I’ve always enjoyed singing and I’ve been told I’m quite good at it – although I’m not sure how anyone could know that because I make it a habit to only sing when I’m pretty sure nobody can hear me. This means at gigs, in the shower, in my car, I have no problem belting out a tune, but the second I think someone’s listening I get embarrassed and stop. If there’s alcohol involved you might get a few lines out of me before I realise what’s happening, but that’s the best I can offer. In fact my mum used to say that the only way I could make a career out of singing was if I could perform from inside a shower cubicle. I’m sure Lady Gaga’s probably done that at some point, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily what I’d want to do long term.
It was for this reason that I decided, when I started university, to join a choir – so I could sing, but without anyone hearing me. Unfortunately the ‘official’ university choir required auditions and there was no way that was happening, so I ended up, by default, joining the other choir on campus, the Revival Gospel Choir. It turned out to be one of the best things I did during my time at uni. Gospel singing is so much fun, and although obviously it has its roots in Christianity, I personally think anyone can enjoy gospel as a celebration of faith, strength and friendship – whether you believe that comes from God or some other source. Certainly the choir I belonged to was open to everyone and didn’t only allow Christians to join. Many of the songs we sang didn’t even mention God or religion; they were about supporting each other, making the most of life and putting aside sadness and worries, even if only for a short time.
Since leaving university, I haven’t done any more gospel singing but I still have good memories of my time in the choir. Like when we made a CD of some of our most popular songs, and had to keep stopping because nobody could remember the soprano part for Lean on Me. Or when we did a concert in a hall on campus where the stage was just fractionally too small for us all, and the back row ended up falling off the stage and nearly taking the curtain behind it with us. And let’s not forget the time we sang at the Albert Hall. That’s the Albert Hall, Nottingham, not the Royal Albert Hall, London, but there’s very little difference, really. Ahem.
On Tuesday, my friend Sandie invited me to go with her to a concert by the Soweto Gospel Choir, who were absolutely amazing. Although it was obviously quite carefully choreographed, the concert had the feeling of an impromptu singalong by a group of fantastically talented singers who were performing just for the joy of it, mostly singing a cappella, with occasional accompaniment by drums or a piano. They took it in turns to sing solos, including one guy with the most amazing bass voice I’ve ever heard (he got a spontaneous round of applause after just one note).
It was basically 90 minutes of pure, unadulterated happiness; even though many of the songs weren’t in English, it didn’t matter because the choir were clearly having a ball and as a result, so did we. By the end of the evening we were all on our feet, dancing, clapping, and singing along to Oh, Happy Day, and everyone in the audience left with a smile on their face (well, except the lady next to me who, for some inexplicable reason, decided to go to the loo during the closing song).
It wasn’t all happy clappy; there were some incredibly moving moments. The one that stands out for me is the choir’s rendition of Sarah McLachlan’s Angel. The entire audience were spellbound, and half of us were in tears. Even a few members of the choir looked like they were struggling to keep their composure. It may not be known as a gospel song, but for me, it was one of the most powerful performances of the evening.
The Soweto Gospel Choir are touring the UK at the moment. If you get a chance to go to a concert, I can’t recommend them enough. Not only did it bring back some great memories from my uni days, it also reminded me why I love singing. Even if nobody can hear me.