The rule of six can be a limiting factor, and performances in the open air are the only kind allowed at present, but a couple of Croydon’s best-established choirs are doing their best to resume performances as coronavirus restrictions are being lifted.
After the Croydon Male Voice Choir’s acclaimed, impromptu outdoor performance at The Oval Tavern, it has been packing them in at another local, The Royal Standard in central Croydon – conveniently situated beside the Croydon Flyover in Sheldon Street.
For the past three Friday evenings, a group of CMVC stalwarts have been singing a fine selection of songs from their current repertoire. In the pub’s beer garden beneath the Flyover, they have attracted an enthusiastic audience, winning tumultuous applause.
They plan to be at The Royal Standard again this coming Friday.
The pub has an established association with choral singing. The Standard’s former landlord, Martin Perkins, is a long-time member of CMVC, and he and several other choristers helped to form a touring choir that accompanied the British and Irish Lions rugby team on several tours. They used to have to drive to Cardiff every week just to rehearse.
Perkins has been one of the singers in the CMVC’s recent open-air performances outside his old stomping ground.
The CMVC currently has 60-plus members, but is careful to keep its pub performance groups within the covid limit of groups of six.
The performances have all been part of their “keep the show on the road” mentality that has applied through the successive on/off/back-on-again pandemic lockdowns.
There’s been no let-up in the choir’s regular rehearsal regime.
The choir has been conducting weekly rehearsals, split into its four voice sections, led by music director Roger Pinsent, who has conducted the sessions from his home in Leatherhead while the members logged on to the Zoom sessions from Coulsdon, Kenley, Addiscombe, Penge, Keston and Westerham (thus demonstrating that you do not have to live in the Borough of Croydon to belong to the Croydon Male Voice Choir).
During the remote rehearsals, the choir has been learning several new pieces, including the spiritual “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho” and “Nessun Dorma” (in the original Italian).
At the same time its enthusiastic walking group has been conducting outings (whenever permitted, and in accordance with the laws of social distancing) in and around Croydon.
The walks take place every three weeks ago and cover around six miles, with the further condition that they start and finish at one pub, with a halfway break at another.
On Monday, in its first outing since lockdown eased, it undertook a circular six-mile walk from the Bletchingley Arms, with half-time at the Inn on the Pond in Nutfield.
The choir is now forming tentative plans for a return to live rehearsals at its regular Sandilands base and beyond that to performing concerts again. In one scenario, it may resume rehearsals in June and stage its first concert in October. And it is one organisation whose numbers have actually swelled during covid-19, having attracted several potential recruits from its outings in Croydon publand.
The women and men of a second Croydon choir, the 90-strong Croydon Philharmonic, has also been undertaking remote rehearsals throughout the pandemic, conducted by its music director David Gibson. The CPC online repertoire includes such challenging pieces as Bach’s Mass in B Minor and Romancero Gitano, a selection of poems by Federico Lorca in a setting by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.
The CPC hopes to resume rehearsals at St Matthew’s in East Croydon before too long and return to live performances in the autumn. Its provisional schedule includes a joint concert in Basingstoke when it will sing the Bach B Minor Mass, and performances at the Fairfield Halls at Christmas and next spring.
“Our spirits are high,” says choir chair Jane Castle, “and our fingers are firmly crossed.”
With their different repertoires and styles, it is possible for some singers to be members of both of Croydon’s leading choral groups: the CMVC conducting its real-life rehearsals in a sports club with a bar, while CPC rehearsals at St Matthew’s remain resolutely dry. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” according to one chorister.
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Martin ‘Polly’ Perkins: one of the greatest landlords a pub could have.
Still missed at the RS (although the current crew are pretty good too).