Friday, December 20, 2013

Mamma Mia, or what happens when you run out of tenors ...

You have to laugh. All these years of singing - it's a good 50 years since I last sang in the Hillhead High School madrigal group, at the time the acme of my singing career - singing said madrigals, to say nothing of masses, introits and anthems, hymns, funeral sentences ... I won't go on. You get the picture. When I was in my early 20s my ambition was to sound like Alfred Deller, and I got pretty close, even if in the doing of it I sang sharp because I wasn't using my whole voice; when I sat Higher Music in S6 I was made to sing soprano and cope with Gretchen am Spinnrade, inter alia. Since then I have been a sort of alto in various ensembles, from the St Maura Singers (a quartet, still singing together) through the New Consort of Voices (a group formed in Glasgow University, in which I met Mr B and in which we both sang till we left Glasgow for the wild west) to the Hesperians. This last was a four-part choir that we formed within six months of our arrival in Dunoon - we put the word out in the school and contacts formed quite literally on the street, and one September evening we hired a room in the school and waited. Within 30 minutes we had sufficient voices to cover the parts, and six months later performed Vivaldi's Gloria in public.

Eventually we ran out of tenors. The Americans left Dunoon, and some of our men with them. Age took its toll on others. We disbanded the choir and concentrated on church music. And then, years later, we retired - and behold: the women who had been young newcomers in the last years of the Hesperians wanted to sing again, and 8+1 was formed. Eight women, one man. Now there are ten of us, and the name is merely that and no longer a description.

And all this history is to tell you why you have to laugh. Because 8+1 can and does tackle the kind of music which has been my life all these years - but that's not all we do. And it's because we do other stuff that two weeks ago we sang a set of songs from ABBA's Mamma Mia, with a backing track, at a Christmas Party in Benmore Gardens Gallery, and are still the talk of the steamie. (These days, the steamie is the supermarket, where yesterday I met the organiser of the event: "best ever", she said.) It was completely OTT, that performance, because the backing track (yes, we have a backing track) got stuck on "High" and Mr B couldn't get it down before the one-page intro finished with the result that this choir of women, only one of whom is under 40, had to belt out the songs as if we were in the movie. We had not a microphone among us, but we made a helluva sound and we loved every moment of it.

Worse is to follow. I had never been a fan of ABBA (too old) and I hate musicals. I had to learn these blooming songs from the sheet music while everyone else was singing them from past knowledge - and "Waterloo" on the page ain't easy, rhythmically speaking. But now I've got them - and I'm stuck with them. For the past month I find myself singing snatches of Abba as I walk round the shops or hike up a glen. I fill silences with sudden bursts of song. I am handed a copy of Carols for Choirs and sing "Thank you for the music". No wonder ABBA were/are so popular. I shall never be the same again.

Now - where's that copy of "A spotless rose..."?


  1. Oh, those catchy Abba songs. I watched a documentary about them recently and can't get some of the songs out of my head now. I sympathise....

  2. We were so sorry to miss Benmore's 'best ever'! We were at another (choral) event in Glasgow...