Singing up for women-only choirs

Andrew Clingo and the women who turned up at the first session of Handful of Harmonies at the Ivo Day Centre in Spalding. Photo (TIM WILSON): SG010612-146TW
Andrew Clingo and the women who turned up at the first session of Handful of Harmonies at the Ivo Day Centre in Spalding. Photo (TIM WILSON): SG010612-146TW
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MOVE over Gareth Malone: south Lincolnshire has its own choir master who is going a long way to re-igniting popular interest in singing.

Gareth is known to millions as the presenter of The Choir and the musical force behind the Military Wives. Andrew Clingo is known to a couple of hundred women who have been inspired by him to sing in his women-only choirs.

It may not seem a lot compared to Gareth’s huge following, but Andrew has been taken aback at the response to A Handful of Harmonies, the network of choirs he has established in the area.

From setting up the first just under a year ago, Andrew now has six groups – the latest of which started at the Ivo Day Centre in Spalding on Friday.

Andrew has also been moved by the kindness and enthusiasm of the many women who sing with him. After an extended period of stress, which forced him to give up his job of eight years as principal of Stagecoach Theatre Schools in Northampton and Oakham, the 36-year-old says their kindness and generosity has “really restored my faith in people”.

While providing drama and singing-based training at Stagecoach, Andrew continued his association with the Langtoft Players, where he is musical director.

For a few years Andrew had been mulling over the idea of establishing a choir because some of the Players had said they wanted to do more singing. He finally got around to booking the village hall last July, with the idea of running a six-week block during the summer.

“We had 48 people at the first session, which was just way beyond what I’d thought,” says Andrew. “A percentage of the people that came had been under my musical direction with the Players for years and knew my style. It is not highbrow, but good fun.”

Building on that success – Langtoft now has 52 singers – Andrew went on to establish women-only choirs in Bourne, Peterborough, Market Deeping, Stamford and now Spalding.

Andrew says: “The unique thing is it is just women. I don’t know what my reason for that was, but personally I don’t like the sound of male voice choirs. It’s an hour-and-a-half when women can get together with women with similar interests and it is fun.”

Choirs have always existed but have become fashionable as a result of influences such as Gareth Malone, and Andrew does wonder if it will all fizzle out eventually.

However, he hopes not because the singers’ enjoyment is evident to Andrew, who says there are also health benefits. He says: “When you are singing you are breathing properly, it gets the endorphins going, it stimulates the heart rate and you just come away feeling alive. Even people who go on a Friday night after a hideous week at work say afterwards they feel so much better for it.”

Singing will also shift the weight. According to Andrew, an hour’s “energetic singing” burns 200 calories.

The music does sound energetic, with All That Jazz from Chicago used as an opener before singers go on to perform a mix of show and film tunes, popular music and folk songs.

It’s possible to simply turn up and sing each week, but some people like to get involved in performances and the additional rehearsals required for them. A number of concerts are planned: at The Cresset in Peterborough on July 1, Castle Bytham Village Hall on September 8 and at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London on October 7. Andrew is also in talks with Springfields about a performance in the gardens in July.

l The Ivo Day Centre sessions are on Fridays from 1.30 to 3pm (cost £4).

Visit the website www.handfulofharmonies.co.uk for details of locations and times for all the choirs or contact the office on 01778 345857.