After watching a few minutes of video from my first ‘gig’ with Vauxhall Voices in the Fentiman Arms last summer, an old friend remarked ‘It’s almost like someone deliberately set out to make a choir representing a wide range of tall, short, big, small, old and young people from a mix of nationalities.’ *First published 07/12/2016
I told him Lambeth is just that kind of place, and Vauxhall Voices that kind of choir.
Following a failed first attempt to regularly attend practice at the start of the year, I made it back for another go in spring and have barely missed one since, with two hours singing to the heart’s content every Monday evening a great way to face into the week.
Hooked, I signed up to perform with 600 others at ‘Sing for Water’ outside the Mayor’s office in September, helping to raise money for wells in Africa and filling the Vauxhall Voices-less late summer with more practice.
I’ve always sung, from being a willing-yet-somehow-put-upon boy soprano to playing rhythm guitar and fronting a rock band in my early twenties, admittedly after all other lead singer options had been exhausted.
Neither experience prepared me for the challenge of singing bass in a choir, and it is a challenge – particularly at the start of term when learning one of four different parts to each song, all taught by our fantastic choir leader Janna Goodwille at a pretty ferocious speed.
Thankfully, everybody’s in the same boat and eager to help, with the regular members – most of them locals or ex-locals who always make up at least half the group – a conscientious bunch keen to sing with as many people as possible.
I started mixing in singing tenor at the start of this term and really enjoy the new challenge, though my voice gets so weak and thin after an hour or more of reaching for high notes, I end up longing for the next low one.
Vauxhall Voices is a secular choir, yet there’s just no escaping the odd hallelujah (nobody writes songs about Nietzsche…), and Janna is part of the NVPN Natural Voice Network, whose ‘mission statement’ holds that singing is everyone’s birthright regardless of musical experience or ability.
The group is as diverse as the area and we have performed in the Fentiman and Bonnington Square Gardens – a tiny ‘secret’ park locals pack out in the summer – since I joined, with Vauxhall Park and Wheatsheaf Hall among previous venues.
Vauxhall Voices is hosting its annual ‘Spirit and Sparkle’ Xmas concert with Brockley Voices and the incredible GMT Brass Ensemble at Wheatsheaf Hall off the South Lambeth Road on Sunday, December 18th from 4-6pm (Doors @ 3.30).
We’ll be singing the Xmas Blues, as well as Gospel, Taize, Fijian, Xhosa and even some Blur – all in aid of the #RefugeesWelcome campaign, run by Citizens UK.