A weekend of contrasts

So, this weekend was a pretty full one and a schizophrenic one at that, with adrenaline-pumped highs fuelled both by petrol and music, and one goodbye.

I spent quite a lot of it stretching my vocal chords: singing in a backing choir (made up of a bunch of us from KLFC) for boyband Blake, and rehearsing and performing with upper voices choir Coro Stellante.

The Blake gig was fun – it was sort of a scratch choir, so we rehearsed on our own for an hour or so in the afternoon, before meeting the group for soundchecks and to figure out the logistics of getting the choir on and off stage at the appropriate moments. “Our” numbers came towards the end of each half of the concert; Hallelujah and Nessun Dorma in the first half, and Up Where We Belong and Jerusalem to round things off. As there were a few seats left, we were able to sit at the back of the auditorium and watch the rest of the show. I have to say, although it’s probably not the sort of gig I’d have come to of my own accord, I really did enjoy the concert and was impressed by the guys’ performance throughout. My favourite numbers were those which let their voices (rather than the backing track) take prominence. I’m a sucker for close harmonies, and it’s great to hear (in the age of sodding Autotune and most X Factor wannabees and even signed artists unable to maintain pitch) singing that is really, truly good. These guys are the real deal.

I’d actually done the same thing a couple of years previously, the last time the group came to King’s Lynn. That time, it had been their MD’s birthday, and we’d sung him Happy Birthday on stage – I mentioned this to him on Friday, and he seemed surprised and chuffed that I’d remembered! A nice guy – as were the group themselves.

Coro Stellante has been going for a few years, and is probably best described as a group of “elite amateurs”. Everyone in it is more or less there by invitation – and still has to pass an audition – and most are already known to MD Michael Kibblewhite from one of the choirs he used to direct before he moved to Italy. MK is something of a perfectionist, and pretty merciless when it comes to phrasing, pitch, ensemble singing and musicality. Everyone has to bring it – which is great, as it really makes you raise your game. Rehearsals are infrequent but intensive and can be pretty exhausting, but the resulting concerts are somewhat magical. On Sunday we sang to an appreciative audience at Fakenham Parish Church, which is notable not only for a nice acoustic, but for being perhaps the only warm church, ever!

I normally sing Alto II, but have been taking the Alto I or middle Treble lines with Coro, and it’s been nice singing in a different part of my range and practicing smoothing over the break (around A/B). Singing in a smaller group is also a different challenge to a larger chorus; everyone is proportionally more responsible for the overall sound, so attention to pitch and blending with other voices is paramount. And the repertoire is different – we aren’t tackling large works, but rather madrigals, partsongs, romances and smaller pieces. It makes for more variety in any given concert, having to take on German Romantics one minute and some contemporary loveliness by Morten Lauridsen the next. And, as a smaller group, there’s a greater intimacy with the audience, so stagecraft and acting plays a greater part in the performance.

After the concert on Sunday, a lady came up to me. We’d chatted in the interval, and she’d said how much she’d enjoyed the first half. I’d thanked her, said how much the nice acoustic of the church helped and told her I hoped she’d enjoy the rest of the concert. Now, she simply took my hand and said “a good acoustic can only give out what’s put in, and that was wonderful”. I nearly burst into tears. That would have been embarrassing! But how lovely to get such great feedback.

I may have been a bit vulnerable that day, as earlier that morning I’d waved good by to my housemate, who’d finally found her dream job in Scotland. I couldn’t be more pleased for her, but am a bit gutted to see her go as she was a great housemate and had become a friend, too. It’s always a relief to get on with anyone you live with, but to find someone who is easygoing and has a similar outlook and sense of humour is a massive bonus. For her last night in town, we went to the Banger racing with some other friends, since she and I had been once before and really enjoyed it. It was a great evening – pure adrenaline and lots of thrills. We stood on the bend, to try and catch as many of the crashes as possible! The tradeoff is that quite a lot of shale/bits of car/burnt rubber gets chucked over the side and through the guard fence by the cars as they powerslide round the bend. That seemed to settle down a bit after the first few races, though; probably the biggest bits had gone so anything else thrown up was mostly dust, although there was a tractor with a sprinkler “watering” the track between races to keep it damp and trap the dirt as much as possible.

I can’t describe the sense of excitement we all felt. But suffice to say I spent the evening with a stupid grin plastered to my face. It’s not the most environmentally sound sport, but fuck it – I can’t afford a foreign holiday, so my carbon karma is in the black right now. I tried out the “night mode” on the Note, and it was pretty cool – the spotlights flared a bit, but in context it just adds to the movement and drama of the picture!

And they’re off! The sun sets on the start of one of the stock car races.
Go, go, go…

As well as the bangers (which took part in a variety of race classes, with names such as “Unlimited Allcomers Non Mondeo” and “King of the Fens”), there were a couple of stock car races. I think these pictures were from one of the those, all though it’s hard to tell from the photos. To be honest, it was hard to tell then and there; however, in the main the stock cars were a bit tidier and less bashed about, and most had some sort of crash cage – they also seemed to be the same model, although the only descriptor was “1300” (cc).

The bangers were more fun, though. Everyone was there to see the crashes, and there were some cracking ones.

The clear up operation in progress…

This was the result of a pile up during the “King of the Fens” race, and it happened right in front of us. No-one was hurt, although we were a little concerned for the guy in the middle of the scrum, whose car had almost folded in half due to being bashed from front and rear. It must be pretty scary being stuck in the centre of a big pile up and not being able to do anything but wait for the race to finish, in the full knowledge that someone else could come and spam into the group at any point.

That said, I was really impressed at how few collisions there were, given the speed of the race, the frequent obstacles of cars and bits of cars on the track, and the crapness of the cars themselves which undoubtedly made them difficult to manoeuvre. Those drivers were fantastic – I’d love to be able to handle a car like that. It made me keen to try some rally driving or have a go on a skidpan.

After a few hours, we all got hungry and cold and left a bit early to go to KFC for some greasy goodness. It was a fitting end to an evening which had felt like a sort of family outing, all of us regressing a little to childhood; hyper, rosy-cheeked and craving junk food – which we ate on our laps in front of the TV, before going home to a warm bath and early bed. Happy times.

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