On a bitterly cold Saturday evening, in a church besieged by tricky and pesky road works, something bordering on the miraculous happened. The inside of Peebles Old Parish Church was transported to a warm, sunny, and decidedly more light-hearted place.
From the moment the multilayer-clad audience was greeted by a chap boasting scanty Bermuda get-up, it was clear that the dull January-ness (the post-Christmas apocalyptic gap we all dread) was over. InChorus ‘Beat the winter Blues’ concert had begun.
From the choir’s ever growing artillery of balanced, crisp repertoire, the audience was encouraged to feel the heat from the African plains, and to close their eyes and hear the wonderful re-enactment of a sudden and ferocious thunderstorm – a human sound effect that sent shivers of disbelief and excitement down each listener’s spine. The melting lyrics and harmonies of Pink’s ‘Just Give Me a Reason’ seemed to cuddle the audience with the warmth one might feel from a mug of hot chocolate. A beautifully arranged ‘mash up’ of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ and Westside Story’s ‘Somewhere’ by Ben Jones, delivered softly and gracefully by the choir, allowed us to dream. The soaring new arrangement of U2’s ‘With or Without You’ showed the lead melody flowing through the different ranges of all the voices. The skilful use of dynamics and timing brought the most out of each song. It was wonderful.
An interesting and exciting development for InChorus is the start of their journey into musical theatre. Rousing renditions of ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’ and ‘One Day More’ from Les Miserables were delivered with revolutionary defiance and artistic flair. Comedic performances of much loved Jungle Book numbers provided fun for both audience and choir. A wonderfully staged ‘spat’ between tenors and altos caused much hilarity.
The feeling from the performance was that, although comfortable with their vocal abilities, this is clearly a choir that does not relax for long. InChorus seems to thrive on adventure and on new challenges. They obviously work very hard to achieve the standard and result delivered at the concert. The power behind the vocal ability is ever present, but is managed with skill and sympathy for each arrangement. It’s akin to watching an expert rider managing a powerful horse round a show jumping arena.
The ‘expert rider’ in this case was Aly Skidmore. Debuting as Musical Director, her light-hearted touch caused many a smile. Although the choir is the star, as a member of the audience, inclusion is always appreciated. Through Aly, the choir and audience shared a connection so that by the encore (‘Higher and Higher’), we all willingly followed her dance instructions of “lifting the shelves and wiping the windows”. For those of us who were present, I’m sure you are now smiling. For those who were not, you must come along next time and join in.
Also providing musical entertainment were groups from the charity music school, Nomad Beat. Two sets of music, Bluegrass and Celtic, were showcased using strings and percussion. The easy rhythms and happy melodies caused many toes to tap. It is so heartening to see these traditional old tunes and melodies rekindled with such enthusiasm.
Nomad Beat is an all ability and all inclusive group which was founded by Alison Cameron, whose recent unexpected death has caused such sadness and shock throughout the town. It was a moving tribute to see both groups perform the music in which she so passionately believed. InChorus, too, paid tribute to Alison and her family, dedicating an emotional rendition of ‘Baba Yetu’ (The Lord’s Prayer in Swahili) to her memory.
The importance of community groups such as InChorus and Nomad Beat cannot be overstated. The joy that music brings, and the community bonds made through being part of such groups, means so much. We live in a beautiful town, but the quality of life here exists in the feeling of belonging engendered through groups such as these. Peebles should feel so proud to have both of these wonderfully dynamic and entertaining groups in its midst.
And did they ‘Beat the Winter Blues’? We all left to face the bitterly cold night – but we were all smiling, so I would say, without a doubt, that they did.