass of the Children into the gruelling walking schedule, arriving at the Cathedral in her trekking gear for the final afternoon rehearsal having spent the previous night camping out in a church hall. Choir rehearsals come at the end of a very long day at the office, but Jean wouldn’t miss them. “Singing beautiful music is my therapy”, Jean says.” After a tough day at work, there’s nothing like a good sing!. And rehearsing on a Monday puts me in a better mood for the rest of the week.”
Chris, a bass, is a maker of designer jewellery based in the rolling Surrey countryside. He writes “… I graduated with a business degree, and having spent a year with IBM on the Southbank in London, had a mid-life crisis at the age of 23. I talked my way onto a two year HND jewellery course at Sir John Cass, to try something different before knuckling down to a proper job. I’m still avoiding getting a proper job 14 years later. I worked for a jeweller in Chelsea for two years and then moved to my current workshop at Jon Dibben, out at Smithbrook Kilns near Cranleigh. It’s a lovely small family business, and I enjoy making beautiful individual pieces for people to celebrate happy occasions in their lives. Traditionally, jewellers are meant to keep their skills secret, but I think that’s nonsense, and love getting people into the workshop to have a go themselves if they’re feeling brave! I joined the choir about 15 years ago, having been dragged along by a determined friend. My knowledge of the classical repertoire was limited to recognising the tunes from the Old Spice and Hamlet Cigar adverts, and I was pretty sceptical. Jeremy asked everyone to start rehearsing from page 1 of ‘The Rio Grande’ by Constant Lambert. I’d never heard anything like it (in fact that’s still true), and I was hooked. I’m looking forward to the choir’s performance of the Lambert in the ‘Fascinatin’ Rhythm’ concert at G live on March 8th next spring”
Gill, a business writer says ”.. for me, a Vivace rehearsal is an oasis at the end of a busy Monday! I run my own business, providing business writing services to companies of all sizes. That means I'm often out at meetings either with clients or with agencies,or I'm sitting at my desk writing someone's website, marketing material or press release. I have two teenagers who get themselves to and from school, but who both have music lessons on a Monday, so I down tools at 3pm to shuttle backwards and forwards between flute lessons and drum lessons!
Singing prevents me from thinking about anything else. You have to concentrate and listen to over 100 other people in order to get the best blend and the most musical performance. Singing with Vivace has introduced me to new works, re-invented well-known pieces and gives me an outlet at the end of a busy day. What's more, it revitalises me for the rest of the week, and with concerts like the Royal Albert Hall to look forward to, who would turn down the chance to get out and sing!”
They sing under the watchful eye, and baton, of one of the finest choral conductors in the country -Jeremy Backhouse. Jeremy has vast experience, huge enthusiasm and a wonderfully positive outlook. Apart from Vivace, Jeremy works regularly with Salisbury Community choir, and his own top-notch chamber choir Vasari Singers, previous winners of Sainsbury’s Choir of the Year and holders of many awards for their fine recordings. When not involved in rehearsing or performing, Jeremy is a keen and accomplished gardener. He is supported by rehearsal pianist Francis Pott, himself a Professor of Music, a composer, and a concert pianist of considerable repute.
Vivace are active in south west Surrey, singing regularly in the Cathedral and at the new GLive in Guildford. Their aim is for an exciting mix of old and new, classical, jazz; serious and less serious. They are equally at home with Mendelssohn’s Elijah, or Will Todd’s Mass in Blue. (They liked the Todd Mass so much; they commissioned a new work Te Deum from Will in 2009.)
“A Night at the Opera”. was played to a full house at GLive in 2011 and they followed this up a year later with another capacity audience for ”An Evening with Elgar” which included the choral arrangement of Vaughan Williams’ beautiful S”, and featured international star Julian Lloyd Webber in Elgar’s wonderfully nostalgic Cello Concerto.
The Surrey Advertiser wrote:
“…….The Vivace Chorus brought to the opening a gentle sweetness of sound which was quite captivating, and as the harmonies faded the sopranos gave us the most limpid top A in the phrase “of sweet harmony”….”.
So, Vivace like a challenge and are not afraid to put their toes in the water, or their heads in the lion’s den. In May 2011 they filled the Royal Albert Hall for their performance of Mahler’s 8th Symphony - the Symphony of a Thousand. This is music on a very grand scale indeed, and they were delighted to welcome the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Chorus, London Chorus, Romsey Choral Society and Tiffin Boys' Choir, along with eight international soloists, to join them in this venture. Many thought they must be mad; the Royal Albert Hall holds an audience of over 5000 - this is absolutely nothing like venues in Guildford.
However, they needn’t have worried, the choir stepped out on to the stage to face a full house, quite an experience in itself, and one that many will not forget.
“I knew that ticket sales had been good, but I never realised how good. I couldn’t make the seats out in the dark but when the lights came up, I almost fell in amazement: every seat taken and the most wonderful, exciting and expectant atmosphere in the hall ….” JG(Bass)
“.... and hearing six thousand people in the Albert Hall cheering something I had helped create – a performance of Mahler’s Eighth – was literally one of the best moments of my life.” JL (Bass)
And comments from audience and other choir members:
“A wonderful rendition with a stirring and genuinely moving Chorus Mysticus that was beautifully paced… thank you for giving us an occasion to remember.”
“Claire Seaton was superb as Magna Peccatrix; I have heard her perform several times and am beginning to think that there is no top to her range.”
“What a great opportunity to experience live one of the largest-scale productions in the concert repertoire. It was wonderful to hear so many talented musicians together, under one roof.”
“The sound the chorus made was electrifying and the whole symphony unforgettable.”
“…definitely one of those life-affirming and unforgettable occasions. It was wonderful to be there under the direction of the unfaltering and amazing Jeremy.”
So, their next Albert Hall concert is a date to put in your diary now. Sunday May 18th 2014 will find the Vivace Chorus playing its part in the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birth with his magnificent setting of the Requiem mass, almost 140 years to the day since its first performance in May 1874. This is an operatic work with the ability to move everyone with the beauty of its melodies and the drama of its orchestration and again, Vivace have invited other highly-regarded local Choral societies to join them.
The line–up for May looks like this: The Vivace Chorus, the London Philharmonic Choir, Twickenham Choral Society, Wimbledon Choral Society and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. They will be joined by soprano Claire Seaton, who stunned the audience in the Mahler performance; Kate Symonds-Joy - mezzo-soprano; Daniel Joy - tenor, and David Stout - bass. All under the expert direction of Jeremy Backhouse.
Funding a concert like this can certainly be daunting, but in the knowledge that they can fill the Albert Hall and being an imaginative bunch anyway, Vivace have set out with a number of money-making schemes. A choir cookery book, “A Taste of Music” has just been published, a quiz night and a wine-tasting evening are planned. They spent the hottest weekend of the summer in the chapel at Charterhouse School. While Andy Murray was winning at Wimbledon, they were recording a fabulous CD “Viva Vivace" the perfect Christmas stocking-filler. There is also talk of a “Desert Island Discs” type evening featuring Jeremy Backhouse, and possibly a barn dance. But the wackiest idea so far has to be the cycling weekend. Before the performance, a group of dedicated, some would say reckless, Vivace cyclists are setting out from Paris where Verdi began writing his Requiem, to bring it to the Royal Albert Hall. This is the brainchild of tenor Owen Gibbons, pictured here with his trusty bike.
“Having been getting into my cycling this year - mainly to improve my fitness, but also as part of my commute to and from work - it was the obvious idea for a fund-raiser for the choir; a sponsored bike ride! As part of our publicity and fund-raising for our performance of Verdi's Requiem at the Royal Albert Hall next May, I originally thought that we could 'bring' Verdi's masterpiece from his birthplace in northern Italy to London. Then someone pointed out the small matter of the Alps being in the way! Having pretty much given up on the idea, we then read that Verdi had begun the composition of the Requiem in a hotel in Paris - a much more achievable ride for a group of singing cyclists. So far, we have a (reasonably) committed group of around a dozen members of the choir signed up for the journey, which will take in a little over 200 miles in three days. There'll be a bit of training involved for us all to complete it, but we're also hoping to have fun doing it!
This will be a chance to raise some money in sponsorship, but it won’t all be going towards the Verdi concert. Vivace want to support local composer Will Todd in his campaign to fundraise for Rainbow Trust. This charity is supporting Will’s family and his daughter Rpwan who suffers from a brain tumour. The Todd family have set themselves the target of raising £10,000 to enable the Rainbow Trust to help other families with terminally sick children.
So if you are inspired by all of this to join Vivace on May 18th, tickets are available from www.royalalberthall.com or RAH Box Office 020 7589 8212 priced £8-£44
If travelling from Guildford, for the door to door experience why not book a seat on one of the Vivace coaches and arrive at the Royal Albert Hall without the hassle of negotiating London traffic jams. and hunting for a parking space! Contact Michael Taylor for details 07958 519741.