From Aaarrr to Aaahh – the pirate who learned to sing!

Back in September I posted a blog about one particular boy in ‘The Choir who can’t sing’ who had auditioned successfully for our production of The Pirates of Penzance. In fact, no fewer than five boys from the choir ended up as pirates in the show last weekend, which had a run of three nights and which was a fantastic success – and yes I’m biased, but I wasn’t the only one to think so – “we are blown away by the show!”

It has been a tough road. After casting, the producer and I wondered whether we had bitten off more than we could chew, since the combined musical talents of the boys in the chorus did not fill us with great hope. (Sorry we doubted you!) The initial sing through had some high points though, and I was delighted that the whole chorus, girls and boys, were so swiftly taken with the witty words and catchy tunes of this Gilbert and Sullivan classic. However, the reality soon hit home; for some – who could neither read the notes, pitch them reliably or remember them – it was looking like a mountain too high to climb. Some of the boys came to rehearsals looking resigned at best, and sometimes completely defeated.

One of the main problems was range – for boys used to ‘growling’ in the lower registers, they found it difficult to maintain the stamina required to sing at least an octave higher than usual. The other was that as soon as we were joined by the girls for tutti rehearsals, they almost invariably ended up singing the main melody rather than the bass line. Frustrating but understandable! And of course, even worse is that once you throw in the choreography, everyone stops singing anyway, at least initially!

Nothing beats practice, and especially when it is a little and often! With rehearsals set on Mondays, Tuesday, Wednesdays, Thursdays and some Sunday afternoons, the whole cast were sure of at least two chorus rehearsals every week, either sectional or together. For one particular pirate, I can’t imagine a better way of getting him singing – having never sung a decent note in his life – than doing a little every day for 10 weeks. His confidence has gone through the roof, and although he is still a little hit and miss, having been part of a show like this will have given him an immense sense of achievement which will remain with him for many years.

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