You may never get to audition for Will.i.am or Louis Walsh but, as Debra Barnes discovers, there are other reasons to sing!
In the age of Strictly Come Dancing, The X Factor, The Voice and Got to Dance, anyone who is remotely light-footed or partial to serenading the children on the school run wants to perform.
While it is advisable for some to steer clear of the boards and reserve their talents for the kitchen and shower, others just can’t resist the urge to sing and dance and so, rather than ignore it, they do it for charity. Douglas Poster knows only too well how good it is to do what you love for good causes.
Long before Simon Cowell was even a glint in his mother’s eye, Douglas was riding around Clapton in a truck while his dad, Don, dressed as Al Jolson, sang to passers-by on a rigged-up microphone.
“You don’t see anything like it any more, but that was how he promoted his shows for charity,” recalls Douglas who, like his late father, has raised more than £500,000 for numerous charities simply by sharing his talent.
“My dad was with the Jewish Minstrels, a forerunner of The Black and White Minstrel Show, and they called him London’s Al Jolson. I remember sitting on the stairs, listening to the group rehearse in our drawing room and then when I was 10 I got to sing a song in one of the shows at Stoke Newington town hall.”
The song, Walking My Baby Back Home, has just been resurrected as part of Poster’s repertoire because he is still performing – albeit professionally now – at care homes, hospitals and day centres and says he will continue to do so as long as he can hold a tune.
“My dad never earned a brass farthing from his shows and I followed his lead from the time I turned 18 and joined the Beaumont Operatic Group in Stepney and then went on to run Stanmore shul’s theatre group and the Aylwardians at Aylward school,”
Poster says. “Since retiring from law, I turned to singing professionally although I am still happy to help out with worthwhile fundraising. Most recently I sang in Stanmore Sainsbury’s, collecting for the Disability Foundation which is based at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, and it is impossible to sum up the inexplicable feeling of joy one gets doing something that you love that helps others at the same time.”
Of course not everyone wants to perform solo even if it is for charity, so, spurred on by the success of TV’s Gareth Malone, those who have hidden from the spotlight are standing shoulder to shoulder in choirs.
So if you are walking down Borehamwood High Street on a Tuesday evening, don’t be alarmed by the shouts of “Chillax!” or “Louder! Go!” reverberating off the bus shelter. That will be choir leader Kristian Parkes encouraging his Achoir’d musical group to create its particular sound during its weekly two-hour rehearsal.
The 20 or so predominantly Jewish members of the choir get to grips with Kristian’s unique arrangements of popular songs such as Somewhere Only We Know (aka the song from the John Lewis ad), and Angel (that’s the Sarah McLachlan ballad, not the Robbie Williams one). As choir member Cheryl Gurner explained “These are the money songs, the ones which help fill the collection buckets when we are singing for charity.”
For Gurner, the safety of singing as part of a group is the big attraction. “I wanted to sing professionally but, apart from parental objections, could never combat stage fright. I auditioned for Hair in my heyday and let’s just say it wasn’t the nudity scene that scared me!”
Charity is at the heart of the choir and leader Parkes’ personal battle with leukaemia inspired him to use his music to help others. In Achoir’d’s first ever performance last year, £2,000 was raised and that has led the group to organise more fundraising concerts for this year, in support of the North London Hospice and Evalina Children’s Hospital. “It is extremely uplifting to sing in a choir. Even when you feel tired, it energises you,” member Sue Fox said.
“I look forward to coming every week, and the pleasure I got from performing in the concert last year is indescribable.” Sharon Pollins agrees, “I was in a theatrical group for 10 years but I had to give it up because of the dancing. I just wanted to sing, so this group is perfect for me. Once Kristian starts to play the piano, I forget my aches and pains and the adrenaline starts flowing. It’s wonderful.” Estelle Pearl gets to sing beside the man she loves, because her husband Joel is also in A’choird. “We joined about four weeks after the group formed and have been going ever since.
We love it – there is nothing more uplifting than having a good singsong on a Tuesday evening,” she said. Achoir’d still welcomes new members – and there is no audition or need to read music, because all the songs are learnt by rote. It was exchanging her career in musical theatre for a more sedate family life that inspired Amanda Noar to form Impact!
Theatre Company 18 years ago. Beginning with small musical revues at Hendon Reform synagogue, the group outgrew the shul hall within a year and moved to the Millfield Theatre in Edmonton and then the Arts Depot in North Finchley. Impact! produces a musical for charity each year; last year’s production of Grease raised £20,000 for Breast Cancer Awareness.
“We chose that particular charity in honour of Joanna Levy, who played Frenchy,” said Noar. “She had recently had a double mastectomy and at the end of each performance she gave a speech about her experiences. It was very moving.” Children’s charities benefited when Impact! performed Annie and Oliver!, and the group is now in rehearsal for its 2015 production, The Producers. Grief Encounter is the nominated charity. “We’re currently at the tap-dancing stage, which is great fun,” said Noar, but, as she points out, though anyone can join, auditions are held for the main parts because the group wants the production to be as professional as possible.”
Both member David Marks’ daughters have been in shows with him. “It’s been a great way to spend quality time together,” he said. “And now my wife has taken over running the box office, it’s a real family affair. Rehearsals are total escapism from the pressure of work and the end result is always such a professional show it even makes missing half the matches on my footie season ticket seem worthwhile!”
Michelle Freedman joined Impact! because of her love of musical theatre and ended up with the love of her life. “I met my husband in my first show 17 years ago and now we’re married with two children, one of whom is desperate to join. I’ve also made lots of great friends. Everyone is equal and feels part of the Impact! family whether 15 or 60 years old, student or barrister. And of course it is fantastic to be able to help raise so much for charity.”
Sisters Sandra Glazer and Linda Epstein joined the Hampstead Rock Choir when it started six years ago and Linda’s daughter Ros enjoyed the first performance so much that she joined too – “so now,” Ros said, “the rest of the family have no excuse for not coming to see us perform.
“The important thing is that no matter how hard or tiring a day has been, we always leave Rock Choir with big smiles on our faces singing the latest song in the car all the way home. Our harmonising may not be as ‘proficient’ as some of the others’ in our group but that’s the great thing about Rock Choir – it’s for singers and non-singers of all abilities with no judgment passed, which is fortunate in our case!”
As for Glazer, she said her highlight so far has been “singing with around 6,000 other Rock Choir members from groups all over the UK at Wembley Arena and the O2 and raising money for the charities Refuge and Missing People, with thousands of our members holding up photos of missing children as we sang.” Daniel Brichto was there too, thanks to his mum, who persuaded him to give the choir a go. He says it has helped him “enormously” with his mental health issues.
“I’m now in my second year,” Brichto, who works in the Jami shop in Golders Green, said. “It relaxes me and takes me out of myself and it’s good for me to concentrate on remembering the words.” It was the words themselves and not the fundraising that became a feature of the last Rock Choir concert, which was held to raise awareness for the deaf health charity SignHealth.
Having been taught to perform the song True Colours in sign language, the Hampstead Rock Choir went right ahead and presented it as it had just been shown.
Contact Douglas Poster at email@example.com A’choird’s Light Up a Life concert at the North London Hospice is on 30 November and there is a fundraising concert at All Saints Church, Borehamwood, on 14 December.
Hampstead Rock Choir meets every Wednesday www.rockchoir.com