This article appeared in The Nottingham Post's 'Bygones' supplement entitled MUSIC MAKERS, dated 7th August 2010
Safe and Sound
Flip back four years, to a dispirited small group of people in a school hall in Aspley. The last remains of Nottingham Community Choir was sliding down the tubes and before long would disappear without trace.
Ten years before that it had been going great guns under the charismatic leadership of Freddie Kofi, whose personality alone would have got empty chairs singing! After Freddie and his glorious gospel sound, the hugely talented and indefatigable Lisa Downie carried the choir forward on a surge of melodies from film and stage musicals. It seemed the cry would be “onward and upward!”
However, with the amalgamation of city and county education services, the provision of an adult recreational singing group, open to all comers, was deemed a very low priority. Enrolment was handled remotely at a location far from where the singing took place. Shunted back and forth between venues, the terms got shorter and fees rose higher. Promotion dropped to nil when the choir’s name disappeared from the annual brochure of adult evening classes. The conductor reluctantly decided to quit.
The hunt for a new conductor was on. Every stop was pulled out to find someone to take over the musical direction of the group and build it up from the sorry situation it was in. As the clock ticked towards midnight, Val Machell came forward to accept the post, with her husband, Dave.
Imagine a fallen climber, stranded on a rocky outcrop on Ben Nevis in the middle of winter. How glad would they be to see a helicopter? Their joy and relief would be as nothing to that felt by the choir when Val & Dave came to the rescue.
The choir had its back to the wall. Numbers were still low. Drastic action was called for and after much nail biting and scribbling on the back of envelopes, was taken. It would go independent. A committee was formed and got cracking. An approach to the school about hiring the hall was favourably received.
To the committee’s surprise, when the sums were done it proved possible to engage both Val and Dave, pay for the hire of the hall, increase the number of weeks in each term to twelve, and still charge members a lower fee than the Education Authority had been doing.
Val firmly believes that everyone can sing and that the experience of singing together should be enjoyable and full of laughter. For many, Val has made rehearsal night the highlight of the week. Dave is a virtuoso accompanist, arranger and assistant conductor.
Happy ending stories don’t get much better. News spread. Word-of-mouth publicity, free advertising by the school, the setting up of a web site and, undoubtedly, the great interest in choirs generated by TV coverage led to a rapid increase in numbers.
The members chose a new name for themselves – Soundswell – and there are now 98 on role, enjoying a wide range of music from pop to gospel, folk to show tunes and traditional melodies from all round the world.
The end of term concert on 22nd July, for friends and family of the singers, was attended by well over a hundred people and the “fuddle” that followed was one of the best. Who brought that chocolate cake with fresh raspberries on it? That was yum. And how many bottles of wine did we get through?
Soundswell is now an established fact of musical life in Nottingham. The choir is about to launch into its fifth year and new members of all abilities are welcome, especially if you think you can’t sing. Let us prove you wrong!