It was on a wet and windy Saturday night, in October, in a little seaside town on the North Wales coast. The venue, whose size is out of proportion to its host, is international in its scope and contains a theatre that was packed to the gunnels, on all levels; and at £30 a ticket this is some achievement. What happened next was unexpected and quite extraordinary.
A group of amateur singers came together there, because they had been invited to be the guests of a large collective of women, who, like the men, happen to sing for love, not money. This is a routine invitation that happens every year to the chorus of men, who have won the gold medal at their own annual convention. They neither opened the show nor closed it as the ‘headline’ act, but rather perform somewhere discreetly in the middle of the show. Somehow their performance turned into something quite different, something that few of us had experienced before, even those who had been on the stage with this chorus times many over the years in the winning of an amazing eight chorus gold medals in the forty years since they first came together in 1978.
We stood in silence, watching our Musical Director mouthing and miming instructions to us, to be alert and ready to perform, listening through the back of the stage curtains to a quartet singing their songs with huge hearts. Then, following applause for the quartet, we were announced, reigning UK Champion men’s chorus, Hallmark of Harmony!
But, as the curtains opened, I had a personal moment of time travel. It is always the case that every time we do a show, those ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty or forty minutes on stage seem to fly so quickly that it is easy to forget how it felt, whether I got all my parts right, how I sung, whether I performed as I should. In that moment, I thought we had finished and the audience, which filled the theatre, were applauding, cheering and standing to thank us. After that brief moment, it quickly became apparent that we hadn’t yet sung a note! We were being charged with energy from a very appreciative crowd, who, it seems, were either offering us the warmest of welcomes, or simply expecting great things …
I imagine what it must be like for a successful sports team, at the top of their game – with a large following of tens of thousands of fans – whose game is lifted by the energy of that crowd, its energy, its enthusiasm, its support. Well, ours was lifted that Saturday night. We were given wings … and I think we delivered on the promise.
It took only four songs, with their well thought out links in between, telling stories of fun, joy, the value to the spirit of singing and gratitude for what we had achieved; for what the Sheffield Barbershop Harmony Club had done for Barbershop, for singing in the UK. Yes Sheffield. Once, in close living memory, the City of Steel; now, a city of music and of culture. A city where one of the four UK Assay Offices was created nearly two hundred and fifty years ago, to enable the accurate hallmarking of those highly valued objects made of silver and gold. Now a greater value is placed, maybe not by the establishment but, by so many extraordinary people, on creative endeavour.
So how do we value the art of harmony singing? How can we put a stamp on it? How do we hallmark it? In short, we cannot. In countless testimonies, the health and well-being of those who take up singing in groups, particularly in harmony singing, receives unquantifiable reward, not often with silver and gold medals, but every day, by raising the status of the human spirit. At a time when we are faced with burgeoning evidence of corrupt political establishment, self interest and selfish greed … for ‘things’, for stuff that provides, at best, only short term value and salve to damaged spirits. You cannot put a price on it; on making music and art with friends. This is my idea of success in life.
[ The above recording is not from Hallmark’s most recent time in Llandudno, but much earlier in the year, when we and the Cheshire Chord Company were separately invited to perform at Holland Harmony in the Netherlands. The song is “Without a Song”, for which the two choruses only had one rehearsal together. It was arranged by Hallmark’s own Sam Hubbard, and, as the lyrics will tell you, it has very special meaning for us. At the Venue Cymru in Llandudno, we did perform it again in the bar, where we managed to squeeze in a rather large gathering of singers from Hallmark of Harmony, along with two of the UK’s top ladies choruses, the Cheshire Chords and the White Rosettes to reprise it to resounding effect, along with some tears … tears that recognise the fragility of the human condition, the frailty of the human spirit, but above all this, how full of joy the human heart can be. ]
JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British writer, poet and musician – a multi-talented gentleman self-described as a “Family man, Grandfather, Occasional Musician, Singer, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer”. He has participated in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union as well as a being a ‘spoken-voice’ participant in Roger Allen Baut’s excellent ‘Blue Sky Highway‘ radio broadcasts. He’s been blogging since the beginning of 2011. He is also a member of The Poetry Society (UK).
Recent publications are anthologies resulting from online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group (Petrichor* Rising. The other group is d’Verse Poet Pub, in which John’s poetry also appears The d’Verse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.
* Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.