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 founder, Fiona Hamilton, reports.
Becca Marriott (soprano)
Alice Privett (soprano)
Sophie Pullen (soprano)
Rosie Clifford (mezzo)
Alex Haigh (tenor)
Ed Ballard (baritone)
Mike Craddock (baritone)
Natalie Burch (piano)
Kaoru Wada (piano)
12th September – St Wilfrid’s Tite Street
Ed Ballard’s completely heart-warming report of his experiences at St. Wilfrid’s is copied below! What a wonderful event this was and what a warm welcome we received from the residents of St Wilfrid’s and the Chelsea Pensioners who came to see us sing. We were uncertain when we arrived how our performance would go down; we needn’t have worried. What a privilege it was to be able to perform to such warm and appreciative audience.
I have a series of memories that will stay with me from this event. There was a former military Bandmaster from the Royal Hospital who sat in the front row and conducted along to most of the music. ‘I couldn’t help it’ he told me afterwards, ‘once a bandmaster always a bandmaster!’ More telling still was the enormous smile he had on his face throughout and his mouthing along, word for word, with my performance of We’ll Gather Lilacs and I’ll Walk Beside You, songs from his youth he told me, that he knew all too well.
These two songs also meant a great deal to another Chelsea Pensioner. When I spoke to him at the end he told me that they had brought back a great many memories from his younger days; ‘they were the songs from when I was courting’ he told me! Both songs were popular in the 1940s and this led to many stories from the wartime years. One gentleman told me of his time as an anti-aircraft gunner in London during the war, of the Blitz, and the dreadful experience of the ‘Doodlebugs’ during the last years of the war. Another told of his time serving overseas. There were a great many stories to be shared.
I had seen a lady sitting at a table of St Wilfrid’s residents who was relishing the operatic arias that we performed so after the performance I took a cup of tea to her table. As I sat down I was greeted with the line ‘you should be at La Scala!’ She had been introduced to opera by her father in the 1930s and had been a regular opera goer for much of her life. Her favourite works were Puccini and Verdi but she said she had loved hearing the Handel and Purcell arias I had sung as well. She couldn’t really go to the opera any more so the recital was a particular treat for her, but more than that, she commented on how even when she had been a regular at Covent Garden, the action took place so far away; what a treat, she said, to hear us and see us performing so close at hand. She was beaming.
“Thank you for the wonderful performance the other day, the residents, sisters and the Chelsea pensioners were all seen to be having a jolly time and all commented on how much the enjoyed the song variety and the singers voices.”
– Eve, activity organiser.
The carers at St Wilfrid’s had been careful to arrange the room both for a concert and for an afternoon tea so the event retained a sense of occasion long after the performance had finished. As the St Wilfrid’s residents and the Chelsea Pensioners mingled there was a sense of stories being exchanged and ideas shared that was lovely to see. As performers, we were repeatedly asked about our future plans and about what life was like as an opera singer. And we were all told, time and again, how grateful they all were that we had taken the time to sing for them. Really, we all felt grateful for the chance to perform to them. I would happily do so again.
Natalie also wrote some lovely notes that echoed Ed’s .... clearly she too had met George “Rocket Man” Stephenson who also told her that he loved conducting/singing along because it made him feel like he was a band leader again. He also said he liked seeing all the pretty girls!! Apparently, there was another man, from St. Wilfrid’s, who came for the first time and he said he'd never seen it advertised before but was so glad he found out about it this time - he also said it'd made his day and he couldn't wait for the next one! “Thank you for encouraging me to come; I enjoyed it so much!”
Sophie reported that the range of folk songs went down really well and they were a rapt audience. She spoke to a lovely lady, Carmen and her friend, who said she particularly loved hearing the folk songs sung by classical voices and that it was such a treat for them to hear this music sung so well in their own home. Brian said it had reminded him of his youth up in Yorkshire! Another wonderful man told her how he had fled from Poland in 1945 and only been back once and hated it. He held her hand and thanked her for bringing the beautiful music to him and said he looked forward to the next one.
26th September – Royal Hospital Chelsea
We had a lovely turnout of at least 20 Pensioners supported by the wonderfully supportive staff who seemed to listen just as intently as our main audience. This was the first time Alice Privett (soprano) and Mike Craddock (baritone) had taken part in a See Golden Days concert and both remarked how rare it is to connect with the older generation in this busy city. Alice said how she found the whole experience invaluable and she sweetly thanked you for the opportunity! Mike noted “languages sung in our programme really resonated.” He had a great chat with a chap called Jack, who was 96 and still sharp as a razor, who said that listening to the pieces in Italian really
brought back his time spent speaking Italian when stationed out there in 1943! Of course, he said, the vocabulary was very different from day to day soldiering compared to Rossini!!
There were all sorts of enchanting and revealing comments from our audience:
"I initially didn't want to come but I ended up enjoying it a lot.”
“ They should put on more of these concerts."
"It's good to have these things that help us pass the time, they make the day different"
One man said he got "very emotional" listening to the music.
24th October - Leonora House
Today was a wonderful concert with about 15 – 20 in the audience. We had a bit of a wobbly start when they announced the day before we were due to arrive that they didn’t have a piano after all and poor Alex Haigh had to drive his keyboard to the venue, only to discover that they had found one but not told him! I am afraid that we incurred parking costs as a result.
There was a fair bit of toe-tapping and singing along, particularly when it came to the favourites like “Libiamo”! It felt like the audience really got something out of the whole performance and several audience members said how much they’d loved the ‘beautiful music’ and that it was entertainment like this that made their day centre a ‘perfect place’ to be. The ladies seemed to particularly enjoy ‘And this is my Beloved’, and hoped that Becca Marriott (soprano), as Marsinah, would be reunited with her lover soon!! ‘The Impossible Dream’ got some very rapturous applause. One lady called Margaret said “I used to sing in my Church as a girl and this took me right back to those days.” Margarita originally came from St. Nevis and like Margaret, she said that the music took her back to her young days - “everything was perfect!” Poor Natalie got stuck in a conversation with a chap who wanted to recount all the bus journeys in London he could remember and a lady who gave her all her laundry tips... but that is part of the fun of these occasions!
Afterwards, Becca said that it was a very enjoyable afternoon, and one she would be happy to repeat. “It’s lovely sharing music with people who don’t get a chance to go out to live events.”
11th November – Harrison Housing
We had a very attentive audience today with about 15 in the audience and lots of volunteers as
well. Miraj, the activities organiser wrote afterwards to say: “the feedback couldn't be any better. We all had a wonderful time and look forward to seeing you again".
Rosie Clifford (mezzo) chatted with one of a number of Irish ladies who said "The Irish pieces were perfect and reminded me of songs I sang as a girl' – this seems to be a wonderfully recurring theme and underlines the benefits of music in stirring memories.
Alex and Rosie’s duet (Anything You Can Do) went down particularly well. Afterwards over a cup of tea, Rosie spoke to several residents including Barbara and Ivy, both of whom we had met previously when last at Harrison Housing. They all said how much they’d enjoyed it, and chatted to our young singers about life as a musician; one had a grandson who was beginning to make his way as a guitar teacher! Natalie spoke to a lady who loved the Salley Gardens and told her all about how they play it on Irish radio every Saturday morning. She also said she’d really enjoyed the concert, even though she normally hates opera and much prefers the squeeze box at the Irish club! Alex chatted to a man called Thomas who loved rock and roll normally but 'enjoyed that opera-stuff!' We also met a lady who was a PA for about 10 years to the director of opera at ROH! So that was particularly interesting.
On a more poignant note, we met a gentleman there whose granddaughter had very sadly died in the Grenfell fire. He didn’t speak much English but was full of thanks and said it had taken his mind off things.
Tuesday 21st November - Ellesmere House
This was our first performance at Ellesmere House and we had a lovely time all be it with some fun and games! They hadn’t told us that our intended venue was closed due to refurbishment and as a result we had one room with an awful keyboard and one with an ok piano but it was closed! The proceeding 45 minutes was spent with Rosie, Alex and the events coordinator forcing a piano (!) into a lift and getting it to where they wanted it to be...! It was quite hilarious. Despite making our requirements clear, something was not transmitted.
Rosie was rather surprised by one resident’s observation (Jean) that she had perfect teeth – it is
always fun seeing what resonates between the generations. Mary, another resident in a wheelchair, clearly hugely enjoyed the whole thing, and kept shouting "Yes! Lovely!" throughout, which was good constant feedback to have! Patrick played his selection of tunes for us at the end as well - clearly something he loves to do.
28th November – Christmas Concert at Holy Trinity, Sloane Square
As you know, we had a wonderful turn out from a complete spectrum of our care homes and our regular Opera Prelude audience who were keen to support us and meet some of our special oldies. Everyone seemed to enjoy Alex, Alice and Rosie’s performances accompanied by Natalie and some of the carers even commented how it gave them a nice outing too! A large number of mince pies and brownies were consumed.