WEEKEND WEB: Improving my singing with Gareth Malone

Trish at choirmaster Gareth Malone's singing workshop.
Trish at choirmaster Gareth Malone's singing workshop.
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TRISH TAKES FIVE: By Trish Burgess

I’ve been a fan of Gareth Malone since his TV series, The Choir, aired in 2006. Over the years he has created choirs in schools, offices and local communities. His work with the Military Wives led to a Christmas Number One and his Invictus choir of wounded ex-service personnel performed at the Invictus Games in 2016.

I’ve cheered as he worked with the a capella group, Semi-Toned, a group of students from Exeter University. My son shared a house with one of the singers and their living room was often the venue for group rehearsals.

Last week, Gareth took on the unenviable task of giving me some singing tips. He’s been touring this autumn and at each concert offered a pre-show singing workshop.

I leapt at the chance to have some instruction from the expert choirmaster so booked myself into a workshop for his Snape Maltings gig in Suffolk. This stunning venue was created by composer Benjamin Britten in the 1960s and is the focus for the Aldeburgh Festival every year.

There were only 14 of us attending the workshop so the atmosphere was very intimate. We joined Gareth onstage and he took us through some vocal exercises and offered tips on breathing and posture. He was personable, funny and very charming.

We also sang pieces from songs that would feature in the concert later. For ‘Fields of Gold’ we were split into our singing voices and I stood at the end of the alto group. As we practised our harmony line, Gareth listened in to the altos then moved me to the centre of our group. He was very complimentary about my voice but I was so starstruck at being singled out that I can’t remember his exact words.

A group photo was taken of our merry band of warblers and I can just be seen in the resulting shot, smiling over the top of Mr Malone’s head.

I walked out of the room on a high, still wearing my ‘Gareth Malone’s Chorister’ badge which I’m seriously thinking of wearing permanently.

As for the concert, it was a delight. Gareth shared the stage with The Swingles, a group I remember from the 1970s. It has a different complement of singers today with a superb quality of a capella vocal genius. The hugely talented Ayoub Sisters, virtuosos on cello and violin, provided some very contemporary twists, using a loop pedal, made popular by Ed Sheeran.

The highlights of the evening were the poignant rendition of Gareth’s own composition, ‘Paradise Street’, and a whole stage and audience participation of Avril Lavigne’s ‘Keep Holding On’, complete with the waving of phone torches; a first, I suspect, for Snape Maltings.

Gareth Malone is continuing his association with The Swingles next year with a new set of tour dates. If you get the chance to see them, I’d highly recommend it. And if he repeats the workshops, then book yourself in - you’re in for a treat.

• You can read Trish’s blog at www.mumsgoneto.co.uk

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