Concert highs and post-concert lows or, the “auditory cheesecake” of Inspiration

 

Inspiration Choir SouthamptonIt’s now a week, or three for Newcastle, since we felt the music and rhythm, “wrap around, take a hold of (our) heart(s).” And “What a feelin’!” that was. Comments from singers on the choir website forum all agree on the ‘buzz’ we got from performing and being part of such a grand scale production.

The euphoria was tempered, perhaps more than usual, with relief that we managed to pull off what Gary admitted was “a very big sing” (I think there were actually 33 separate items!) and, “a huge feat of note and word learning.” For Southampton the learning curve had added steepness in that we had sung fewer of the pieces before.

Pete’s notes after our last rehearsal had final-week-tweaks for nearly all the numbers and ‘words’ featured in at least half. The effort put in by so many to get from there to the applause and plaudits of concert day was rightly acknowledged by both Gary, “I will never take for granted the amount of work that you all put in between rehearsals; it is what lifts us above the rest,” and Pete, “It’s the choir who put so much work in and so reap these fabulous rewards!” Gary, Pete and Teresa’s hugely significant parts in training and urging us on to reach the heights of concert day were also noted in after-show comments; the magic does not just happen.

So how does it happen? We know many listen to the learning tracks in the car or in the bath/shower. But Southampton singers told me earphones are in while walking the dog, turning the compost heap or watching Match of the Day (on mute)! One Southampton soprano even tuned in during an acupuncture treatment!

And when the “thrills and laughter” of the concert are over, what then? Some say, “I wish we could do it again,” others ask for earworm cures or wonder when the MP3s for the next concert will be available. So, could it be we’re addicted to the music? Numerous studies would suggest that this is so.

Researchers have found that there are biochemical mechanisms that underlie music addiction. When most individuals really like a song, they experience chills and a ‘high’ of sorts, which may give them a lot of energy and a pleasurable feeling. This sensation is enhanced further when the music-making is shared, as in a large-scale choir.

But, in addition to the chills, listening to music you like also triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in underlying positive reactions caused by food, drugs and other pleasurable activities.

Professor Henkjan Honing, from the University of Amsterdam, has written about the euphoric effect an experience of music we all share can have: “The pleasure we derive from it, not only from the acrobatics of making it but also from the act of listening to it.”
I certainly had dopamine highs while singing last Saturday night but also, equally strongly, while listening to some of the stunning BSO interludes. For example, the solo flute and cor anglais in Sayuri’s Theme were shiveringly beautiful and then Teresa’s oriental style keyboard accompaniment simply added to the delight.

Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker was probably right when he wrote: “I suspect music is auditory cheesecake, an exquisite confection crafted to tickle the sensitive spots of…our mental faculties.” Now the ecstasy of the concert is over, are we craving more of the choral cheesecake or wondering how we can, or if we even want to, resist the urge to indulge once more!

It’s true we only have so much time to pander to our passions and I know of Southampton singers who are taking the summer off singing to play cricket or bowls or even, like retiring politicians, to “spend more time with their families”! But for those who are already easing their withdrawal symptoms (and persistent earworms) by downloading and plugging into the next batch of MP3s you’re probably subscribing to the “Don’t stop me now, ’cause I’m having a good time” approach to singing with Inspiration and no doubt there will be plenty more signing up to “Let the sunshine in” next term.

Alan Matlock, April 2017

Would you credit it?

Another amazing Inspiration year over and, after “the glorious season” of the Christmas concerts, a new one is beckoning with 29 (thanks Gary!) “Sensational Stage and Screen Spectacular” songs waiting in the wings.

But before we start our spring Showboating, rewind with me, past the New Year and “Christmas joys all around me” and “Somewhere In My Memory” I can see the “precious moments, special people, happy faces” of concert day…

inspiration-choir

As ever, our time on stage sped by faster than a Rudolph-guided sleigh but listening to the mesmerising carol medley of the BSO’s harpist, Eluned Pierce, I had a passing thought for all those un-credited contributors to our performances. Of course the programmes list the key leaders, players, soloists, and all the singers of the Inspiration team. Backroom boys, and girls, get a mention too but outside the immediate, God Bless Us Every One box I was thinking how many other factors go together to make a concert happen.

What about the tattooed roadies who set up the stage, the sound and lighting guys who tweak their sliders and faders, the truckers who drive the BSO pantechnicon and the staff at the O2 Guildhall? Or Anthony’s shimmering red, tinsel backdrop curtain? All play their part. Then, for every singer on stage there are as many stories of individual inspiration which led to us being there at all – personal contacts, newspaper ads, reports, Facebook messages or harmonious serendipity which Let The Song Begin for each one. In addition, we all have a musical heritage of parents, teachers, friends who have been instrumental in our vocal voyages.

How about the singers who make those o-so-helpful rehearsal recordings (there’s a great interview with one, Sharon Durant, on the website). How many times have those tracks been played in cars, at home, on training runs, in the gym or in the shower? And who transcribes all the lyrics for the website downloads? Where would we be without posters, flyers or the concert day programme? Then there’s the website: Penny keeps it all beautifully updated but did you know there are currently 27 photo contributors listed?

Week by week in Southampton we enjoy our half time rehearsal refreshments so thanks go to Marie for teas, coffees and tracking down 120 reindeer antler headbands!

One final thank you: others pay homage to Potters Pastilles or swear by Strepsils but I would personally like to acknowledge the debt I have to Fleetwood pharmacist James Lofthouse whose company now produce over 5 billion lozenges a year. When it seems the voice is on its way out, his Fisherman’s Friends somehow soothe my sore throat and rescue my scratchy vocal chords for another “magical, lyrical, annual miracle”!

Alan Matlock 2nd January 2017, Inspiration Choir Southampton member

Achieving great results and having fun in Southampton

Achieving great results and having fun in Southampton

The advert in our local paper said, “Would you like to sing in a concert with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra? No experience required. Come to a free singing day southampton-1 southampton-2 southampton-3at the city’s O2 Guildhall Southampton.” I showed Mandy, my wife, and we decided to give it a go. Good decision!

The day itself was socks-knocked-off superb. Over 200 members of the two choirs ‘up North’ travelled down to show what could be done and a select band of BSO players gave a foretaste of the sound we could make together. As they came back down from the Guildhall stage I heard one choir member say to another,         “The last time we sang that was when we had a standing ovation in the Carnegie Hall.”

So, we signed up. Admittedly it helps to have the rehearsal venue, Richard Taunton’s College, just round the corner. But we were not alone: over 80 others from all over the area did the same and for the next ten weeks we got to know each other, and our parts, really well. The thought of performing all 14 songs from memory was initially daunting or even beyond belief but with the ever-patient Pete (Harrison), our lofty leader and Teresa (the one-woman ‘Barlow Symphony Orchestra’), his keyboard accomplice, coaching us through the many ‘corners’ as well as the not-quite-so-dire straits, we made it.

Help was there too in the pack of music for all the songs along with a CD with our own parts as well as the full mix of all voices and MP3 tracks downloadable from the Inspiration website. Every car journey of more than the length of the Hallelujah Chorus was accompanied by a blast from the repertoire and by the time we hit the weekend of the concert we were (almost) ready.

On the morning of the concert when we rehearsed for the first time with our BSO partners the Inspiration experience moved up another level; not just in volume but in jaw-dropping, nerve-tingling amazement at the beauty and power of the sound they produce as well as the sheer professionalism of the musicians we were performing alongside.

The audience was clearly impressed and the applause, standing ovations and post-concert plaudits all contributed to a great sense of achievement and pride for all of us in the choir. As Pete said, “Everyone has worked so hard and really joined in with the spirit of Inspiration – achieving great results and having fun.”

We will be back for the next Inspiration season in September and look forward to meeting up with all our friends from the first term as well as new recruits. So, if you would like to be part of this too visit the Southampton recruitment page or come along to our first rehearsal on Wednesday, 23rd September. It will be a taster session with Pete and Teresa taking us back over some of our concert highlights as well as introducing us to some of the songs for our Christmas concert. Can’t wait!

See you there!
Alan Matlock, Inspiration Southampton Bass