Approval from the House of Commons

Rt Hon Justine Greening MP
Putney, Roehampton & Southfields

House of Commons
London
SW1A 0AA

Dear Phoene

Thank you for your email about Alton Sings. It was great to meet you the other week and see the first choir practise in full flow – fantastic.

I think Alton Sings is a really positive community project for Roehampton and I hope lots of local residents get involved. Please do let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

Best wishes

Rt Hon Justine Greening MP

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Songs for all?

Week 2 – good to know that numbers are the same as week 1 – we started with 18 and had 24 by the end. That number 24 I seem to remember was also what we had when we sang outside the library!

There is a boxercise class in the room next to us – there is only a dividing wall between us so the noise leaks through – thankfully they did turn it down when I went and asked while we were doing our warm ups and they finish long before us.

So, diversity is a wonderful thing – diversity when it comes to choosing songs that everyone feels comfortable and confident singing can be a challenge. I always try and choose a variety of songs in english, from old well known songs (Drunken Sailor) or modern pop songs (Only You) mixed with a variety of call and response songs in different languages, from different African dialects (Senua de Dende), Asian, European as well as nonsense songs such as (Kumula Vista).

The group were SO confident last week in their singing I wanted to see how well they could cope with three parts – we tried (Yonana) and it worked well with the melody in the middle voices and simple harmonies of two or three pitches in the high and low voices. We moved onto (Only You) – there were two children there tonight who helped me think of some actions to help everyone remember the words (although I did have them written up). It was challenging when the bass and middle parts entered as I had forgotten how SYNCOPATED they are. All very well to have not too many pitches but if there are lots of rest and dotted notes which cross and criss cross again with the other parts it can be a real challenge and it was. The chorus though sounded great in 3 parallel parts. Interesting how for some groups parallel harmony is more challenging than three separate lines, and of course it changes from every hour to every day.

SO much assessment going on from all of us – watching to each other, to me, listening to ourselves, to neighbours, to the group as a whole, finding our feet. Complex and fascinating stuff.

The room is good because of where it is situated geographically – the windows are good and wide and view reminds us firmly where we are – the air conditioning is challenging and I hadn’t noticed it when I booked it, we must hope we don’t get too many more hot nights.

Everyone is already supporting one another, getting chairs out, chatting with neighbours, tidying up afterwards.

It is going to feel a little strange to only have four more sessions and then start a new group in a new setting, but I must remember that this is a pilot to find out what is wanted and how we make that work, in terms of song choices, venues, times of day etc

Two people tonight told me as they were leaving that they usually sing (respectively) Dean Martin songs or Country and Western. Another lady requested we sing the theme from Titanic and another the Lion sleeps tonight or the Andrews Sisters – SO much varied choice which raise so many questions – Andrews Sisters in close harmony would challenge the best of us, I have not been brave enough to try ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ with another choir I run at Nordoff Robbins Music therapy centre, and they have been going for 16 months. ‘My heart will go on’ is fine as a solo song but SO hard to sing en masse. Dean Martin and Country and Western? Hmmm how about – “Memories are made of this” with the second line “sweet sweet the memories you gave to me, you can’t beat the memories you gave me” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NS2k43NJyc or you HAVE to watch Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette singing “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” JUST to see the frocks!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1wLOkXMTOw

Also two people are hearing impaired and although I have worked a lot with participants with visual impairment and so have to use my voice rather than my hands, I must remember that I need to face everyone as much as possible so all can see and hear. Then there were two children there too who needed to remain engaged so they don’t give mum a hard time when she wants to come next week!

Ah differentiation – so so so important

I have to remember I am gathering gathering gathering and making sure I try to introduce different ways of teaching and learning over the weeks, both with instrumentation, lyric sheets, notation, call and response (or not) etc

This summer project is to find out what is needed and what works and what is possible in terms of songs for all or whether needs are SO diverse that recommendations are made for different groups with different singing leaders to meet those needs

No answers yet but fascinating and rewarding watching, listening , learning and collating all the questions that are coming up …….

Hope we get a chance to sing at the Roehampton festival in August and bring the two groups together

We’re off!

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I am delighted to report that 24 people attended the first session of the Alton Sings Roehampton Community Choir project. This was how they heard about it:

Meeting me 6 people
SW15 website 4 people
Word of mouth 4 people
Leaflet 3 people
Supporting a friend or partner 3 people
Seeing the Saturday
session outside library 2 people
Referred by physio 1 person
Referred by social worker 1 person

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There was a good representation geographically across the local area with nearly everyone being within walking distance of the venue at the ‘library end’ of Danebury Avenue. There were residents there from the Alton, Danebury, Ashburton and Dover House estates as well Clarence Lane and as a resident from the new build opposite 166 Roehampton Lane. We also had 3 come from the Kairos centre.

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As to be expected there were a lot more women than men (we had 4 men, all with good strong voices) and the majority of people were over 40 but with a good broad demographic from teenagers to those in their 80’s. There were people who knew one another but many complete strangers.

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Some of the reasons for attending included:

“I am new to the area and would like to meet other people from the community – it would be so great to see a face in the street that I know and can say ‘hello’ to”

“I have wanted to join a choir all my life”

“I want to be part of the best choir in the world” (no pressure …….)

“I want to be part of the community and get to know more people”

“I came because I know singing can help improve my poor breathing, due to lung disease”

“I wanted to come because I don’t think I can sing”

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There was a strong feeling of gentle warmth and good will in the room. It is rare to find a group of strangers so willing to talk to their neighbours and share stories at a first session. It felt like this was the start of something really very important and over the weeks this group will develop into what they want to be and represent and will contribute strongly as to where we head after the pilot.

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We sang “Drunken Sailor”, “Cockles and Mussels”, “Yonana”, “Kumula Vista”, and “Senua de Dende”

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The voices were strong and confident and were able to sing together in unison, in rounds and in three parts. Also everyone moved very quickly into three voice parts (low, middle and high) once I demonstrated which areas of the voice that may be.

AS first session 2

I chose this first week to work without lyric sheets (all call and response) and without instruments and am likely to repeat this next week so that people learn to really embed the learning in an embodied way – I have found that lyric sheets and pianos tend to detach participants from themselves and one another. There is something deeply simple and powerful about a cappella group singing

To my delight, the partner of one participant is a cahon player and she has said she will ask him to join us.

This feels like a gentle and steady beginning and I hope very much it will build from this.

The setting is OK, it is good and central with good bright windows – the air conditioning not great for singing voices and the loo’s are two floors down but thankfully there is a lift and it is clearly the first time the Sport and Fitness Centre has played host to such an activity and it feels a safe and bright space for people to attend in the evenings and the staff were relaxed and supportive.

Delighted, especially as comments afterwards included:

“It helped with my confidence – I really enjoyed it”

“GREAT time – thanks so much”

“A FANTASTIC first session, I feel so good – a great start”

“A really good evening, I loved it”

“The best community project that has ever been in Roehampton”

“Thank you for a wonderful evening, full of music & song, fun & friendship”

“A great opportunity to ‘meet the neighbours’ and do things together”

“A very good opportunity to both meet different people in the community and learn together”

“I thought I couldn’t sing ……. but maybe I can”

Alton really does sing – look see ……

I finished off the paperwork this week (monitoring & evaluation forms), which will be of vital importance in capturing data, not just about numbers but most importantly, comments and feedback from the 12 week pilot sessions in order for me to write a cohesive report to see if Roehampton wants their community choir and if so, how we can take it forward.

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We started with 8 singers today, turning up to sing in the street for an audio advertisement! I am delighted to report however, that numbers swelled, just as I had hoped, as the street singing and workshop continued and by the end we had over 20 people singing together.

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There were children dancing in the street (well at least one!), a few toots from cars, a small gathering of curious folk outside the bakers and coming to the window and balconies of flats as well as top windows of buses. A few guys who usually settle down on the steps near the library for a nice quiet drink, settled themselves as if for a concert, had a lovely time joining in with the singing and finished each song with a round of applause! People singing with us called out to friends across the street to join us, and a couple did. Christine did an amazing job with the flyers stopping people as they went past.

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Bizarrely, both the leader of Wandsworth Council AND the local MP walked past us singing at one point and both will be getting an email from me over the next few weeks telling them all about what we were up to and why and how potentially positive a project this is.

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Enjoy the selection of pictures – I will put a short video up as soon as I can as the sound everyone made was very impressive

We sang LOTS of songs (too many – I always get overexcited at these things) including Swing low, When the Saints, The Bare Necessities, Tipperary, Pack up your troubles, Summertime, Senua de Dende, Great Day, Olay Loy Loyla, Kumula Vista, John Kanaka, All will be well, Coming round the mountain and the Lion Sleeps tonight! Everyone will sleep well tonight that’s for sure and no, no lyric sheets and no accompaniment, just good old fashioned call and response a cappella!

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Seeing everyone gathered at Cafe Joy afterwards chatting and smiling and making new friends was an absolute delight – a disparate group of people, the majority of whom had arrived alone, were talking away with an entirely new bunch of potential friends having shared something special and unusual. Lots of hugs and waves as people headed off, promising to be back for more.

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Wednesday June 5th is the start of the 6 week “evening sessions” – quite frankly I wonder if we should run them in the summer on Saturday mornings outside every week! I didn’t even hear the traffic!

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