SEE GOLDEN DAYS: CARE HOME CONCERTS
A charity that supports the professional developments of early-career opera singers is funded by Age Unlimited to bring song to care home residents. The charity's director of outreach, Alex Haigh, reports.
Thanks to Age Unlimited we were able to perform seven concerts between February and May, leaving three more concerts to organise and a Christmas concert. Last year we mentioned a possible collaboration with an amateur choir, the ‘Memory Lane’ singing club, which is still on track! I met with Maureen, the manager, and we have tentatively agreed a joint concert at Christmas time - something I’m very excited about!
The main issues remain constant: venues with keyboards and space to allow these concerts to take place, some residencies have difficulty raising awareness through internal advertising and also occasional lack of communication due to busy staff. I am always considering new ways to streamline the communication and make things as easy as possible for the staff and homes.
We are most grateful, as always, to Age Unlimited for their continuing support and generosity in funding this fantastic enterprise. I know I speak on behalf of all our singers when I say we appreciate the performance opportunity, the enjoyment of sharing our craft with those who crave it, and the chance to create inter-generational conversation. Thank you as always, and I look forward to inviting you to our next concert!
Callie Gaston (soprano)
Nina Kanter (soprano)
Alice Privett (soprano)
Sophie Pullen (soprano)
Phoebe Haines (mezzo) Rosie Clifford (mezzo)
Alex Haigh (tenor)
Richard Dowling (tenor)
Natalie Burch (piano)
Kaoru Wada (piano)
Hamish Brown (piano)
27th February - St. Wilfred’s Tite Street
“Sophie had such presence... is she married?!’
- Toby, an 87 year old gentleman
On a freezing February afternoon we gathered at St. Wilfred’s for the first concert of the season. It was -2 degrees on the day but thankfully we received a very warm welcome at St. Wilfred’s. Sadly, due to a persistent bug, Becca Marriot (our booked soprano) was unable to join us in order to preserve her voice and ensure no elderly resident would be the next victim of that cold! (She has since recovered...) Coming to the rescue was Sophie Pullen, another See Golden Days regular who thankfully was free to ensure the show went on.
It was a full 45 minute programme, full of beautiful opera (O soave fanciulla from La Bohème, Una furtiva lagrima from L’Elisir d’Amore and Libiamo from La Traviata to name a few), lovely musical theatre (On the street where you live from My Fair Lady and Tonight from West Side Story) and the inspiring folk song Danny Boy that got a few voices joining in. After the performance, we got chatting to some of the audience members. It was a wonderful experience. My favourite moment of the performance was the Puccini duet from Bohème, because it began to snow softly outside as it does in the opera - tears were everywhere! There were 27 in the audience.
3rd April - Octavia Housing
“You can come here everyday!’
- Helen, a permanent resident at Octavia
This was our 3rd visit to Octavia Housing, and it’s always a delight to catch up with audience members who keep coming to our performances. One of these regulars is Edna. I spoke to Edna who told me all about her move to England from Jamaica 50 years ago and how she goes back every two years to see her family, always in the winter to see the sun! She is hoping she will live long enough to go back in 2019! She said she didn’t know the pieces but loved them and so enjoyed singing along. She told me how it made her happy to hear music live as normally she only gets to hear it in church and said they had all really enjoyed having us here and couldn’t wait for the next one. We were fortunate that the activities team had advertised the concert this time around (which didn’t happen previously) so we had many more audience members than last time. The one issue we had was a rather small and inexpensive keyboard setup which the staff have resolved to change next time we come. Afterwards we had tea with our wonderful audience. My hand was grabbed by a lady called Mary, who wanted to let me know how wonderful it was to sit at the back and hear our voices so clearly; apparently she could ‘feel the music’ and it made her very happy. There were 16 in the audience.
17th April - Ellesmere House
“You’re not allowed to make the staff cry!’
- Rita, activities assistant after hearing Lakmé’s flower duet.
Ellesmere House is one of my favourite venues to visit, as they always give us a wonderful and warm welcome. This year we were in a different venue as the previous room was being refurbished. The new area was a vast improvement and there were even 30 chairs set up and waiting for our audience! Callie and Phoebe were singing for this event and we had a great crowd (an improvement on last concert’s 20 people!). They sang some classics like Can’t help loving that man and The Flower Duet but also known as the British Airways theme! After the performance we sat down and I had a chance to chat to a very emotional Peter. We first met Peter at our first concert in Ellesmere where he started to play the piano after we finished singing which was a joy to hear! This time he was a little weaker than he had been before but was overjoyed by hearing us, played a little tune and then headed home for a rest. During this conversation I overheard Sylvia talking very loudly to Callie. She was very grateful and wished she could sing but was afraid she might hurt everyone’s ears! I obviously set the record straight. There were 27 in the audience.
1st May - Chelsea Court Place
“Oh you must come back, with a voice like that!”
- Audrey, a resident at Chelsea Court Place
Chelsea Court was a new venue for this set of concerts. The residents were a very engaged and appreciative audience; a couple of residents who had been loud and confused during warm up were fully engaged and focused during the performance. Particularly successful were Libiamo, Silent Noon, I Got Rhythm and London Pride. It was a lovely space to perform in and great keyboard (masquerading as a baby grand!).
During our chat afterwards I spoke to Jeremy who had been a chorister at King's Canterbury (but confessed he'd struggled with reading music!) - when asked which had been his favourite he said "Everything!". Duncan, who had been very loud (not disruptive but just clearly a man used to authority, I suspect!) was engaged throughout and told us that he'd thoroughly enjoyed it - I got the impression that his short term memory span was not great, so for the performance to have stayed with him long enough that he knew he'd liked it was very moving. Audrey, a lady in a wheelchair, told me about her mother who'd sung with the D'Oyly Carte company, and how she'd grown up surrounded by music. All in all it was a lovely afternoon and a real pleasure to sing for them, to meet them and hear their stories - all hugely interesting. I really hope it's a partnership that continues to thrive! There were 22 in the audience.
"It was such a pleasure performing at the Chelsea Court Place. The residents, even though there weren't that many, all seemed to enjoy our performance immensely. One lady kept whispering 'don't give up, please don't give up'. I think she meant please keep doing these concerts! I love performing for the Golden Days concerts because I really feel the enthusiasm and appreciation of the audience first-hand. It is so immediate and genuine, and it really makes me happy that we can provide this kind of pleasure to the residents."
- Kaoru, one of our regular pianists
8th May - Royal Hospital Chelsea
“They’ve got voices... and volume!”
- Unknown, a quote given to me by the activities coordinator!
It is always a treat to perform for the Chelsea Pensioners, in part to thank them for all they have done in service to our country, but also because Rosie, one of our regular singers, is a member of the Royal Hospital Chapel choir, so it’s a place close to our hearts. There were 22 in the audience.
"I had such a lovely time performing for this audience, and I'm so glad to be part of an enterprise that seeks to connect with these people who are so often forgotten about in our society. I had great chats with a few of them: Colin, who used to do amateur opera with his wife and loves to sing - and says he had been inspired to get involved in a local choir; George, who said "there's not enough of these concerts!"; another George who said that we were "very entertaining!" and told me about his banjo, which he has recently rediscovered. We sang some classics like I got rhythm and Maria from West Side Story. I have promised Frank to bring ‘O mio babbino caro’ in English next time! We also had a last minute disaster as Natalie was incredibly unwell and was unable to make the performance. Thankfully, Hamish was able to take the music and with only 30 minutes preparation performed flawlessly. We’re incredibly grateful to him and I’m sure he will join us again if we haven’t scared him off!"
– Alice, one of our regular singers
5th May - Harrison Housing
"We had a lovely time today at Harrison Housing - all went well and I think we all really enjoyed ourselves. The residents clapped and sang along to the more well-known numbers (Brindisi, Danny Boy, You made me love you). There was a friendly and informal atmosphere, and Richard and I introduced each piece and encouraged everyone to join in. We enjoyed chatting with the residents afterwards over tea and cake. I spoke to a lady called Gabrielle, who said she liked the mix of classical repertoire with musical theatre items and also enjoyed having the combination of tenor and soprano voices. Another French lady said she enjoyed hearing the Noel Coward items as she knew a lot of his songs from her childhood and could remember them all. She started singing a few to me. I asked if they had other performances there at the housing and they said they mainly had schoolchildren coming to perform (said with various degrees of enthusiasm), so were happy to have some adult musicians!"
– Nina, one of our regular singers
22nd May - St. Mary’s convent, Chiswick
“Can I live here?!”
- Kaoru, our pianist!
This was our last scheduled concert before our normal break. It was a brand new venue for us which came quite by chance! I live next door to a lovely lady called Catherine who works for this venue. When I started talking about my work in elderly care homes she told me of St. Mary’s and the day before I had received word of a cancellation from another venue...it was clearly meant to be! Upon arrival we were greeted by two wonderful dogs, Barty and Trudy, who gave us permission to enter. We sang to a packed hall, all loving every minute! Afterwards we were given a guided tour around the garden, their own small chapel and a brand new bungalow about to be occupied. Sadly I was unable to take photos in this venue owing to some privacy restrictions; however, everyone had a lovely time. We heard back the next day from Jane the coordinator thanking us for our time and energy, commenting on our ‘good, varied programme’ and they hope we will come again. There were 30 in the audience.
9th October - Octavia Housing
This was a first time venue for us; Octavia have many buildings in their care and as a result sometimes we’re asked to go to somewhere new. This was certainly a place worth visiting! We were indeed entertaining a small number of people, but that didn’t stop them thoroughly enjoying the event! Callie and Alex performed to great applause and appreciation. One resident, Colin, enjoyed our rendition of “O to be in England,” which he said reminded him of his record player! Pooja and her staff were incredibly grateful and we’ve been asked back multiple times. We had an issue with keyboards but, after a lot of heavy lifting by yours truly, we were sorted! There were 14 in the audience.
30th October - Royal Hospital Chelsea
“Lots of foreign stuff, keep it British!”
- John, a Chelsea Pensioner
This was a repeat visit - and, I’m very pleased to say, this time we had been advertised! You’ll note the picture above showed us loud and clear on the agenda, and this made a big difference to numbers compared to last visit (24). We met some old friends including Michael, John and Tom, all of whom had a wonderful time. We were encouraged to pick more English pieces next time (by John), but that anything by Puccini was ok. He recalled visiting his first opera (Tosca) to me at great length over tea. Alice Privett and Ed Ballard serenaded them beautifully with some classic jazz and musical theatre oldies. There were 22 in the audience.
13th November - St. Wilfred’s
This was a rather bittersweet concert. George, the manager of the centre, greeted myself and our performers (Anna, Felicity and Kaoru) but said the numbers would be small owing to several people having left. After enquiring he informed us that St. Wilfred’s care home was to close in March 2019 and that many of the residents had already left. I was very sad to hear this; Opera Prelude has regularly performed and rehearsed at St. Wilfred’s, and it’s always held a special place in our hears. We hope
the residents find somewhere as wonderful and special to live in peace.
This concert was quite an experience! Owing to some miscommunication, our See Golden Days concert become more See Joyful Days as there was more fun and frolics in this than I was expecting! We had songs about crocodiles, fish becoming humans and even a talking ham! It was really entertaining and the residents loved it.
I got chatting to an incredible lady called May. She had been involved in the resistance
movement in France during Germany’s occupation in the Second World War; she parachuted out behind enemy lines to infiltrate and send intelligence back to Blighty. Sadly, this was all told to me by George the manager; May has advanced dementia and sadly can’t remember any of her incredible deeds. However, during a French song, I heard her say ‘I love the French language;’ I hope we helped rekindle a little of her incredible experiences. There were 10 in the audience.
20th November - The Christmas Concert!
"On behalf of everyone from the Memory Lane Singing Club, I would like to thank you for a truly memorable afternoon in the Church. We all agreed that it was a very special occasion and seeing the reaction from the audience, it would seem that they also agreed."
- The Memory Lane Singers
Finally, the last concert of 2018! I’m delighted that Age Unlimited were able to attend and witness a first for Opera Prelude: our very own backing choir! We were joined by an ‘older’ person choir around 25 strong arranged by
myself and their administrator Maureen
Letrecht. They joined us for a few numbers and also sang some solos themselves, including hits from the Carpenters and West Side Story. I was so pleased that we were able to share not only our gifts but also those of other people in the hall and, despite the awful weather, we had a fantastic turnout for the concert. I hope you’ll forgive me but on this occasion I didn’t make a note of numbers! I would hazard a guess at around 40 audience members. A joyous finale!
25th November - Christchurch centre, Henley
“One man had been recently widowed and had only just started resuming his social life... he told me how he and his wife used to go to The Royal Opera House." Fiona Hamilton
A fantastic first for Opera Prelude! Owing to a sad miscommunication on the part of one of our regular venues, we were forced to cancel a previous concert (6th November) and decided (with Cathy’s approval) to try a concert out in Henley, Opera Prelude’s spiritual home. I was unable to attend but our Founder director, Fiona reported back to me on the occasion, which seemed to be a great success. We had a veteran of our concerts, Callie, performing alongside a new singer in our ranks; Xavier Hetherington. Along with Kaoru their pianist the music was fantastic and one person mentioned to Fiona ‘I didn’t realise the standard would be so high!’ The singers also had the pleasure of meeting some fellow performers as one member of the audience had studied at Guildhall school, so many memories were shared by all. The event was topped off by the superb cake provided by Opera Prelude, which one member (I’m told) had 7 pieces!
It really was a lovely send off to an already full season and I’m delighted to see the attendance was so high, especially considering it was our first attempt. Hopefully we can expand this part of our performances. There were 45 in the audience.
On behalf of the 16 performers, 12 venues and 320+ audience members I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to Age Unlimited for all your support. Our artists appreciate the wonderful performance opportunities the scheme delivers, and the residents appreciate our artists’ incredible concerts. Art is a transformative thing and we are helping in our own small way, thanks to your support. I hope very much that we are able to continue See Golden Days into 2019; I have some ideas on how to improve what we deliver and how we go about it, but rest assured our goal remains the same: bringing music to those who need it most.
My thanks and wishing you a very happy new year!