Community chorus led by top opera pros stage final performance for 2019 winter parade event

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A NORTH Wales community choir coached by top opera professionals will stage their final performance of the year at a winter parade event in Llandudno.

Amateur singers of all levels and ages are part of Welsh National Opera (WNO)’s Community Chorus North, which is brought together for specific performances and gives members the opportunity to learn from hugely respected singers and composers.

Launched three years ago the Chorus has impressed its audiences at numerous major venues in North Wales.

With a full 2020 calendar ahead, it is now encouraging more people to sign up to boost its numbers, ahead of the next project due to start in the new year.

Budding singers with no prior operatic training have been playing their part in the Chorus with many describing the experience as ‘unmissable’.

Their latest performance was at the North Wales International Music Festival at St Asaph Cathedral in September and the current group is preparing for a rendition of the moving Carmina Burana at the close of Venue Cymru’s Winter Light parade in Llandudno on November 16.

Retired district nurse Sandy Phillips, 58, of Prestatyn, is one of those relishing the chance to sing with WNO and says it has been the most amazing experience of her life.

She joined the chorus when it first started three years ago and she credits it with helping her through a difficult period, including overcoming the loss of her Mum, Joyce Howells, who she nursed through illness at home for two years.

She had been encouraged to take up her passion for singing again after she retired five years ago by her musical twin nephews flautist Matthew Howells, and Thomas Howells, a clarinetist.

Sandy, who is also a member of St Asaph Choral Society, said: “I love music and was in a local choir years ago but work took over and I stopped. Matthew urged me to start singing again, because he knew how much I had enjoyed it. I am glad he did because music’s unbeatable therapy and it really has helped me.”

Her most treasured memory is taking part in the 2018 North Wales International Music Festival when WNO Community Chorus North joined the premiere of eminent composer Rebecca Dale’s Materna Requiem (Requiem for my mother) – a beautifully moving and uplifting tribute to Rebecca’s late mother, who died in 2010.

Sandy’s own mother was very poorly by then and passed away just a month after Sandy performed the piece with WNO Community Chorus.

Sandy said: “It was so emotional, I struggled to hold back tears. I was singing, thinking of my own mum so it was even more poignant but also very cathartic.

“I know my Mum was so proud of me and was thrilled to think I was singing in such prestigious company as Welsh National Opera. She enjoyed listening to me practice and would want me to continue singing. She always encouraged me to do it because she knew how much I enjoyed it.”

Sandy was back at St Asaph Cathedral this year for the North Wales International Music Festival 2019. This time she and the Community Chorus shared the stage with WNO soprano Samantha Hay, tenor Rhodri Prys Jones and baritone Roland Wood, and performed Haydn’s The Creation, and Carmina Burana by Carl Orff.

Sandy encourages anyone who loves singing to sign up for WNO’s Community Chorus, whether or not they are familiar with opera.

She said: “I knew nothing about opera until I joined. I was so nervous at first that I felt my voice wouldn’t be anywhere near good enough. But everyone’s welcoming and friendly, supporting each other at rehearsals. It’s called a community choir because it’s got a real community feel to it. From complete beginners to more advanced singers, we all just work together to put on the best show we can.”

Sandy and her friend Jane Morton-Shaw, 60, of Denbigh, often get to rehearsals extra early to help prepare teas and cakes for singers to enjoy during rehearsal breaks.

Jane is a member of St Asaph Choral Society and says she would sing all day every day if she could.

“Music is therapeutic, it’s good for the soul. I encourage everyone to have a go at singing whenever they can,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how inexperienced you think you are, just get involved.

“I’m so thrilled to have had the chance to be taught by WNO’s top professionals. It’s a real privilege for amateur singers like myself to learn from such highly accomplished musicians and vocal coaches. It’s completely unmissable.”

Both she and Sandy are eager to take part in the next Community Chorus project when it is announced in the new year.

Jane said: “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I wish each project lasted all year long. I’d be here for every single rehearsal.”

Youth and Community North Wales Project Manager at WNO, Morgana Warren-Jones, said the Community Chorus is brought together for specific performances and is completely open to new or returning singers.

She said: “They don’t have to have had experience in opera, or even previous choir experience. All we ask is that they can commit to turning up for the rehearsals we need to do for the Chorus to be able to deliver a polished performance at the end of each project.”

Eighty singers signed up for their September 2019 concert at the North Wales International Music Festival. It was staged at the 13th century St Asaph Cathedral where the acoustics created by the stone and vaulted wooden ceiling have been compared to those at Sydney Opera House.

Each Community Chorus project offers the chance to work with WNO professionals including singing teacher, choral conductor and workshop leader, Jenny Pearson, originally from Mold, Flintshire, who has performed worldwide as a mezzo soprano soloist and chorister.

The choir also regularly works with Wrexham-born conductor, Rob Guy, widely hailed as one of the most exciting conductors of his generation. Head of Choral Programme and Director of Ensembles at Manchester University, he is Artistic Director of the award winning NEW Sinfonia orchestra, conducts the University of Manchester Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and is a regular guest conductor with the world famous Manchester Camerata.

For more information about WNO Community Chorus North, details of future projects and how to get involved visit https://wno.org.uk/take-part/community-chorus/community-chorus-north