The Leigh Orpheus Hertfordshire Mini Tour 2022. 23rd and 24th September 2022

For many choir members our legendary Choir Tours are just that – legendary.

We can enjoy each other’s company at rehearsals on Friday evenings. We can share the feeling of success at the end of a concert. But going off together as a group and spending quality time together is a lot more special.

Like all Tours, months of preparation had been undertaken, as had months of collecting everyone’s payments for this two-day, one-night-away, three-performance tour.

And so it was that we set off from Rayleigh on the Friday morning, bound for Hertford, the county town of Hertfordshire. Some social time, a lunch break, an opportunity to mooch round this historic town. Some found a presentation item in an antique shop. Then onward to our hotel. The Premier Inn at Ware. Although some might choose to stay elsewhere, at Premier Inn you know just what you are getting. And that’s just what we got! No complaints and the staff went out of their way to respond to any requests.

Our first performance was to be on the Friday evening at St Mary’s Church, Braughing where the concert was in aid of church funds (they’d recently spent a considerable amount of money of a new kitchen and, to our surprise, a single, disabled, toilet. The queues!).

Most of us were ready at the coach and eager to set off

Pics over, we set off in good time, and arrived at the village.

It was a short walk to the church.

With no piano at the church we’d had to take our own keyboard and associated equipment. Thankfully there were those prepared to carry the gear from the coach to the church. Then snag number one hit us! Our usually-reliable gear hadn’t had an outing for a long while. And when we wired everything up it was no longer reliable! Not only was the tone of the keyboard all-wrong, and there was a nasty buzzing, but three keys didn’t work at all. What to do? Pray (well, we were in an ancient church!)? Reassemble? Gentle nudges? Less-than-gentle kicks? All were tried. The tone got slightly better. Three keys still refused to play. Oh well, it was the best we could do and at least we wouldn’t have to do the entire concert a capella!

Snag number two. We’d been promised refreshments (which by that point we were ready for). Shall we just say that they left a lot to be desired? Or rather – there wasn’t a lot to be desired. In fact there wasn’t a lot.

Anyway, the sound check showed that we could get by with the keyboard doing what it did and we waited for the start of the concert. We needed to keep our spirits up although understandably some were down. Not only had we not had the benefit of the refreshments we’d been led to believe we’d be getting, the arrangements some were trying to make for emergency food when we got back to the hotel weren’t going to plan and our own guests, who hadn’t had to pay for tickets for the concert, were being asked not to occupy seats that would be taken by ticket-holders. The only way is up!

And it was up! From ‘Praise My Soul’ through to ‘Rhythm of Life’ the audience warmed to us. Dave Smith sang a solo while we rested in the choir stalls. Then our second set during which Jan and Kay played a duet on the dodgy keyboard and which included ‘We are the Champions’. Spirits were getting back to normal by the time we got to the interval, potentially helped by the wine that was on sale.

Having sung a Queen number in the first half, the second half started with three moving pieces sung as a tribute to her Majesty The Queen who had died earlier in September. Her picture was on show beside us.

Another solo by Dave, three more pieces and we were done for that concert. The audience had seemed to enjoy us. The thanks from a member of the St Mary’s congregation was generous in its praise, and we were able to present them with a Certificate of Appreciation for hosting us at St Mary’s.

Back to the coach. Back to the Hotel. Into the bar. Sadly John Stack had to leave us as a result of a minor medical emergency. (he soon recovered, thankfully)

Saturday morning.

After breakfast the following morning (why is it that whereas when we are at home breakfast might just be a slice of toast, when we are away we feel that orange juice, cereal, a Full English and then pastries and fruit are only just adequate?!) it was intentionally a free morning for those who wanted to enjoy what was on offer in the area to do so. Some went by coach to Van Hages Garden Centre, some explored Ware, some walked along the river to see the historic Ware Gazebos.

An early lunch, then off to St Nicholas church, Great Munden, for our next concert which was to raise funds for an outdoor community play area.

A privately-owned, deconsecrated church which is made available to the local community.

Whereas the coach driver navigated the narrow lanes on the way there with great expertise he wasn’t best pleased that the gatepost at the entrance to the car park jumped out and scratched the side of the coach! We were pleased to be joined by others who’d arranged to be with us for the rest of the tour.

The usual routine, lug the gear into the church and set it up. And hope. The tone of the keyboard was now better, thankfully. Three keys still refused to play. Could be worse.

Sound check over we were now ready to perform. Our programme was a variation of the previous evenings’. Enhanced by a solo from Ron Circus and the Duet played by Jan and Kay.

If we were worried that there might have been a second catering disaster out worries were misplaced. No complaints at all over the tea which was served during the interval. Our guests were served with afternoon tea on their own table. Choir members were able to queue for a varied selection of sandwiches and cakes. Things were looking up although it was noticeable that one choir member hadn’t got the message that taking ‘seconds’ before everyone had had their ‘firsts’ was a bit uncivilised! Nevertheless, and in contrast to the preceding evening’s hospitality, we felt we were well-catered for.

More congratulations and thanks from the organisers (one of whom had been taught by Neil many years earlier – and didn’t seem permanently scarred!) and another presentation of a Certificate of Appreciation.

Onward again. This time to St. Christophers School in Letchworth to sing in a joint concert with our good friends from the Stevenage Ladies Choir. No lugging of keyboard here, the Stevenage Ladies MD is Head of Music here and the music facilities are excellent, including an excellent grand piano.

As we were ushered into the room where we were to have the ‘Ploughmans’ Plates’ that we’d been told would be ready for us many of us wished we hadn’t even eaten breakfast that morning. We’d gone from ‘we’re a bit hungry and would appreciate something to eat’ the previous evening to ‘how can we ever even make a dent into all that food’ here. And worse still, as the fancy containers that the food was served in had to be returned, we couldn’t even take anything away in a doggy bag. And many of us would have liked to.

Rehearsal of two joint numbers with the Stevenage Ladies. They were red hot on ‘Why We Sing’. Many of us could have done with a lot more revision. But in the end we got away with it! Our own Leigh Orpheus rehearsal was undertaken. We found that the staging we were standing on wasn’t as stable as it might have been which was off-putting to some. And instructions about how we were to enter and leave the performance area weren’t helped by the subtlety of the difference between going ‘on stage’ and going ‘onto the stage’ from our chairs in the audience.

The day started to take its toll. The first of two members had to leave us to recover from fatigue.

For the rest of us a bit of waiting around. Confusion about how to operate the sort of water fountain they have in schools (it ain’t like the water cooler in the office) but eventually our turn to go on stage and onto the stage.

Familiar material by now, of course including the third rendering (and arm-waving) of ‘We are the Champions’ in two days. It’s not a jazz piece and even audience members aren’t forgiven for doing ‘jazz hands’ at the end!

We were treated to some lovely pieces from the Stevenage Ladies Choir, one of several plusses of doing a joint concert., as well as singing the two joint pieces with them.

This concert was in support of the charity SANDS which supports those affected by the death of a baby before, during or shortly after birth and which we heard about during the evening.

One more presentation of a Certificate of Appreciation to the Stevenage Ladies (who will be visiting us in 2024) and time to head back to Rayleigh.

By now we were all pretty tired and it was a slumbering coach that made its way back.

What a weekend!