On a sultry Bastille Day in Nottingham, over 90 singers arrived at West Bridgford Methodist Church for a very special workshop. We celebrated the life of Sally Nicholson-Cole and her contribution to Save the Children by singing highlights from Les Miserables.
There were singers from Simon’s choirs – notably ECS, WBSS, Friday Choir – and there were also people who just wanted to sing the songs. West Bridgford Methodist Church is a very welcoming church and gives us a flexible space, which we certainly needed last Saturday. Fitting in 100 chairs, a lectern, and space for the musicians was a logistical challenge – plus accommodating an audience – all on a very hot day. We did squeeze everyone in, but decided to re-arrange the chairs at break time, as some singers were suffering from oxygen deprivation at the back! Everyone survived to give a wonderful performance in the late afternoon for family and friends.
The Church also has great AV equipment, which allowed us to have multiple screens to project the words and images for the singers, audience and musicians. Of course, the smooth operation of the visual presentation depended on a certain nameless person (moi!) who sometimes was so engrossed in the moment that the screen change only happened in the nick of time! Never mind, it seemed to go fine and it did allow the singers to sing out rather than to fix their eyes on their music.
Everyone joined in the spirit of the event – many wearing red, white and blue – Robin even made his own ‘bonnet rouge’ out of an old sweater! And he had made felt rosettes as well! Such a multi-talented man!
We rehearsed 7 songs in the afternoon – and for many of us, it was the first time we had actually sung them properly. As we know, singing in the shower or in the car allows for all manner of leniency over words and notes! Simon kept us disciplined and even though we had little time in the afternoon, the result was very pleasing – a choir rather than a singalong of random voices.
I guess most people have favourite songs from Les Mis. Up until Saturday, mine was ‘Bring him home’; but I now have a new favourite, thanks to the amazing work that the men did on ‘Stars’. It is perhaps one of the less well remembered songs from the show, but it is so poignant and deep. And hard to sing! So the rendition we had on Saturday afternoon was amazing, given the time restraints – and when they sang it again as a reprise at the point of Javert’s suicide, it was so emotional and so beautifully delivered. Ooh, very shiverful! (I just invented a word!)
Of course, we ladies did a brilliant job on ‘I dreamed a dream’ as well. Again a very challenging song, especially when we have all heard such superb versions of it over the years. It’s a bit like ‘Memory’ from Cats – once you’ve heard Elaine Paige, the standard is set very high! (Short diversion here – talking of Cats, I have a great wig! Just saying!) Anyway, back to Saturday – this song brought tears to my eyes.
Given the subject matter of Les Mis, it is no surprise that the majority of the songs are either anthems or sad, mainly both, so what a contrast for us was the wonderful duet of Simon and Fiona singing ‘Master of the House’. I thought Simon’s combination of cockney and Yorkshire was unique – not only the voice, but also the combination of flat cap and revolutionary apron!
I did notice, however, throughout the afternoon, a certain fixation with ‘sleeping with the mirror’. Even when the actual words were on the screen, ‘sleeping with the mirror’ was obviously fixed in his brain. None of my business! He was a superb M. Thenardier and I would not have trusted him an inch. But what about the Madame? Feisty or what? Such a great performance – the voice and the hand gestures. We had changed some of the naughty words in deference to the audience and the venue, but Fiona got so carried away that she forgot! Nobody mentioned it afterwards, so I think you got away with it, Fiona. Anyway, the pair of you brought the house down.
So we had a great sing and we produced a great sound. I truly believe that our enthusiasm and the quality of the singing was due to the amazing musical accompaniment from Tim, Mike and Lou. Such professional sound motivated me to sing my best, to match the music. And I hope, like me, those of you present, also felt valued through the time and effort put into the music by this talented trio. Personally, I feel that it took the whole workshop and performance to another level.
And didn’t the narrators do well. The format worked and I hope that the narration helped to stitch the songs together. Lynne and Fiona were clear and emotive in their narration, which was great, because I just swanned around looking like a revolutionary foot soldier and ad-libbing a bit! I had a few people who asked me afterwards about the history, as Les Mis is often branded as a French Revolution story – which it is but in a much broader historical context – but it is not about guillotines and aristocrats. So we learnt something, as well as having a good sing. I expect many of you will, by now, have started reading the book as well – in the original French, of course.
As we ended with ‘Do you hear the people sing?’ joined by our extremely strong flag waver, you could feel the energy in the room. This was such a great event and in such a great cause. Jane gave her thanks at the end and to know that we raised over £600 for SCF whilst having such a good time is proof that the format works and we should do it again. I didn’t know Sally personally, but I have friends who did, and I am glad and proud to have been involved in this tribute to her and to a cause she believed in so passionately.
Jane and Simon (and multiple others) thank you for the opportunity.