Recent Classics graduate, Dan Pargeter, on musical life at Kent, and continuing choral life afterwards in a new barbershop group named after a former well-known rehearsal venue on the campus…
I have often wondered, just when exactly would it be my time to contribute to this space? And what would it be that I contribute? I have read the pieces that precede this one, many written by talented musicians who I am fortunate enough to call friends. Friends with whom I have spent countless happy hours, over the course of my university career, making music. One more time then still, allow me to join you. Fitting is it that the occasion I write about now began at the University of Kent.
First Music Social – I arrive a little late, who would’ve thought, me!? Better late than never. For me before, not ever has the phrase rung so true. Told to join something, anything, at university; a music society was better than I had hoped. Monday night Chorus rehearsals? Yeah, why not, a great way to start the week. Hmmm Tuesday evening Chamber Choir practice, sign up for auditions here. A little soon after Monday, but well, nothing to lose right! Apart from my voice almost, before my audition, but that’s the state it’s in at the end of Freshers’ week and immediately after football trials. Just give it your all. 110% even! Evidently I was still in football trial mode.
What a wonderful four years it was. University Chorus, Chamber Choir, Cecilian Choir, even a spot of barbershopping. Rehearsals, concerts, soirees, champagne receptions. Of course I’d do it all again, exactly like that, in a heartbeat. But unfortunately it cannot be.
So what now?
Keep singing. And so I did.
I received an email about a choir that was based not too far away from me, which rehearsed on a Monday night 7.15-9.30pm. ‘Hmmm,’ I thought, ‘I’ve done that before.’ A little earlier a start than I am used to perhaps, but I’ll most likely be late every week of course so actually it is quite perfect.
Rehearsing for my first concert with the choir. Early days but how it felt good to be singing again. Life after Kent.
An opportunity arises. There’s a vacant spot in the concert. They are interested in the barbershop group I’d briefly mentioned at some point. ‘Wow, yes, that would be great.’ So I ask the boys, send over a recording, and we are in the programme as guest performers. Our first gig on pastures new.
A wonderful reason to get together with the old gang. With a month to prepare, we will give it our all and hope for the best.
June 29th, 2013 – Royal Opera House Fused Festival
The beginning of a long day. The boys stayed at mine the night before. A quick sing-through our programme but little more than that. We arrive at the venue, the London Cruise Terminal, shortly before midday. Not quite sure what to expect, we receive a warm welcome from the events team. We are swiftly guided through to the performance space, where we await our scheduled sound check.
Ah, an encouraging sign. I notice a smile on the face of a member of the sound team when we finish our first line. Hopefully not the last smile of the day! We sing through our set, careful not to do too much, and once everyone is satisfied we thank the crew and depart the performance area. However this doesn’t mean that today’s preparations stop here. I still have a rehearsal with the Chorus. And then there are the two workshops that the barbershop has signed up to. An action-packed day ahead!
At 2pm, finished with Chorus rehearsal, I head over with the other chaps to take part in the Male Voices workshop. Involving professional musicians, this one is led by a particularly charismatic chap whose energetic style is evident from the beginning. This is just what we need to motivate ourselves for tonight. We explore the male voice through a series of sing-backs and rounds, taking us from the bottom of our “chest voice” through to the top of the falsetto. Something for everyone!
3pm sees us begin the Vocal Warm-ups class. Having done 3 hours of singing today, voices feel warmed-up already. In fact, rather tired is more accurate! Regardless we power through.
The basics reiterated, current knowledge refined, and new techniques to further explore, the workshop leaves us all feeling thoroughly warmed-up and singing in best voices. I personally feel somewhat rejuvenated and fresher than before I went in. The barbershop vow to perform a thorough warm-up before every rehearsal in the future! Good intentions.
And now a couple of hours rest before the evening concert. Or so we thought… We ask one of the event organisers if they could perhaps take a photo of the four of us together. ‘We have a professional photographer for this sort of thing,’ cometh the reply. Well, how lovely!
An hour later, and a hundred or so shots, we have just completed the group’s first photo shoot! Did not see that one coming. Feeling like stars (see below), we sit down, relax, and wait.
Buttons buttoned, laces laced, cuffs linked. We’ve even found time to sit and enjoy the first half of the concert! But now we are backstage waiting to hear our name.
‘Old. Telephone. Exchange!’
‘Old Telephone Exchange,’ I repeat to myself. I smile. We exchange nods. That’s us. We are ready. I walk out to take the stage, stop and turn. We face an audience of four hundred, our biggest yet, and bow in response to a very warm welcome. Experiencing a cocktail of emotion, I compose myself and give an Ab. Immediately the note blossoms in my head into the first chord. Excited, I take a deep breath…
And yes, even though this music-making wasn’t on familiar ground, as our voices began to fill and resonate in a new space, I think I can safely say that our feet were still very much firmly planted on the floor of the room that we knew as The OTE.
To keep up-to-date with the Old Telephone Exchange, follow them on Twitter. For further details on the group, visit the group’s website www.t-o-t-e.co.uk. Hopefully, we’ll be hearing a lot more from them in the future…