Summer School tales, The Accidental Singer

The Accidental Singer

Claire Gilliam attended our new three day Chorale course in August 2014 for choir singers who already have some experience of reading music, she shares her experiences in an honest and thoughtful account.


Well, well here I am at the Sing for Pleasure summer school. I have come to sing for three days in the chorale group. I sing every week in a choir and love every second of it so when our conductor told us about the Summer School she organises there was a frantic flurry of emails between a few of us and before we knew it we had booked onto the Chorale course for three days. I have to admit to being slightly apprehensive and a little nervous about the standard of singing that we would need. In the main I wanted to write this blog to give some of the people in the choir I sing in an idea of what it’s like here but if anyone else finds it useful or interesting then that’s a bonus.

Day 1

We arrived with time to spare for chocolate twists and coffee before our first vocal warm-up at 8.45am. It was a very chilled registration experience, really welcoming and relaxed. We bumped into several other people from our choir which was great. The warm-up was with Ula, our usual choir conductor so we felt at home and a sense of familiarity took over which got rid of any last bit of nerves. We were introduced to key members of staff many of whom had already said hello to us and had made us feel welcome.

Warm up done and the community choir left us to go to their first session and then we were given our score for the premier that we were to perform on Saturday of Oliver Tarney’s Magnificat. This was also a chance for the students on the advanced conductors course to show what they could do and they each took an act and started the process of going through it with us. I think we were all as nervous as each other but as notes started to make sense and phrases started to sound good I began to relax a little. I was struggling to read the score and I can’t sight sing so that was tricky but I think I did ok. What was an odd sensation was the exhaustion that came after. I haven’t used my brain in a new way for a very long time and this took every ounce of concentration. Oh yes I don’t think I had mentioned that it’s mostly in Latin!

Day 2

The day was very similar to the day before with a warm-up, then the advanced conductors doing Magnificat with us (which was a lot more comfortable this time), it made my brain hurt again but I was pleased with my sight reading especially when it came to rhythm and timing. Then it was time for an emotional session with Katy that really confirmed the power that I know music has. We opened our music at a page called ‘Hard to let you go’ and as I read the some of the words I felt a little tug at the heartstrings as it was about a child leaving home and had lyrics like ‘first you learned to walk’, ‘soon you loved to wander’ and as I was missing my little ones the lyrics seemed poignant. Then Katy sang it through and has such a beautiful voice that managed to reduce most of us to tears. It was incredible that in a room full of people that didn’t really know each other that music, lyrics and voice had the power to make us all feel the message of the song so directly. It was so obvious that it had affected so many of us that Katy genuinely asked whether we wanted to sing it for the concert or would it be too hard for us. We said we’ll be fine. Maybe the audience will end up in floods of tears! Not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing!

Day 3

We are totally and utterly in the bubble! From not quite understanding how you could cope with the intensity of this course for more than a few days, I now feel like I could quite happily stay for a week. Today we had a couple of workshops with Katy, just tidying things up and sorting out the programme and a couple of hours of free time which was good (we’re not performing the song that made us all cry in the end as it wasn’t quite at performance standard). The three of us had some music we wanted to run through and had an impromptu little sing-song in the kitchen in halls and with a variety of apps to find our notes and a kitchen drum for percussion we didn’t sound too bad! After dinner we were off back to the chapel. The audience was full which was great and our group opened the concert with our set which was well received.

We then got to sit down and listen to the community and the consort choirs. It was great seeing some of our usual choir members singing so brilliantly – they really did us proud! After a quick break we were on stage for the Magnificat. Wow – that was an amazing experience. I really enjoyed singing it and the advanced conductors were superb – they must have been terrified! With a standing ovation from the community choir and and huge clapping-fest it was a pretty emotional moment.


The closeness and camaraderie of the Sing for Pleasure staff and regulars was enveloping rather than cliquey which can be a hard act to pull off when you work so closely with people. I can totally understand those that come back year after year and have a pretty strong suspicion that I’m going to be one if those people!

So what have I learnt?

  • I can count (musically, not just 1-100!)
  • I’m pretty alright at singing which is nice to reaffirm I enjoyed singing a big choral piece and would like to do more every now and again
  • I have got to know some people from my choir much better
  • Ruairi is Irish for Red King
  • Shape Note singing involves notes with shapes on the end of the sticks
  • Chips go nicely with coleslaw

Thank you to Claire for allowing us to share her blog. To read the full edition visit the accidental singer

Claire attended the three day Chorale Course at Keele University Summer School in August 2014. Summer School will run again in August 2015, sign up to our newsletter to keep informed.