My adventures in singing

Hilary Farnworth

I never imagined I would be sitting at my computer, singing away to an Elton John song, and warming up with “Crispy Crackers Keep your Granny Grinning” going down a scale. 

Online choirs are weird, they lack that feeling of wraparound sound, but I’ve found a new community, had some fun, learned a lot, had some challenges, and even sung in a project that had 5,000 international participants. 

I sang in school and university choirs, then had a massive gap till I joined the Finsbury Park Singers two years ago when they started up locally. Fortunately my school taught me to read music. Gareth Malone started up a project in week 1 of lockdown: Great British Home Chorus. Five days a week, on YouTube, sheet music downloadable, audio backing tracks provided with your part louder so you could learn the alto, soprano, tenor or bass depending on voice. 

The warm ups can be weird, with very odd sounds, tongue twisters –“Red lorry yellow lorry” is another one of Gareth’s . The only voices you hear are the leaders, and your own, and the keyboard or other backing track.  This takes a fair bit of getting used to. 

The musical challenge is:  can you learn the notes – mainly yes – can you sing to the required style – not really my thing if its pop song “twang” voice, but I have a go, and yes if its classical and in Latin. And then can you breathe well? Both my online choirs have coached better breathing. 

The technical challenge comes when you are asked to record. You need two devices: one is used to show the sheet music, play the backing track, with your voice part  prominent, (alto, tenor etc) you put in earphones, and you set up the second device (smartphone, tablet  or laptop) to record sound and video.

This usually requires a tablet stand, or a tripod, smartphone clamp gadget (see picture) piles of books, or inventive use of blu tack. For Gareth Malone and hi pop songs I used a tablet to record, I took three videos of each song and picked the least worst to upload. It was a nasty shock finding out what my voice sounded like, and this stops many people sending in the recording, but I did send in some of them as they can edit out awful bits and there were several thousand of us on Gareth’s projects so I reckoned my two pennyworth could get edited in. Gareth teamed up with Decca records and I sent in recordings for several of the songs which came out on a CD in July.  

Gareth interviewed other singers, and music professionals every Wednesday. He introduced us to the Stay at Home Choir (SAHC) and its leaders, Tori Longdon and Jaimie Wright. Tori is the conductor of  the Covent Garden Chorus! I wondered if I would be able to raise my game and join a community which has a lot of professional singers in it. Anyway I joined a 10 week project, the Armed Man, where we were actually video conducted on screen by Sir Karl Jenkins the composer. There is a small fee for each SAHC project, and many of us also buy the sheet music, as the on screen scores can’t be printed due to copyright issues. 

At week three, struggling, I realised this isn’t an exam, I don’t have to do ALL the pieces – we were doing which was five  – so I chose three to work on, then eventually one to concentrate on and really try to learn it so I could record and upload the video.  Every week there were coaching sessions, in our voice parts, with professional singers, and socials where I felt part of the SAHC community, which grew to 5,000 for the Armed Man, including Japan, Australia, the Philippines, and Uzbekistan.

So I uploaded my video of the Benedictus from the Armed Man, choosing least worst of three takes, learning from the SAHC Facebook group how to install compression software on my phone and compress my video so it would upload, as I’d had three failed uploads. They edit the recordings and if yours is cut you’ll never know. So I’m taking the view that mine must be there!

The guide video we had all learn with showed Sir Karl in face – on view,   actually conducting a massive choir and orchestra in Berlin 2018, but also conducting all us singers at home!  Thrilling. There were Zoom sessions where we could ask Sir Karl questions, and he would explain each movement. 

On September 6th Classic FM’s website showed the result, a recording of five  pieces from the Armed man: the  film of Sir Karl conducting in Berlin, and then thousands of tiny shots of the choir singing away at home. All our names were on the credits!

Still available at time of writing on YouTube (ClassicFM) 

My next step is two leaps into the dark. So I’ve signed for the SAHC Christmas project, hoping it will be classical, and my own local choir leader is offering an eight week online term ( fee paying) with some Christmas music – which is likely to be innovative.  and see “virtual autumn term” 

I think its unlikely many real carol services will happen this year.  Groups of six  singing at two metres anyone? There might be a few in the open air – but not the usual packed venues in big churches. I’m hoping for something classical and something uplifting like a wassail song.  

Creative Dance classes

Free creative dance classes (via Zoom) for adults over 60, all abilities welcome.

Dance, smile and share as you explore creativity, artistic expression and movement in CDL’s guided dance workshops taking place on Zoom.

With support from The Mayor of London’s Stronger Community Fund with Groundwork, Creative Dance London (CDL) can announce Taken By The Hand, a new series of two weekly online dance classes for people over 60, free of charge.

Classes run on Monday and Wednesday at 10 – 11am and Tuesday and Thursday at 6:30pm – 7:30pm.

To find out more and to book classes, follow this link:

Thoughts, feelings, adapting and learning

Dr Jackie Richards

The plan for 2020 was that Peter, my husband, and I would visit family in California. I would continue advising on ageing and older dancers and carry on dancing. 

Zoom! What was that? 

When lockdown happened, I reacted in surprising ways. Covid-19 was not the worry as I knew we would be sensible, follow guidelines and care for each other. We would cope being together and not get on one anothers’ nerves. It would be a shame not socialising, but we would cope. Although on Zoom, dancing, attending Tottenham Community Choir (TTC), and other meetings would be fine. There would be benefits; more time to tidy and unclutter house and garden and return to playing my guitar. Another treat would be to participate in new learning opportunities on-line including Gareth Malone’s new choir. Yes, life would be good during lockdown. I felt blessed and fortunate listening to birdsong, visiting my local park, having more time, no traffic noise and not having financial problems. 

However, Lockdown was not idyllic!  

In the last newsletter I wrote about the fear created from receiving a letter saying I was an extremely vulnerable person on a Government list. What follows are some other effects I experienced during lockdown. 

I was on an emotional rollercoaster. I became more moody, snappy and stroppy. I felt I was a 14-year-old adolescent again with the same raw emotions and feelings. I began contemplating the future; everything was so uncertain.  My recent previous studies and my cancer treatment had taken up lots of energy and time. My involvement with the Age UK London Age Allies project had ended. In future what would I do instead? Should I participate in more projects or should I retire to my garden and travel? How much longer would I dance? What will I become and be? Peter was a caring, loving companion but I needed others’ energy, conversations and discussions and meeting them in person. I realised I was not ready to retire as I still wanted to get involved with others to enable more people to lead meaningful lives and not be stereotyped or marginalised. I wanted to continue dancing and actively participate in the world. 

Unfortunately, attending TTC and Gareth’s choir only lasted a few weeks. I found singing on my own with my computer stressful. Although I could see others in the Gallery, it was not the same as being with them. 

I continued on-line dancing sessions, all the facilitators were excellent, I appreciated the opportunities to learn from them and to continue dancing. New dance sessions became available on-line. However, as weeks went on, I increasingly thought dancing alone in my front room, looking at others on Zoom was weird, lonely and felt unenjoyable. I so want to dance with others again! 

freshly baked buns

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been turning inwards and enjoying solitary learning pursuits. My inner life has benefitted from activities done alone. This has included knitting a beautiful scarf with a complicated pattern requiring concentration, returning to playing my guitar including improving some Classical Spanish pieces and improving my technique. I set aside a time each day to read more fiction and non-fiction. Cooking to creating healthy, delicious, attractive food has been enjoyable. Peter is a grateful recipient! I decided improve my bodyshape and became a member of where I concentrate on analysing and noting what I am eating, learning more about portion sizes and relationships between calories and exercise. I have also enjoyed doing a free on-line Open University Maths course! 

Now, lockdown is easing. I am seeing friends and family again. Wonderful! But what will happen next? We can hope for a better future, more fairness and opportunities for all, a new normality without masks and hand sanitiser. Meanwhile, I will carry on knitting and dancing! 

OU Carers’ Scholarships Fund

The OU Carers’ Scholarships Fund offers carers the opportunity to study for free, to plan for their futures and build lives around their responsibilities. It is a unique opportunity for carers of all ages. This initiative is driven by Dr Mary Larkin , whose 20 years of research expertise & experience is behind this fantastic idea.

Find out how to apply

Live on OU News


Community education – a new sort of cradle to grave?

Dr John Miles

Older learners don’t feature much in the recent report from the Centenary Commission on Adult Education. (1)  Moreover, it’s unlikely that the report’s strategic recommendations will attract much government support – despite a reference to the ‘civic’ responsibility of universities and colleges in the Conservative manifesto. So where should we direct our attention?

Focus 3 of the Commission’s report – ‘fostering community, democracy and dialogue’ – includes a recommendation for a locally administered ‘Community Learning Account’ of £50 million. Even if no funds are made available this Focus reflects an important strand of debate during the Commission’s year of operation. There have been a number of initiatives to widen the scope of democracy in recent years, in some of which older citizens (like Eileen Conn at Peckham Vision) are playing a prominent role. So far the work being developed around social isolation and ageing in boroughs like Camden or the Greater Manchester region has not crossed over into this wider sphere but there seems no reason why it should not. An excellent chapter by Marion Barnes, ‘Old Age and Caring Democracy’, in a new book on government provides us with a useful template here. (2)  And as we learned at the Ransackers’ AGM some academics are looking beyond the participation of older people in their research to joint-working which can accomplish socially useful goals determined with older people at community level.

What the Commission wants to see is community education and further education – supported by universities – playing a fuller part in community development. From the older citizens’ perspective community education could involve a wide range of issues: from an age-friendly environment, collaborating to make social care socially cohesive and blending the analogue and the digital to the knowledge, skills and confidence needed to engage with bureaucratic and planning authorities of all kinds. I made a couple of suggestions along these lines in my submission to the Commission. For example, to support proposals for local citizen assemblies, I suggested basing them within further education colleges, both to develop relevant training {for all ages) and to engage younger adults more effectively  – an intergenerational strategy which older people should support. Then at the recent Special Interest Group for Educational Gerontology event in Nottingham (attended by older activists from Long Eaton who provide It Help locally) I proposed that Older Peoples Forums might provide a good recruiting ground for citizenship education courses. Lastly, and most ambitiously, I’ve fantasised a life-course approach developing in slow motion. Children in primary schools spend a good deal of time now working in teams, nominating representatives to school council, discussing climate change and so-on. We need a structure where today’s ten year-olds are enabled to stay in touch with such structures throughout their lives – from secondary school, higher education, working and later life – establishing a cross-community inter-disciplinary framework in an unstable and dangerous world. Let’s start now.

(1) Commision Report

(2) Marion Barnes, (2019) ‘Old Age and Caring Democracy’ in, Henry Tam (ed), Whose Government is it? – The Renewal of State-Citizen Cooperation

Ransackers Research Forum and AGM

“Learning from co-researchers: health, wellbeing and avoiding isolation”

10:00 – 16:00 on October 14th, 2019
Committee Room 1, Crowndale Centre, 218 Eversholt St, London NW1 1BD
(Mornington Crescent tube)

Book this FREE event: via Eventbrite,  or email Hilary Farnworth

Download Flyer – 2019 Research Forum and AGM for full details