If you think you’ve visited some bleak settings for live music, writes Matt Pannell , you should see the bike sheds next to the student accommodation at Ipswich docks, with a dose of drizzle and a 40mph wind off the North Sea. It’s not a glamorous spot for singing but in the best traditions of social music, the Suffolk Soul singers, well-wrapped against the cold, have turned out for rehearsal, and to experience the warmth and communicative power of their choir director Andi Hopgood. As the community choir digs into Bill Withers’ Lovely Day with verve and commitment, it’s sweet, it’s powerful … and completely uplifting.
Speaking to me after the rehearsal, the leader, Andi Hopgood, laughs a lot. Tough as nails, she won’t give in to the weather. “This isn’t too bad,” she says, with a smile. “I also work with the Cambridge Jazz Festival Choir, and we’ve been rehearsing in a graveyard! I’m lucky – blessed – to work with so many people who love music. You can’t stop us!”
Facing down the triple threat of pandemic, lockdown and winter, she’s well-placed to see the importance of social music and has been running choir rehearsals online as well as outdoors.
“It’s important to keep these little communities going. Also, working and teaching online can be interesting, because you advertise on Facebook and get people turning up whom you’d never usually meet. I’m here in Ipswich, teaching people in Scotland. This is a tough time but somehow, as freelancers, we’ve always found a way. We’ll fight through!”
Andi’s latest plan to ensure that music can be shared and enjoyed this winter is an ambitious one. A 90-minute workshop, taking place online within this month’s Cambridge Jazz Festival and open to all, with no entry fee, will see her working alongside composer Pete Churchill, teaching his song You Need Hope to anyone who feels like joining. Participants will then record their individual singing parts using their phones, and send them in. The resulting virtual performance, which will bring the workshop participants together with the Cambridge Jazz Festival Choir, is to be premiered on the closing night of the festival.
Will it be possible to teach this song to range of abilities, online, in a single workshop?
“Yes, because I teach everything by ear. Whether it’s jazz, gospel, pop… it’s all from the aural tradition. There’s something about learning by ear. You really, truly learn the music. In 20 minutes, a choir can find itself up and running with new music. The workshop is going to be about words, rhythm, grooves – the aim is to get people moving! We’ll help people by sending them videos in advance, with their parts, and of course we’ll have sheet music for those who want it. The workshop will bring everyone together and give people the confidence to do their bit.”
What’s the aim of the project?
“I hope that people will have fun! I want them to enjoy it and not feel pressured. They can learn something new – it’s a great song with lyrics ‘for our times’ – and they’ll feel welcome. There’s no risk, no audition, and it’s groovy! Hopefully, people will feel better for taking part. People tell me this at the end of choir rehearsals. They say: ‘I feel better for that’ – even if we are in a graveyard.”
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Workshop and performance: Cambridge Jazz Festival Choir with Andi Hopgood, 3-4:30pm on 21 November. Advance registration (free) is required by 6pm on 20 November.
Categories: Feature/Interview (PP)