From January 2005 to December 2019, I sang under the musical leadership of Gary Griffiths, initially with Sing Live and from 2009 with Inspiration. I hadn’t sung since school but I quickly discovered how much I enjoyed choral singing. While the highlight was always concert day, the weekly rehearsals became an oasis of calm in my busy and often stressful working week. And I always missed it when I was away on business.
Sadly circumstances have led to our Christmas 2019 concert being the last in its current form at Sage Gateshead. I’m still reeling from the realisation that it’s over, but I’m also reflecting on my happy memories. Many of these are personal to me, although I’m sure other singers will have their own special memories. So, here are a few thoughts that come to mind from those 14 years of singing with Gary.
In the early Sing Live days when I joined, the Bass section was at its smallest and weakest. I recall that we had, at times, no more than 9 basses in a choir of more than 250. During one rehearsal, I was struggling to get some particular line right and, in the interval, I consulted Gary. He gave me some pointers and, as I walked away, I said that the trouble was that I couldn’t hear the bass section. Gary’s retort made me chuckle: he said “Lucky you!”.
Some of the best moments, both in rehearsal and in concert, were when the emotion of the song “washed over” the choir, especially when it was also reflected in Gary’s face. Certain passages and musical moments pushed him “over the edge” and he generally took me and, I’m sure, most of the singers with him. Some of the songs that had this effect were One Voice, Till I Hear You Sing and our wonderful Lion King medley but there were many others.
I sang with Inspiration in every one of the 34 Sage Gateshead concerts and I was also lucky enough to sing with the Leeds choir in several of their Town Hall concerts. I also sang in Resonance at Gainford for Gary’s twice yearly concerts and that was so different to being one of 300 singers. Some Christmases, I sang with 7 others and Mark on keyboard at the Castle Eden Inn. I can’t say we were a huge hit with the pre-Christmas drinkers but it was good fun.
I toured with the choir in Paris, New York, Austria and Rome. Each tour had its highlights; actually, every day on every tour was a special one off experience, but my highlight of all highlights has to be our opening spot at Carnegie Hall in a national choir event. We sang our Lion King medley and the instant standing ovation – and I do mean instant – made us all cry. Other great moments included singing at the Vienna Christmas Markets and at the Vatican.
One other unforgettable moment was our singing cruise down the Seine in Paris. We had been barred from singing outside Notre Dame and it was wonderful to “thumb our noses” at the authorities by singing Hunchback as we floated past Notre Dame instead!
I sang in male quartets In two Sage Gateshead concerts. The Jungle Book number “That’s What Friends Are For” was great fun although even I was challenged by the final bottom C! Singing the George Younce deep bass part in “Glory to God in the Highest” was one of my favourite moments of all. Quite a tricky sing too!
One of my other small group parts was singing in Sonata Arctica’s “The Cage” in a chorus of 8 with Tony Kakko. That was, as I remember Gary commenting to me, “exciting” – oh yes it was! And I know the whole choir – and Mark Deeks especially – enjoyed that one.
One of my very favourite songs was the Joshua Spacht version of Hark The Herald. I could write a blog article just on that one song I think!! Anyway … in the final rehearsal one year, I came in a beat early with the final low bass “Bethlehem”. My bass tones rang out around the room like a damn solo! As if that wasn’t bad enough, I was mortified when Gary then drew attention to it. He looked my way disapprovingly and I gulped! I was relieved to hear him say something like “Peter Berrie – that’s the first time you ever got a note wrong”. I’m confident that he knew full well that wasn’t true, but I was happy to take the compliment in the spirit he intended. And I made sure I got it right in the concert!!
When I watch other choirs sing, I find that some singers are visibly moved as they sing while others don’t show the emotion on their faces in the same way. I have an idea which camp I fall into but, just in case it didn’t show on my face all these years, I’d like to confirm that I was there emotionally with every note from Born Free in April 2005 to Sing Joy to The World in December 2019.
I sing in another choir now and I hope for more opportunities to sing with Gary in the future. I can only speak for myself – and I’m sorry to get gushy – but it’s absolutely true for me to say that it was Gary’s song that made me sing. He led and I followed gladly. I have some unforgettable memories, some lifelong friends and a host of songs in my heart.