Five minutes into our final rehearsal before the Big Performance tomorrow, I send every page of songs in my red file skittering all over the floor. It’s a splendid word, isn’t it, “skittering”?
I’m not sure it is totally appropriate but I feel it has a certain onomatopoeic quality, representing the noise my pages made as they dropped out of my file and onto the floor of the community centre hall. My friend, Sue, who despairs of my ever keeping
my file in order, is sitting behind me, rather than next to me, so I think I get away with it. Just.
Our conductor, the Redoubtable Muriel, suggested last week
that all those of us who would be singing at the concert should sit on one side of the hall, leaving the other side for those who would be with us in spirit, but not in person. Amazingly we all remember - which is more than Muriel does. Could those of us going
to Falmer put our hands up? she asks. She seems a little surprised that we are so, well, together.
Falmer is where the University of Sussex is sited and is the
venue for a major event called The Spirit of Sussex, bringing together branches of the U3A (the University of the Third Age) from across the whole of East and West Sussex. Our Singing for Pleasure choir has accepted the challenge to deliver a twenty minute
programme of songs, loosely on the theme of Sussex myths and legends. A coach has been booked, songs have been chosen, we are in (relatively) good voice.
We were somewhat challenged by the need to choose songs which related to the Spirit of Sussex, especially the mythical and legendary. The branch chairman, when we admitted this difficulty, told us (that’s Sue and me, we are the joint leaders of
the choir, though Sue, to be fair, does all the work) that she could think of lots of possibilities which she would be happy to share with us. The problem was, we explained, that we weren’t sure we could trust ourselves to learn anything new especially
for the event - we would be safer with Tried and Trusted.
Our programme therefore starts with Come to the Fair (Sussex is hot on fairs) followed by Country
Gardens (of which Sussex boasts every bit as many as any other county.) Next up is Sheep Shearing (in honour of the famous Southdown Lamb - though some of us are a bit worried about references to the deliciousness of the meat of the lamb in these vegan-conscious
times.) We will then launch into The Mermaid which is definitely a myth - all about a sailor who falls overboard and meets up with a mermaid who falls head over tail for him and persuades him to marry her. The chorus is a rousing rendition of Rule Britannia
- “Britons never, never, never, will be - marr-i-ed to a mer-ma-id at the bottom of the deep, blue sea.” It should bring our audience - provided they have stayed with us through the shearing of the sheep - to their feet. Or their tails, if they
happen to be mermaids/ men.
Continuing the theme of The Sea, we will entertain with that most famous of seaside songs “I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside.”
Everybody knows the chorus, of course - but how many know the verse? It will hopefully be a surprise - as well as celebrating Sussex’s long coastline (thus justifying its inclusion in our programme.)
We are on firmer ground, geographically speaking, with the next song “Brighton Camp” otherwise known as “The Girl I Left Behind Me” while the tale of sweet Polly Oliver who went for a soldier and nursed
her soldier lover back to life is certainly legendary (if not mythical) and some say her story is based on a Sussex girl. Even a tentative connection is good enough for us.
Our finale is “Sussex by the Sea” and we really can’t go wrong with that. Or can we? A debate takes place over whether we should leave a verse out and, if so, which verse. My worry is that we will be joined on the stage by another
of the Redoubtable Muriel’s choirs who may well have decided to sing all the verses, or to leave out verse three instead of verse two.
Sue and I give
last minute instructions - most of our number are travelling by coach though I will be driving there and back on my lonesome as I can’t leave Mr B for a whole day. I remind everyone that we will need to wear our choir “uniform” of black trousers
/ skirts and red tops, and carry our red files, with just the few songs we will be singing. By way of encouragement, Jay sings us that verse from “Another Opening, Another Show” about everything going wrong in the weeks before a performance but
turning out All Right in the Night. We all go home with fingers crossed.
People will doubtless still be talking about our performance in the years to come.
Of such are legends made...