Diary from the Sing out Strong Residential Weekend in Ross-on-Wye 2023
I was going to start at the beginning of the weekend, but this event really started months before this. The organisers of the event, (Emma and Jenn), hosted weekly zoom sessions on a Monday evening during the run up to the big weekend. The music had been provided to us on the website, allowing us to download and print the music off beforehand, and we then went through the pieces one at a time during these sessions. We had the opportunity to practice the songs and ask questions along the way, and to also meet some of our fellow singers. These sessions were all recorded for us to watch back at any time, to go over bits again, or to simply watch in our own time if we were unable to make the live session. This definitely increased my confidence, being able to get some practice in before-hand! It also started the excitement building, hearing and practicing the songs we were going to perform in advance.
The event itself was based in beautiful Ross-on-Wye. The concert was to take place in the church on Sunday afternoon with rehearsals in the hall just next door. The event also included accommodation in the next-door hotel, all within a stone's throw of each other. You could choose how many nights you wanted to stay, or you could just select the day package and arrange your own accommodation, if you preferred. There was even the option of a group meal on the Saturday night for everyone, regardless of whether you'd stayed in the hotel or not. Although I lived nearby, I chose to stay at the hotel for the Saturday night, to make the most of the experience and the social aspect of the event as well.
So, the weekend itself:
There was a welcome evening on the Friday, for anyone and everyone attending the weekend to arrive at the hotel, get checked in, and the all-important meet and greet. This was not compulsory though. The registration for the event took place on the Saturday morning at the hall. "What if I can't find the hall?" you say... well the organisers had thought of this in advance. They had recorded a video of themselves walking from the hotel entrance to the hall entrance so you could see exactly where you needed to go on the day. I did not stay Friday night, so I arrived on Saturday morning and was greeted at the hall by Sing out Strong founder, Emma. My details were checked, and I was handed an information pack with a Sing out Strong bag and name badge. The pack included an itinerary for the weekend, and also some leaflets about the local area. These were especially useful for singers who had brought guests with them as it included things to see and do, walks, shopping, food and drink. I especially liked the name badges as I am terrible at names, and it helps to get to know people.
Saturday started with warm-ups. The sun was shining so we went outside for this bit. Emma explained how to warm up your vocal cords and your body with some fun exercises. You could say these also worked as ice breakers, getting us all laughing together. If you felt uncomfortable about waving your arms about you could just sit that bit out and laugh at the rest of us. Nothing is compulsory. We then went back inside to go over the songs together, practicing for the first time as a choir. It felt like hardly any time had passed before it was time for a tea break! Tea, coffee, biscuits and fruit were all provided and some of us chose to sit outside on the grass, whilst some preferred to sit inside, out of the sun. There were more rehearsals after the tea break and we always had the opportunity to ask questions and go over any bits we were struggling with, as well. Lunch was also provided and in the run up to the event we had been asked to fill in a form with our dietary requirements, so these could be catered for.
During the afternoon we were treated to a workshop with a guest conductor. She worked specifically on one of the more involved songs and helped us to get the most out of ourselves. She did it all with a smile and I think I can speak for everyone when I say she made us sound (and feel) amazing.
What came next, another tea break! We were doing a lot of singing and it was important we all had time to rest our voices. During this break, those of us who were staying on Saturday only were handed our room keys - we had all been checked in already. The envelope also included our selected time for breakfast, which is especially useful if you, like me, had forgotten what time you had selected on the "dietary requirements" form beforehand!
There was one final rehearsal to round off the day, then we had free time. I went to my car, collected my luggage, and got myself settled into my room, having time to freshen up and marvel in what we had achieved so far! Dinner was served in the hotel, and we had the option of a 2 or 3 course meal. Table plans had been prepared so we could sit in groups and get to know each other. Some of us had even been to the bar beforehand to purchase a refreshing drink.
After dinner, there was the optional social event. Those of us who wanted to, went to a nearby bar for some drinks and chatting together in a relaxed atmosphere. We were also joined by other singers who were participating in the concert in separate choirs. A lovely opportunity to mingle.
Then off to bed for a good night's sleep before the big day. Start the day off properly with a lovely breakfast in the hotel, then off to the hall for our next rehearsal. We had now gone through our whole repertoire, and it was time for the all-important tea break. This was followed by our final rehearsal, which took place in the church. We were all shown our places and practiced the songs through whilst the tech guy worked his magic with the speakers and microphones to make us all sound amazing.
We also got to watch the other choirs practice their songs if we wanted to. The concert was not purely for the global choir, which meant we could take a break and watch some lovely other performances as well. We weren't on our feet all day!
The next hour or so was for lunch, provided once more, and to freshen up and get changed for the concert. The organisers of the event had even arranged for us to be able to use a room in the hotel for this if needed. Hang on, where was check out in all of this...? This was also taken care of! We had been asked to leave our bags by the door of our rooms after breakfast, the hotel staff then collected our bags for us and left them in this communal room! No stressing over checking out. I then popped my bags in the boot of my car after I had changed, although we still had the use of the hall for anyone who needed to leave their belongings here during the concert, all locked up.
Then there was the concert itself. What can I say? It was an absolute joy from start to finish. We had all been provided with "Sing out Strong" t-shirts, so all we needed to arrange was black from the waist down. Trousers/skirts and tights, up to you. We had an area off to the side to sit during the other choirs’ performances as well. It was such a joy to stand next to my fellow singers and sing my heart out for everyone who had come to watch us. Last of all, collect all belongings from the hall and make my way home from a truly memorable weekend, and one I can't wait to repeat.
Bookings for our next Residential Weekend, which takes place from July 19th-22nd 2024, will open mid-August!