This week, it seems that horses have taken over. Certainly in Cheltenham at any rate. It is of course The Cheltenham Festival. From Tuesday 15 March through to Friday 18 March 2022, the best horses, trainers and jockeys go head to head in 14 Grade One races across four seven-racecards.
I say this as if I am some sort of equestrian expert. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. My basic knowledge of horses is that one should expect a leg in each corner and a tail at one end. Despite this I have had a bit of flutter and Anne-Marie has invested small sums of money (usually unwisely) in a variety of poppo’s based largely on whether or not their name is amusing. For example, today we picked a horse named Jam Man in reference to our Wedding Business, JAM Duo.
This seemed like a marvellous idea and, despite not being mentioned by any tipster in the history of time, we nevertheless went ahead with a bet of a few pence. Predictably, Jam Man turned out not to be the best of the bunch. But on the plus side didn’t come last. Some might say that 15 out of 16 isn’t bad.
All of which brings me on to the question of expectation. Placing a bet on a horse I knew absolutely nothing about, based entirely on a tentative link with its name, is clearly never going to be a serious proposition for making money in the world of horse racing. But that’s ok, because we are embarking on a few days of equine gambling with a very small budget. Quite frankly, if we have any of the initial investment left by Friday, that will be good enough for me. Without wishing to jinx things, currently as things stand, I’m told we have doubled our money. However, there are still more horses to run tomorrow – or indeed crash…..
In the world of amateur music making, expectation is a key factor both for the ‘musicians’ and their audiences. I’ve been running a number of amateur and community choirs for a few years now and it’s something that I enjoy doing. But I am under no illusions. Whilst I might approach rehearsals in a similar vein to the way in which I would rehearse a professional choir, my choirs are not this. Most are non-auditioned and the people in them are there purely for the pleasure of singing together and having fun. And on the face of it, that’s great. I love to see people who enjoy singing in choirs, and I relish the challenge of improving the sound of a group to something they can, and indeed should, be proud of.
The issue comes when these choirs want to put on a concert or event. This is where we return to the question of expectation. I expect all my choirs to learn the music and perform in concert from memory. This always enhances the performance and, if nothing else, means they are at least ‘performing to’ the audience rather than standing there, reading from a black folder. In fact, for me, there is nothing worse than a community choir all stood up with their folders held in front of their faces, staring down as they attempt to sing.
The concern here, is that clearly any group which finds this acceptable, ascribes no value to their paying audience. If you have parted with, let’s say, £10 to go and hear a choir sing, it is not unreasonable to expect them to have prepared for the event and be doing something to showcase some modicum of talent, or at least effort. Certainly that would be my expectation.
I might not be a fan of popular music but, for example, I do often find myself wandering to either London or Milton Keynes to hear the American Jazz Singer, Stacey Kent, when she is on tour in the UK. I’ve been doing this for around 20 years and in all that time, I have never once seen her use a copy of the music or even the words as an aide.
Some might say, she is a professional musician and presumably being paid handsombly for her performance? This may well be true. However, even the Male Voice Choir I used to run in Cirencester, would always perform on stage without music. Admittedly, there were some interesting moments on occasion, but on the whole the performances were pretty good. If nothing else, at least they were engaging with the audience rather than singing to their shoes.
And so, when it comes to choirs, I think it’s about time the expectation was raised. Not by the audiences, but by the choir leaders and members. There are now far too many people stood in front of choirs who are barely qualified to lead a children’s sing along at a birthday party, let alone a choir which pays for their time.
Whilst I support the ‘health benefits’ and social aspects of choirs, this is all a bit last year and is the type of nonsense peddled by those who have no actual understanding of the music and so look for other ways to promote their choirs. The amount of ink wasted on web pages telling us how singing is good for us and will improve every aspect of our lives is quite frankly just patronising and slightly dull. Yes sure, singing is good for you, but only if you make some effort. Walking is also good for you, as is not drinking excessively. Perhaps if those in charge of the choirs raised their expectations of themselves, then the standard of amateur music making in this country would slightly improve.
Jules Addison is a professional musician who has a few bits of paper to vaguely testify towards some understanding of musicianship, musical notation and performance. In order to justify a small amount of effort made some years ago, Jules spends his life performing all over the country as one half of JAM Duo and currently runs a couple of choirs in Gloucestershire.