Choral groups find their voice
n goes down on a beautiful summer evening and there's a sound echoing through the village.
As I get closer to All Saints Church Hall in Catherington, the trill intensifies.
And it’s very familiar tune – Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
As a walk into the quaint hall, which is decorated in Union flags, there are a group of animated women, singing away with real gusto.
This is the Cascade Southdown Ladies Harmony Chorus – one of a growing number of choral groups in the area who are enjoying a wave of popularity.
It seems singing as a group has never been so popular, with a national boom bringing new meaning to the sound of music.
Inspired by the nation’s most famous choirmaster Gareth Malone, and buoyed by shows like X Factor and The Voice, more and more people of all ages are swapping singing in their showers for the stage.
The Cascade singers are currently practising the legendary Queen song along with scores of other groups from the Ladies Association of British Barbershop (LABBS), which is celebrating 40 years of existence this year.
The national convention in Harrogate in October will culminate in a grand performance of Bohemian Rhapsody by all the groups around Britain.
I chat with Caroline Clack, 41, from Portchester, who comes to the group every Wednesday evening.
By day she is a sales office manager for a manufacturing company that makes floor cleaning machines, but this evening she is belting her heart out as the ladies warm up their vocal cords.
‘I had never sung in any chorus or choir before,’ she says.
‘The only thing I had ever done was singing campfire songs in the Girl Guides.
‘One day I was looking through the paper and saw Cascade were holding a “learn to sing” event.
‘They were offering for people to come for six weeks on a Wednesday evening and be taught a song in our four-part harmony style.
‘I just absolutely loved it straight away.’
Caroline explains that singing in a chorus is open to all.
‘It doesn’t matter what your musical ability is, anyone can learn,’ she says.
‘It’s fantastic because there’s no backing accompaniment, no tracks, it’s just our voices. So it’s a personal challenge.
‘There are plenty of other choruses with music or they will have a piano accompaniment.
‘It gives you a real buzz that you can create all those sounds.
‘Although we are a group of women, we have ladies who can sing really low like men can.
‘So you get that surround sound.’
LABBS recently sent a ‘Beacon’ of Harmony, in the form of a scroll, to travel to as many of the choruses as it can during the course of the year.
Last month the ladies of Cascade hosted a party which included members of Cosham-based The Pitchpipers, Wight Satin from the Isle of Wight, and many of the ladies from Guildford Harmony.
Nicola Hillyer, 41, who lives in Petersfield and works for Portsmouth City Council, says her singing experience prior to joining the choir was a ‘bit of bad karaoke’.
‘Singing in the shower – nothing more!’ she laughs.
‘A couple of friends were here already and I just came along to see if I liked it.
‘You don’t ever sing on your own.
‘You have to be able to sing the right notes, but it does come with practice.’
She loves singing Bohemian Rhapsody, but has her own personal favourite.
‘We sing Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, which is just brilliant because we love singing it,’ says Nicola.
‘The more we love singing a song, the better at it we are.’
Cynth Clue, 71, from South Harting, says: ‘That’s when you know you’ve got it right – when the chords ring.
‘I sing bass, which is the lower notes.
‘It’s not easy, but it’s lovely when you get it right.’
Watching the chorus in full flight, you can see how it’s a good workout for the lungs. And singing may have other benefits too.
Singing in a choir can boost your mental health, a new study has found.
Researchers carried out an online survey of 375 people who sang in choirs, sang alone, or played team sports.
All three activities yielded high levels of psychological well-being – but choristers stood out as experiencing the greatest benefit.
Nicola certainly subscribes to this ideology.
‘Singing is brilliant for you – good for the heart and lungs and socially it’s like having another family,’ she says.
‘Lots of women have been through all kinds of experiences and this is the family that has helped them.’
Caroline adds: ‘Singing is such a buzz. It makes you happy.
‘It’s proven to be good for your body and soul.
‘Because you are doing it in the community and you are making friends, you have this support network.
‘People just get a feel-good buzz from it.’
‘Whatever has happened at work, you come here, do your warm-up, shake it all out.
‘Because you are thinking about the words and the notes, you have to switch off from the day job.’
And it’s not only the chorus that feels good, the recipients go on a similar happifying journey.
Caroline explains: ‘The main reason we sing is to sing for people – so people hire us for birthdays, weddings, care homes.
‘The response you get back from people when you sing is absolutely amazing.
‘There’s a care home in Farlington we go to quite a lot and there’s a lady who was celebrating her 100th birthday.
‘She was sitting there and instantly you saw her face light up and the reaction. It’s like “wow” because you have made their day and it makes your day too.’
Linda Groom admits she probably sings more than talks.
Linda Groom, 66, from Purbrook, has been singing from a very early age.
In fact, it’s difficult to get her to stop singing, she confesses.
‘My mum had a letter when I was five years old asking her to come to the school,’ she says.
‘I was singing all the time under my breath.
‘I sing anything and everything.
‘Singing makes you feel good. It keeps you breathing well.
‘Because life is so fast nowadays, it helps you slow down.’
About Cascade, she says: ‘It’s a great group of girls here. I had been off a few weeks, poorly.
‘I came back and got hugs and kisses. It made me grizzle actually – but it was a good grizzle.
‘I did not think I would be missed that much having only been here just over a year.’
Schoolteacher Jackie Rapley is the musical director.
The 47-year-old, from Southsea, laughs: ‘I’m daft enough to stand there waving my arms, plus I have a bit of musical knowledge!
She got into singing after seeing an advert in the library in 1998
‘I wanted a hobby I could do that would get rid of the stresses of the day,’ she says.
On her role as musical director, she adds: ‘You look for people who can sing in tune.
‘But it’s more than that with barbershop – you have to be able to sell a song.
‘We sing everything without sheet music in front of us so you have to have a fairly good memory.
‘You want people who have a lot of enthusiasm.’
Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Chorus are celebrating a big win.
Last month the chorus took part in the annual Sweet Adeline’s International Region 31 convention at The Sage in Newcastle.
Some 72 ladies from the barbershop a cappella choir, performed 2 songs, ‘I never meant to fall in love’ and ‘The moment I saw your eyes’.
With their new musical director, John Palmer leading them, Spinnaker Chorus could be heard screaming with delight and excitement when they were announced as third place champions with their best ever score of 620 points, an improvement of two places on their 5th position in 2005.
Tracy Daniel, from Spinnaker Chorus, says: ‘We are one big supportive family, a great team with the determination to succeed in the hobby we love so dearly.
‘Winning third place in Newcastle is the icing on the cake for us, it has given us all huge confidence and we are immensely proud of our achievement.’
FIND OUT MORE
To find out more about Cascade, whether you’re interested in joining or would like them for an event, please email [email protected].
Alternatively visit cascadeharmony.org.
Spinnaker Chorus rehearse every Wednesday from 7.30pm to 10pm at Blendworth Church Hall, in Horndean.