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My first year singing with Thames Philharmonic Choir

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

“My life flows on in endless song, above Earth’s lamentation…how can I keep from singing?” This old-time hymn that I had sung a lot as a child captures the importance of singing in my life, but in 2020 the Covid restrictions had indeed kept me from choral singing. By September last year I was feeling a sense of loss at not being able to sing in both my chamber and church choirs. Singing on my own to the screen in Zoom rehearsals was painful; my voice became thin and I lost the physical disciplines of support and breath control.

One positive aspect of the Covid restrictions, however, was the permitted exercise hour. Last September whilst out walking I met my singing friend, the much-missed Jean Brooker, outside her home on Putney Common when I shared my frustration with her. Jean empathised with my sense of loss and firmly recommended joining TPC. Jean told me with enthusiasm that the Choir had started rehearsing in person at St Margaret’s, our parish church, with a relatively new and highly regarded young MD. Making music with talented professionals in a local setting appealed to me, so I followed Jean’s advice, and applied to join.

My first impression was of a really well dressed choir! This was quickly followed by a recognition of how well organised the choir is, led by an inclusive and effective Chair, supported by a team of volunteers who are able to communicate information, provide music and collect subscriptions seemingly effortlessly. I know from experience in other choirs that this involves a large amount of work, and it is clear that the TPC administrative machine is really well set up which makes being a member enjoyable.

I thought I could hold my own in choirs from a lifetime’s experience with church, school, residential summer music schools, university and chamber choirs in Manchester, London, Chicago and Stockholm. However I was mortified by fluffing my vocal assessment. I sang with a thin post-lockdown voice; as a second soprano I could not sing confidently in the upper range and I failed to nail a tough aural test last completed by me 47 years ago in my piano Grade 8…. But, I passed the assessment and the friendly cheer at the announcement in the following rehearsal revealed the positive “esprit de corps” which the choir enjoys.

Rehearsing in St Margaret’s church is convenient for me –I live locally and St Margaret’s is my parish church where I sing in the choir. Within the parish, and following the lead of our Vicar, there is ambition and commitment to supporting musicians and extending the parish’s musical life. In this context it was wonderful to attend the TPC Scholars’ Recital in the church; the music was exciting and the visible and financial support from the choir was impressive. I hope that the connection between TPC and St Margaret’s continues to grow – to mutual benefit.

My TPC highlight so far was the Cathedral residency at Portsmouth. In the shockingly intimate Song School (we had just emerged from social distancing regulations), we rehearsed for hours every day, working on musical detail, technique, choral blend and overall performance. I was exhausted by the end of the four days, but also content and happy, reflecting on the happy feedback from the congregations, as this was the first weekend that there had been singing in the Cathedral since the lockdown. My singing voice had come back through use and from the expert coaching over the weekend. We also had fun, starting with a long and enjoyable supper at the harbour front. A weekend away singing with a smaller group helped me begin to develop friendships which I hope will continue to grow.

I look forward to rehearsals, which are very well attended and where smiles of recognition from singers follow pointed but gentle and practical feedback from Harry. James’ and Harry’s professionalism is inspiring, I’m learning new music, and I’m challenged as I have to concentrate to contribute at the level I want to. We were highly polished by the time of the concert in Kingston Parish Church, which was hugely enjoyable to sing, and also to listen to; my husband gave unusually positive feedback! Now it is time to sing carols, and get to grips with the Monteverdi for next term, and despite Omicron, the new Covid variant, I’m determined to keep singing!

Elizabeth Renshaw-Ames

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