A chorus of approval

A rehearsal night of The Portsmouth Chorus

A rehearsal night of The Portsmouth Chorus

Martin Montague at his home in Swanmore   Picture: Sarah Standing (170555-6583)

‘I’m not ashamed of where I grew up’

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Inspired by the success of TV’s military wives choir, more and more people are enjoying the benefits of singing. MISCHA ALLEN

reports - and has a go herself.

Friends Jan Bailey and Liz Phelan had always thought about joining a choir. But standing in front of a bunch of strangers to audition didn’t sound too appealing.

Musical director Rod Starr

Musical director Rod Starr

It wasn’t until Christmas, when they sat down and watched Gareth Malone’s TV programme about forming a choir made up of military wives that they became inspired to go out and sing.

Just a matter of weeks later, they’re sitting in a room with 40 other members of the Portsmouth Chorus, happily singing I’d Do Anything and with their first live performance just days away.

People across the country have been inspired by the military wives, who secured the number one spot at Christmas, and have decided to join local choirs.

Rod Starr has been the musical director of the Portsmouth Chorus for the past 18 years. Always interested in music, he joined the Royal Marines at just 14 and trained at the Royal Academy Of Music.

After working his way up through the ranks, he became the director of music for the Royal Marines Band.

The 67-year-old, who now lives in Emsworth, runs the choir with his wife, Stella, as accompanist.

He says: ‘There are more people joining at the minute. It has gone up and down quite a bit in the past, but I think right now it’s all down to the influence of Gareth Malone and the military wives.

‘It’s made people a lot more interested in singing.

‘We’ve got a big choir and the growing interest is the direct influence of what he’s done. He’s done what all choir masters want to do!’

Rod believes that the pleasure most people get from choirs is learning something new and remembering it.

He explains: ‘The appeal is the satisfaction of learning a part and singing it in harmony with other elements of the choir. It’s that co-operative feeling.

‘While we do big numbers, there are also softer voices which is great.

‘It gives you such a strong sense of well-being. It’s a great feeling being in a large choir, making a contribution, and learning the arrangement. In front of an audience you really feel like you’ve made something.’

But it’s not only the feeling you get while singing that’s good for you. It can also help your health in the long run.

‘There’s a great feeling of friendship with singing,’ says Rod.

‘Also, after singing for two hours you go home feeling so much better. It’s good for breathing and it increases life expectancy because you breathe better. I think there’s something in that.’

The choir, which meets every Monday night at the Mountbatten Centre, usually performs two concerts a year at the Portsmouth Guildhall, a Christmas concert at Portsmouth Cathedral and another concert in the spring and summer for local churches.

A performance is lined up at St Jude’s Church, Southsea on May 19.

But on Monday evening they won’t be at their normal rehearsal, as the group have been invited to sing at the Dickens Gala Dinner to be held at the Hilton Hotel.

Celebrating the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens, the group is performing numbers from Oliver! to a group of diners.

The evening will include speeches and readings from members of the Dickens family, and a toast at midnight to mark his birthday by the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr Cheryl Buggy.

Rod says: ‘The Dickens performance is a one-off. We’re singing from 11-11.30pm so we’ll have to wait a while, but it’s a very big evening.

‘Sadly not all the choir can go because there simply isn’t enough room.

‘There are normally about 80 of us, but there was half of that at last Monday’s rehearsals because it was purely for the show.’

Some of the songs the choir have prepared include I’d Do Anything, Oom-Pah-Pah, and Pick A Pocket.

With the choir excited about this unusual performance, Rod says: ‘They’re a happy bunch of people, which gives all our performances and rehearsals a great atmosphere.’

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