Archives For Interviews

Les Sirènes

May 7, 2014 — 33 Comments

Les Sirènes are a female chamber choir consisting of 30 vocalists, all students and graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  I joined in 2012 during my first term at the Conservatoire via an audition and was accepted in the second soprano section. 


The choir was established by our present musical director Andrew Nunn in 2007.  Andrew is from Middlesborough in the NE of England, and obtained his first MMus and BMus (Hons) as an oboe/cor anglais player and singer.  His second Masters is in Choral Conducting at the RCS.  I asked Andrew in his lunch break today for the history of Les Sirènes and what his hopes were for the future, I’m very grateful for his time and input in this blog post, Andrew explained: 

When I was in my first year the BMus singers had to do an ensemble class where they had to put a concert on at the end of the first year, there were no tenors in that year and there were two second study male voices so the girls asked us to join them, there were about eight of them at that time.  The group wasn’t holding together well so they asked us to conduct them, I’d done a little bit on conducting before at college. It worked out quite well, there was a chamber choir at the conservatoire and an SATB group as well but I wanted to do something slightly different so that’s where it started.  It was just called ‘Girl’s Choir’ at first.  Every Thursday since 2007 we have rehearsed.

Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn

Our first performance was at the St Enoch’s Shopping Centre and they were having a mega sales day promotion, and after I e-mailed them they invited us to sing a few songs, it was unbelievable we sang outside BHS and everyone has to start somewhere so I was grateful for the public opportunity, we also did something at Christmas at The House For An Art Lover for an event there were about nine or ten girls at that time and it was a very small group.  We needed some more mezzo’s, Vicky started as a mezzo but she moved to soprano and we invited Penelope and Leslie and it grew from there.


BBC Choir Of The Year 2012

We did the first year and the girls all wore long black dresses, over the summer we were thinking about branding and how we could move forward, me and a few others including Penelope and Helen thought purple was a good colour, bold, very royal, and not too overtly girly.  It goes really well with the black, so we ordered purple folders, the website was branded with the purple and I always liked the idea of not wearing identical black dresses, we thought we’d go for individual black shorter dresses or skirts and blouses in black and the purple neckties tied the group together.  It’s important for the girls to have their own personality expressed but tying altogether as a group with a motif the purple scarf.

Before I joined the choir in my first year.  In October 2012, the choir was awarded the prestigious title of Choir of the Year 2012 after a competitive Grand finale at London’s Royal Festival Hall.  Over 5000 singers from 138 signing groups entered the competition. Les Sirènes’ performance of ‘Oh Soldier Soldier’ arr Robert Latham and Billy Joel’s beautiful ‘And So It Goes’ thrilled the audience and judging panel alike.



This year has been great we did the wonderful cd *There Is No Rose”, concerts at Christmas and we’re really looking forward to our grand finale on the 6th June.  Next year I would love to do another cd.  We are doing a closing concert with the BBCSSO the beautiful Mendelsohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream that’s a massive thing.  I’d like to get out and do more but it costs so much it needs a great deal of organising but I’d love to do more out and about.

The choir, as the prize for winning Choir of the Year commissioned a new choral work by a composer of their choice, working with BBC Radio 3.  The fantastic Paul Mealor was chosen to compose an original piece.  Paul was recently named the UKs greatest living composer, having composed works for the Royal Wedding, the Military Wives Choir and the National Youth Choir of Scotland.  We are honoured to be working with Paul, and feel his lyrical style is a perfect fit for Les Sirènes.  The piece will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 later in the year.  It’s really important to be getting new works each year, and collaborating with new composers is really important as we move forward, we commissioned a smaller piece from an arranger called Michael Neaum who arranges for female voices which is great.  Trying to get high level names would be great too to have songs written specifically for us as the female voice repertoire can be a little bit unrepresented, especially in the 18-30 age range, we have a unique sound and I’d like to get away from girly pieces and get into young women’s pieces specifically written for us.


Paul Mealor

Our forthcoming concert is called ‘Songs of the Four Seasons’ on 6th June 2014 at St John’s Renfield Church of Scotland in Glasgow.  We will take a musical journey through the four seasons with music by British composers.  In the second half of the concert we will be joined by Les Sirènes Orchestra for a performance of Vaughan Williams’ stunning cantata for female voices Folk Songs of the Four Seasons.

Our Programme:

Fly Singing Bird, Fly Edward Elgar

I love My Love arr.Michael Neaum (world premiere commission)

Spring Gustav Holst

Summer Gustav Holst

As Torrents in Summer Edward Elgar

Stars of the Summer Night Edward Elgar

Autumn Alan Bullard

In Heaven it is always Autumn Imogen Holst

Autumn Evening Paul Mealor (world premiere, BBC Radio 3 Commission)

The Snow Edward Elgar

Jesu, thou the Virgin born Gustav Holst

New Year Carol Benjamin Britten

Folk Songs of the Four Seasons Vaughan Williams


I asked Andrew what his key three aims were for the future, as he graduates from his masters in conducting this June after eight years of study.

I would love to keep working on what I have been doing:

1)    Continue to build Les Sirènes, I think it will be really special,

2)    A Symphonic Chorus Master , like the RSNO, it’s a big dream of mine in the longer term,

3)    I’m interested in Nicos and I have associations with them and with Kodály educational I’m really passionate about that and I’d like to play my part in making that take off to see what that can do for people.

Joining a choir is a fabulous social thing to do and I would recommend it to you.  If you want to consider it in your local community you should look around for the one that suits you best, whether you can read music or not. 


After my interview with Andrew Hislop on BBC Radio Guernsey last Sunday morning ( 27th April 2014 ) I asked him if he would allow me to turn the tables on him and interview him for my blog. He happily agreed and so we arranged a date and time to set it up on Skype.  I was thoroughly inspired by our chat and I hope you enjoy the interview. AndrewHislop

Hi Andy, this is very exciting for me being the interviewer and turning the tables on you.

It’s a bit weird to be honest. I’m not used to being interviewed, the last time I was interviewed was three months ago for Jubilee Radio, a hospital radio here in Guernsey, that was fun but as I said I’m not used to it, I like to be in the seat of power.

I can understand that, it’s nice knowing I have the questions sorted so that I don’t have to think so much on the spot.

Very good, the question outline you sent to me was interesting.  You’d make a good journalist.


Now there’s a thought for a Summer job 🙂


Thank you, here we go…

How long have you been working in radio?

Probably for a total of six years, the first year was to do with radio editing.  I had no experience in working in radio a friend asked if I’d like to help.  After a year the editor asked me, out of the blue, if I’d like to produce and present the Sunday breakfast service I think he knew I’d had some performance experience and he also mentioned my voice would be great for radio.  I said ‘yes’. A baptism of fire.

So you were in the right place at the right time. 

Yes, about 15 years ago, I applied for a job to work for the radio and they told me that it would be better for me to be an actor than a radio presenter, so here I am.

There you go.  So you’ve done it for yourself anyway!  How many hours each week do you work at the BBC Guernsey radio station?

I have a regular Monday to Friday job, but I am contracted to work 10 hours per week, which I do predominantly over the weekend, but I probably do double that time in terms of communicating with my colleagues in the UK, people over here and visiting people in order to get stories, so it is a lot of work, the program is unique and specialised so I need to sit down and engage with the people to fully understand what is going on.  In theory ten hours each week, in theory.

I get that from your shows, that you have a very personal style, you can tell you’ve researched well.

The person that is being interviewed needs to feel comfortable and relaxed.  People are interested in the person behind story.  So I try to make it personal.

When you were at school what was your dream job?

My dream job was as an actor and I trained for this from about the age of 6 I went to elocution lessons, I had a very small lisp when I was younger so my Mum sent myself and my sister to Betty Isabelle Meakin Studio of Drama, as a result of that I decided that I wanted to be an actor.  My school wasn’t very supportive in that and their view was that I should get a proper job.

Would you like to work at a national station if you had the choice and what would be your favourite sort of show?

I’d like to do something really similar to what I do now, the program is quite unique in that I can explore any subject but the challenge is to try and find whether it would be ethical or inspirational or has a faith element and so what that means is that you don’t necessarily have to be a black and white journalist but inquisitive to get to the person rather than just the story.  I’d love to do what I do at the weekend, 9-5 for a national station.  Not many people get the chance to do what they would really like to do, but that is one thing that would be wonderful.


Ever the interviewer Andrew asked me about an observation he’d made watching my performances.

I watched some of your videos and your posture is that of a dancer and that must have helped with your singing?

My Mum had always wanted to dance as a child and encouraged me to join dance classes as soon as I could about the age of two and a half.   It can help and it can hinder my singing it’s all to do with rotation of the hips, so I take the positives of my dance training and use it well especially with confidence on the stage, but don’t get me started talking about me.

I know you have two children, I heard your super recordings of them on your show, are they interested in the performing arts?

My daughter Jasmine who will be 16 in two months’ time, isn’t so much now, when she was younger maybe, she has a very good singing voice but she doesn’t like to stand at the front and sing in front of people.  My son however loves to perform, very confident, very clear, expresses himself really well, I think if anyone in my family was going to consider a career in performance he would be the one to explore it.  More in an acting direction.





When we chatted before we discussed the National Youth Theatre.  What did you do with the NYT?

The National Youth Theatre was one of those life changing moments, a hugely life changing moment.  I was fortunate enough to audition for them in the 80’s, before you were born.  At that time they’d interview about 3000 people and they’d only take about 50, a very small number of people, not like it is today.   I was very fortunate to get in, over the following six years I’d travel to London and do several performances. We would do performances in London or in Newcastle and it was great.  I went to NYT with Daniel Craig, James Bond, to mention one of the most well-known people, we were both in two plays together in London in my last year.


We did Murder in the Cathedral in London, then I was asked to stay by the Director with Daniel for a further four or five weeks and we did Romeo and Juliet in London and then took that up to Newcastle, NYT was a huge input in my life, I played the Prince and Daniel played Paris.  I have fond memories of that time.

If I was an aspiring radio presenter what would be your three top tips?

I think first and foremost it would be to be yourself, personality is one of the big things that makes a huge different to a show, you could have five questions but each person would deliver them in a different way and prompt different answers, communicate and express yourself as you, don’t try to be anyone else.

Second thing: Energy and enthusiasm, one of the things on the radio you don’t have is to determine someone’s physicality, you can’t see their eyes, their body language, or facial expressions, so your voice and energy behind it is fundamental.  They listen to your voice and mentally paint a picture of what that person is like, so it’s really important to have that energy and enthusiasm.

The third is don’t give up, if someone really wants to pursue a career in radio the door may not open wide immediately, folks may ask you to be a broadcast assistant and it is commitment and a passion to keep going for it that is really important.  Sometimes you have to fight for your dreams and don’t let people say not at this moment in time, it doesn’t necessarily mean no it may just mean you need more personal development, and take that as a challenge and continue on.


I like that one, that goes across all disciplines, I know myself if I go for an audition I may not be what they are looking for on that day but you have to remember to go for everything you’d like to do and carry on.

Achieving your goals doesn’t necessarily mean just achieving total success, you need to sometimes fight for it, if you have an aim and a goal for yourself, it’s carrying on after knocks and it’s the difference between the ordinary people and the extra-ordinary person.  Can you take the knocks, learn, develop and push forward?

Have you ever done any voice-over work?

Yes, I have I’ve done a couple, in one I did a voice-over project with my daughter we were contacted by a company in Germany, it was all about teaching young German children how to speak English, both of us were used to do voice over work for particular characters.  That was fun that was very good.  I’ve also done work for the Alternative Radio Station here on Guernsey that’s real fun.  I’m currently working on a project with a US artist who’s releasing his first album and he’s asked me to do some voice over work on his album with him.  I’ve just actually put together my website to put myself out there as a professional actor and voice-over artist.

Is there anything you’d love to do in particular?


Well there is, there’s one in particular that I’d like to do – William Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’, I’ve played Othello twice and the last time I played the role of Othello I was fortunate to win the Timothy Dalton Award for best actor which was really good fun.  I spoke to a chap at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and he was keen to do this alternative version, I’ve always wanted to play Iago, Othello is of course African, a black guy but Iago is a white European, but I’d love the idea of exploring Iago being a mixed race man because that idea hasn’t been explored yet.  I’d love to do more on that in particular.

An alternative interpretation would be fabulous.  I remember reading a book called Noughts and Crosses at High School, it was a book about race and it was a switch-about of minorities and it was a great way for me to understand and explore the era of slavery and racism because I didn’t come into contact with racism as my school was, and now the RCS is, very multi-cultural so it would be interesting for me to see that explored.

I’d love to do it and it is one of my aims.  A chap came over to Guernsey and would love to do it but I’d need lots of funding.  I’m hoping no-one pursues the idea before I get to do it.

Coming back to education and on behalf of other young aspirational radio presenters, what education did you have at school, what do you suggest a radio presenter needs and how did your education influence where you are today?

My education journey was a really challenging one, the gist was that I was taken out of school for a considerable length of my time as a young man, so when I went back to school I was behind my peers reading, writing and communicating properly.  By the time I reached the age of about 14 my education was still behind, however, when I was 15 or 16 when I got into the NYT, I remember going to London and panicking because they were going to ask me to read really complicated scripts, but what struck me was that I was working alongside really intelligent people who were doing the equivalent of GCSEs and A levels and we got on like a house on fire and education wasn’t relevant, it was very equalising.  I went back to school and said to Mrs Breslin the Headmistress that I’d like to do ‘O’ levels and she laughed and said she’d give me a trial period.  I got my GCSEs and my A levels and I have to say my faith had an element in that as well and that changed everything and so I don’t have an issue with education and I learnt to love it during an intense period.  So coming back to your question although I can’t think of any particularly suitable qualification per se you need to be articulate, understanding and discerning.  I don’t have a degree I sometimes wish I did I planned to go to drama school instead.

I’ve had a lovely chat with you Andy, you have been very accommodating with my questions and very interesting to talk to, whilst typing today I thought oh why didn’t I ask… such and such, like what is your favourite music to listen to?  I feel inspired by your aim and I hope that you have the opportunity to bring your Iago into reality it would be a fitting tribute during Shakespeares 450th birthday celebrations and may bring a new audience and a twist to a wonderful play.   Good Luck.


Ross Gunning

How many musicians are in your Glasgow Philharmonia orchestra?

The orchestra differs from 20 members of a small chamber orchestra, up to 90 for big concert numbers.
We also have a string quartet  – for events plus we can also form jazz combos and other groups of all sizes from the possible instruments available.

And for your quartet do you have a particular group every time, or decide on availability, skill, fairness..?

The Quartet is set, but when they can’t do a gig then we swap them over. So everyone in the orchestra gets a chance. At the moment it is all the principles that are playing. Then we will start changing it if needs be.

Does the orchestra cross all year groups?

For the Quartet: 2nd and 3rd years mostly from the conservatoire.
Orchestra is 16-25 year age group, a mix.

Are the musicians all from the RCS or from outside as well?

No, no, from all over Scotland, people who have played in other orchestras etc as well as from the conservatoire.

How did you go about finding your orchestra?

Originally, I started a fundraising orchestra. Which was formed by me putting out things on Facebook, by emails, to all the musicians that I’ve ever worked with. It’s grown from there, probably around 300 players that could come and play.

So what was the charity you were raising money for?

For Malawi, we raised about £1600 in the first gig. Which helped to build classroom blocks and teachers house in Ekwendeni in Malawi. We then raised more money for Malawi and that built a bore hole in Baula. The nearest water you could find was a long distance away before our help, it was like a dirty puddle.


This was the water hole before we were able to help through our concert


This was the bore hole that we raised the money to build

The water hole is now called the Ross Gunning bore hole.

Why the connection with Malawi?

My mum went there a few times and she was in love with it and wanted him to help as much as I could.

When was that in the scale of things?

In 2012, May 2012 we officially started. But Glasgow Philharmonia was October 2012, with the first concert June 2013. There was quite a lot of forward planning.


What was your main purpose?

Initially for fund raising, but also to give myself the opportunity and experience of conducting on a big scale. It was successful so I wanted to make it a proper organization.

Did you start this while you were a student here at RCS?

Just before I started. The musicians were initially from the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland and the West of Scotland symphony orchestra and places all over as people started sharing on the internet, Facebook, emails etc.

Do you have a sponsor?

Not at the moment we have an interested party, it is just tying the connection.

How did you organise it and meet?

Martin Hunt is our PR guy and he is looking at corporate events to help us to find a sponsor. I met a potential sponsor and I have been liaising with Steve, our potential sponsor, to try to bring him on board.

How did you meet Martin?

We did a concert on 11th November 2013, and that’s where I met Martin as he was doing the PR for that event. We were the backing band of 60 players at that event. It was organized by the Armistice Charity Event we had 20 different pieces to learn at short notice about two weeks before the event. I conducted most of the event. A musical director from the West End helped out. It was put together last minute but this year we are far more organized.

Everyone came back to me and said that was amazing can we do it again. For me to have control of this sort of event and get experience of these huge experiences is working well.

Did you have a master plan of what you wanted to achieve.

I wanted to give young people an opportunity to perform a concerto like I had done at City Halls with percussion, which was a huge thing for me. It was Rosauro vibraphone concerto, with the West of Scotland’s schools symphony – I had to win a concerto competition to get that opportunity – in March 2012. Part of that prize was one concert in June and two concerts in August. This is what kicked it off for me.

We have three concerts planned this year with another one next year. I’ve done a lot of Musical Theatre and I want to move across to the Opera fields too. I just want to give all musicians a chance to perform.

For young singers this opportunity is just not there so that sounds wonderful Ross. It’s very impressive and the video recordings sound really good.

They’re not professional at the moment, it was just me setting up a camera, and I want to do that.

What are your strengths Ross?

Conducting for me is my passion. Doing the Music Theatre stuff is huge and great, then all the stuff in December that was really a great concert and everyone can come to see and know the material. I enjoyed the directing for bridge week a totally new thing for me. But conducting is definitely the area I want to specialize in. I’d like to take the orchestra to the Edinburgh Fringe. I’d like to do some diversity.

If you think about all the orchestras in the UK they all do orchestral stuff, the only orchestra that does something different is John Wilson orchestra. To have something in the middle that everyone can be part of is going to help my musicianship. Supporting young musicians is my main aim and I’d like people to still come in to the orchestra but I want the musicians to grow within the Glasgow Philharmonia.

The leaders may change, the principals may change but it just gives people a chance to move up.


Ross has attracted the attention of the regional press with his creative approach to fulfilling his dreams

What do you love most about conducting?

It’s creating that sound and to get musicians in a group and controlling a group of musicians and being in charge of getting your idea into reality, it’s a big thing. When I’m playing percussion I don’t like being told what sound to make. From a conducting point of view I have a score, a vision and a sound I want in my head and its creating that.

When I was 13, the first time I was conducting, my legs were shaking when it came together to create the sound I wanted. That for me is the big thing! That was the first time I embraced a large ensemble. A James Bond medley was my first creation, with my local council, all school children, this started it. It was incredible. Being in control is just the thing for me. From a percussion point of view you’re always stuck at the back, there’s always jokes going on about percussionists. So conducting for me is the just the best thing.

For percussion then do you prefer tuned instruments or un-tuned percussion?

It differs, it depends what I’m doing, orchestral rep I love to get into a big meaty cymbal part, or something like that something that creates a texture that no one knows, there’s a bit in the third movement for me in the Vaughan Williams ‘London symphony’ where you hear rubbing cymbals together and no one has ever written that before. Vaughan Williams was the only person. To create the different texture with the rubbing together of the cymbals is great, that’s your own interpretation of it.

So if I want to come to see Ross the percussionist or the Glasgow Philharmonia symphony when is the next event ?

This Friday night at the RCS ( 28th February 2014 )

Cool, I’ll get a ticket.

I’m getting a chance to conduct the Vaughan Williams piece to create my own sound and vision. June 27th in St Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh, tickets from Usher Hall and June 29th in RCS you can get tickets in the RCS box office and they are already selling.

What do you like least about conducting?

Nothing. If you’re pressing me – maybe the time, if you have to pick something, you have to spend learning scores, so I have 15 scores to learn in two months at the moment. I’m sent scores and I have to find scores myself. A lot going on so I need good time management. I never stop learning about the history side, technical matters, musicality and I love the stress of it so I don’t find it really a problem at all.

What tips would you give to someone thinking about taking up conducting?

Do it, have your vision, but it is hard to start and there’s no one stood in front of you instructing you. It would be good to do a workshop but what would the musicians get out of it? It would be a great opportunity but people who have a vision and drive you can make it work, everything that happens is on you and it is quite a lonely lifestyle. If your orchestra doesn’t like you you’re in trouble. Be nice to people and be friendly because you need to create a good team environment. Originally it’s hard because the musicians are all the same age or sometimes older than me. But when they realized I was serious about it and I have a vision they realize with the gigs we’ve now got that it’s a showcase for them to demonstrate their skills. It’s all good cv material and it’s great to give people opportunities.

My rehearsals are always open if you want to come in and watch.

Do you think you will commission people to write music specifically for your orchestra?

That’s funny you should ask that, next June I’ve commissioned a Scots composer called Peter Longworth, who is also a trumpet player and I’ve commissioned him to write a score for a string quartet concerto for the Astrid String quartet who are all made up of RCS students or ex-students. There’s no string quartet concerto’s out there, there’s one by Schonberg for audiences that aren’t in to music and the other one by Elgar but it’s not really suitable. I’m also working with a young musical theatre composer at the moment which is exciting.


When I did my conducting exam recently I wore a really bright colorful dress and I sent my Mum a photograph and she asked me “shouldn’t conductors all wear black suits”!   Ross and I discussed female conductors which should be another blog post and I asked Ross what he thought about whether conductors should all wear black suits. He just laughed, I don’t think he’s got any competition from me lol. Although I have got a magic wand.


Update :

I found this interesting article on the Guardian website about training opportunities for female students in the world of conducting 





It Looks Like Snow !

November 10, 2013 — 71 Comments


I plucked up the courage to ask Jon Snow for a quick ten minute interview for my blog during my train journey from Glasgow to Warrington.  I had my fingers crossed that he wouldn’t tell me to “go away”; however, he was very charming and left me completely star struck.

Jon Snow is a British journalist and presenter best known for presenting Channel 4 News.  I grew up watching this man most nights on the T.V. as my Mum watches the C4 news.  In 2011, Jon Snow presented the multiple award-winning investigative documentary; ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ which documented war crimes committed in the final days of the Sri Lankan conflict in 2009.  After writing this article when searching for a picture I read that he declined an OBE because he believes working journalists shouldn’t take honours from those about whom they report.


Picture from www,

I hope you enjoy my impromptu interview 🙂

I can see that you’re listening to music, do you enjoy classical music or opera at all and what type of music do you like to listen to the most?

Jon – I like classical music particularly choral music but my knowledge of opera is very limited. I’m listening to ‘St John Passion’, Bach at the moment, choral music.

I was a chorister and when I was seven years of age when I got a scholarship to Winchester Cathedral and that paid for my education.  I remained there until I was 13. 

What was your favourite repertoire that you remember from singing at that age?

Jon – I think it was Herbert Howells ‘Collegium Regale’.  I did Desert Island Discs and it was one of my discs.

My mother was a student at the Royal College of Music in London she was very musical and played piano a lot, a lot of Brahms.  I used to pick up harmonies and sing along with her when I was extremely young about 4 or 5 years of age, I showed a talent for singing and being able to comprehend the structure of music and she decided I ought to get put in for one of these scholarship, so that was that.  She was taught composition by Howells.

Marvellous!  Do you play a musical instrument?

Jon – Yes violin and piano.

What made you pick up violin and piano?

Jon – The violin I was told to because it was more use than the piano but in fact the piano has always been a fantastic instrument to learn.  I have my mother’s Bluthner. A boudoir grand, a nice size ebony black. 

What kind of music do you like to play on the piano?

Jon – I like to play mainly from ear, from the baroque period.

Do you miss having that musical environment around you from when you were younger?

Jon – I do but it’s difficult to recreate it and I do a day job that makes it difficult to arrange practise with a choir because I’m always working at 7:00 pm and that’s when they usually practise.

What University did you go to?

Jon – I went to Liverpool University.  I got thrown out.  I was involved in an anti-apartheid demonstration against investments in South Africa, we had a sit-in and eventually the ring leaders were thrown out and I was one of them.  It was the best thing that happened to me because I was reading law and I would have been a terrible lawyer and I ended up a journalist.

Is that how you fell into journalism then?

Jon – Not really there was a bridge in-between I worked in a day centre for homeless and vulnerable people and after about three years I discovered I was better talking about it than doing it.  I was based in Soho, London.  I cared for 16 to 21 year old, lots of Scots!

Would you ever consider one of these T.V. programs such as joining a Gareth Malone choir for a one off series?  Like the Military Wives Choir? 

Jon – I did consider doing a BBC TV series about conducting called ‘The Maestro’, unfortunately it was the year of the American elections and I had a lot of work commitments over the Atlantic so I had to drop out which was really sad as I would have loved to have done it.  You got really well trained.  I would love to do something like that again if it ever came up again in the future.

Charlotte (in response) – one of our teachers was the deputy to the main teacher on that program so I watched that program, it was amazing.  I hope you get the opportunity to take part in it.

Would you ever put your feet into something like ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ (Dancing with the Stars)?

Jon – No! My brains too far from the extremities of my limbs I would never crack it.  You could make a real fool of yourself.

Do you think you’d enjoy the costumes?  I ask because of all of the lovely ties you wear when presenting the news, they catch my eye.

Jon – Yes probably, I wouldn’t mind.  It wouldn’t be my first choice.

On a different note, are you allowed to express your own opinions on the news or do you have to be completely impartial?

Jon – Well you are supposed to be balanced and objective, but there is no such thing as a neutral human being so the way in which you write, or express, or interview people will probably suggest some kind of position on something.  I think it is impossible to disguise completely but I think you try to very hard to be objective about and to offset whatever prejudices you have.  I don’t think you have time to hide your opinions, you have to sort of get on with it.


Serendipity strikes again, who would have thought such a chance meeting would generate such an interesting and informative chat.  Jon, if you ever get the chance to do the BBC Maestro, I sincerely hope you do I’d love to watch it, and you need a young soprano to conduct you know who to call 🙂   I was kicking myself because my business cards were in my suitcase, however, I quickly jotted down my blog address and left but not before I was really cheeky and asked for a photo which Jon, being a fabulous sport, agreed to even though he was tired after a long day.  I thanked Jon for his time and I returned to my seat, leaving Jon listening to the tracks on my blog.  He was kind enough to send out a “Tweet” after listening 🙂


Jon told me to tell my teacher she was doing a great job so I sent a text to Kath and she was thrilled.

Whilst trying to put pictures together for this post I discovered Jon has a blog called the ‘Snowblog’
Recently Jon interviewed Sir Alex Ferguson on players, politics and the press.  If you want to see how a real professional interviews it is worth a watch ( Link )

When I arrived at the station and excitedly explained to my Mum what had happened on the train she asked me if I had asked him about the HS2 high speed train link to Glasgow, his thoughts on student fees and what did he think about the Scottish Independence question ?  I replied, “Oh Mum he deals with those sorts of questions at work every day”  🙂

What a great early birthday present this was, it’s my birthday tomorrow, two decades and out of my teens, I’m hoping to put a couple of my scrapbook photo’s together tomorrow for a birthday post.  I’ve had a fabulous weekend of performances too. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.


Helen Kay, Denis Kay and I outside St Mary in the Baum church, Rochdale.

Dennis Kay is the Principal Conductor and Director of Music of Tideswell Male Voice Choir. Helen Kay, Dennis’s wife, works alongside him providing ideas and support in every aspect of the choir’s life. Dennis joined the TMVC when there were 30 or so members and in the intervening 8 years the group has grown to 63 members.

Helen’s role is multifaceted. Dennis and Helen are very much a team and they have worked together to bring about changes that have resulted in the choir becoming less traditional and more adventurous than many other similar groups. Together they are able to make things happen – Dennis by painting in broad brush strokes and Helen filling in the detail. Helen plays a key role in ensuring the smooth operation of many aspects of the choir’s larger events. Her attention to detail spans programming, sound, lighting, costume, dressing room arrangements etc. etc. and Dennis would be lost without her! (and her spreadsheets!!)

1. I know that you both met through Music, would you share how you met with my blog friends?

Well, actually it came about as a result of Helen chatting to her daughter’s music teacher at primary school. Helen’s mum was a singer and Helen enjoyed singing in the school choir when at senior school. Her daughter’s music teacher was, at that time, a member of Dennis’s choir in Rochdale and suggested that Helen went along. The rest, as they say, is history!

2. Do either of you play any instruments, if not which instrument would you choose to learn from scratch?

Yes, we both do. Dennis can play most brass instruments with the exception of the trombone. However, he would have loved to play the piano, and play it well. Helen had piano lessons from the age of six until she was sixteen but was ecstatic to be able to abandon them when studying for ‘O’ levels! She does, reluctantly, bash out a few notes at choir rehearsals if Chris gets held up in traffic and she also played for the singing lessons which Dennis used to offer.

3. Dennis, how did you get involved as the Musical Director of the Tideswell Male Voice Choir?

Eight years ago Dennis decided, after almost thirty years of directing choirs, to retire. Within a matter of weeks he received a ‘phone call asking if he could help out at Tideswell. The choir had just parted company with its M.D. and needed someone to see it through the following two or three months until a replacement could be found. Dennis does say that he wondered what he had taken on, but was impressed and encouraged by the enthusiasm and commitment of the thirty or so members. After three months the choir asked him whether or not he would consider accepting the position on a permanent basis. Eight years on still wondering “why?” but still enjoying the job.


Catherine Riddiough, Christopher Ellis, myself, Dennis Kay and Helen Kay.

4. Choosing repertoire is very difficult, how do you decide what to do each year? Do you plan monthly or annually?

This is indeed a very difficult area, but generally Dennis attempts to plan repertoire at least two years in advance. He firmly believes that, being in the business of entertainment, it is important to keep abreast of the times and have a deep awareness of what brings people out of their homes to see and hear live music.

5. How long does it take to perfect each song?

Actually Dennis does not believe that perfection is ever reached because each time a piece of music is performed, different emotions come to the fore. For Dennis it’s all about the moment.

6. What is the most enjoyable thing about running a choir?

The challenge of directing a group of singers and relaying your inner emotions to them that ultimately brings to life words and music that at the outset are merely dots a piece of paper.


The Tideswell male voice choir at St John’s Church, Tideswell.

7. How did you meet Christopher Ellis, the accompanist for the choir, your right hand man?

It was a happy coincidence that, some years ago, Dennis heard Christopher at a music festival in Hazel Grove and was immediately struck by the inspired and sensitive accompaniment which he provided for several of the classes. In due course, when seeking a Principal Accompanist, Dennis contacted Chris in the hope that he could persuade him to fill that role and was delighted by Chris’s acceptance.

8. How do you recruit more members for your choir, it has grown into a large group of men now?

In 2010 Dennis decided to run a twenty six week project entitled ‘Come and Sing’. This resulted in thirty new members joining the choir. More recently he did a similar project but this time for just six weeks. As a result of the choir’s success new members are attracted on a regular basis. The turnover in membership is very small but we do lose people for varying reasons from time to time and so it is important to continually welcome new recruits to the team.

9. How much of your week does the choir planning, preparation, concert booking, arranging, and rehearsing etc. take up?

To do this job properly requires total commitment and a clear vision for the future. The choir rehearse twice weekly and perform around twenty events annually. All of this takes up a huge amount of time, requires great effort and planning and many, many, telephone calls. Helen and I work late into the night putting together programmes, writing editorials etc. etc. so we endure many sleepless nights. From putting out the chairs, to stepping on to the concert platform and, everything in between, takes up most days of the week from dawn to dusk and beyond, without Helen’s love and support, I simply couldn’t achieve what I do.


Dennis Kay and the Tideswell male voice choir at Gawsworth Hall.

10. Helen, do you wish it was a mixed choir? Or do you think that male only choirs are easier to manage ?

That’s a really good question. Having been part of an all female choir myself I wondered what it would be like working with an all male chorus. The fact is that there’s not much to choose between them. LOL ! Do women gossip more than men? No! In fact I have found that an all male group exhibits most of the same characteristics as an all female group! I don’t have any experience of being part of, or managing, a mixed voice group so I can only guess what the dynamics of such a group might be. I do miss being able sing myself so I suppose a mixed choir would give me the opportunity to perform, however, I would probably get into trouble for being naughty!

11. How many events have TMVC got booked for next year? And am I included ?  LOL

The calendar next year is taking shape. January to April is reserved for working on the choir’s programme for the forthcoming concert season and hopefully recording a CD. However, in late March 2014 the choir will be visiting St. David’s in Pembrokeshire. The concert season proper will commence in April and we already have a number of events confirmed. Of course you will be involved Charlotte 

I hope Buxton, 9th November, is already in your diary and as soon as we get the date for Gawsworth we’ll let you know, and that’s just for starters!! Don’t worry there will be plenty more 


First of all I would like to pass on my grateful thanks to David Nichols for agreeing to record an interview for my blog diary. David is a Producer, Writer, Production Manager, Consultant and Advisor in the film industry. His credits include: “The Tourist”; “Seven Years in Tibet” and “To Rome with Love”. (Link)

Charlotte: Do you live in Italy or are you on holiday?
David Nichols: I have lived in Italy for 15 years and speak Italian.
His wife Jenny cooks; she cooked for Angelina, Brad and the kids! Whilst filming ‘The Tourist’. They have seven rescue dogs. (Link)

Charlotte: How do you choose the films that you produce?
David: They call me.

David doesn’t raise the money. Other producers do that job. He organises the film, he is given the script, asked to calculate how much it will cost (create the budget) and determines where will it be filmed.

David: Most fun part is deciding where to film it!
For the “Seven years in Tibet” David spent six months all around the world deciding where to film it, he missed Jenny, his lovely wife, though.

Charlotte: What do you like the best about producing a film?
David: Everyday is a different day. I never know what is going to happen next. It’s a great challenge, I get tired of it too and it can be stressful. Everyday has new problems to solve or experiences to enjoy. Every film is a prototype, every film you have to settle a whole new set of problems. I often have to restart from zero.

Charlotte: What career advice would you give to your daughter?
David: She is 24, a chef training in NYC, Creative writing is her thing. My advice; ‘Do what you love and love what you do. Otherwise you live your life waiting for the weekend’

Charlotte: Who did you enjoy working with the most: Actor; technician; costume; Director?
David: I would have to say Woody Allen. I most enjoyed working with him.

Charlotte: Do you help to select the actors for the film?
David: The Director chooses actors; some films are made because they have the actors e.g. ‘The Tourist’ was made because the opportunity for Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie to be in the same movie arose. In big budget films, the actors create the films.

Charlotte: Do you want to make a film about a young blonde singer who wants to break into the world of Opera? 🙂
David: Laughing – The next time I need a young talented blonde singer I will give you a call! It won’t be as an extra but a singer, if you hear an extra sing you have to pay them featured rates.

David Nichols was a lovely man who was relaxed and welcoming. I was able to have a good laugh with him, in fact when I listened back to the tape I think I need to work on that loud guffaw of mine 🙂 it’s not very lady like.

David said that he’ll follow my blog. So be super nice to him in the comments 🙂

And David if you’re reading this I’m free July to September 🙂 LOL


As it was Max’s 21st birthday I had the good fortune to meet his Mother Dr Sarah Fane, Dr Fane is a very inspirational woman, she will receive an OBE in January 2014.  She was told about it on the Queen’s birthday, Saturday 15th June 2013. Dr Fane was awarded the Order of the British Empire for services to charity and in particular her services to the children of Afghanistan.

It all began when she was a medical student in Afghanistan when the Russians were at war there. She worked in a mother and child hospital. She returned to Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban and was inspired to set up the charity called AFGHAN CONNECTION (link) in 2002.

They began focusing on health issues giving vaccinations to 72,000 children and concentrated on maternal health.  Then the charity twinned 20 schools in England to ones in Afghanistan – creating a teaching programme, writing letters and posting them out to Afghanistan.  The charity raised funds through schools in the UK.  The children in Afghanistan had no school buildings so the charity raised the funds to start building the schools.

In the last 3 years the project concentrated in one area, Worsaj in the North East (Hindu Kush) none of the women Dr Fane’s age could read or write, so they built schools for the children who could not reach schools due to the remoteness of the area. At the start of the project 800 children were in the schools they set up. These were children who could not access education due to the distances involved to attend established facilities. The charity trained 450 teachers in that region, and built 8 new schools for over 5,000 children and helping the local education department.  The charity have been invited to do the same again in another district nearby.

Dr Fane’s son (Alex) noticed that the Afghan cricket club had climbed their way up the cricket leader boards. Going from bottom of the world rankings to 15th in no time at all. The sportsmen came from refugee camps and are now considered heroes  within their own country. The charity obtained support from the M.C.C. in London and have run big summer camps involving over 2,000 children, both boys and girls. The Afghan team came to the camps to help teach them the children.  The charity obtained coaching for some of cricketers to help them to become professional coaches.

In recent years Dr Fane’s focus has changed to education and cricket rather than her initial interest in health.

To close the interview I asked her what she would change.

She answered that she would like to give the children in the schools a proper future, after constant war for over 30 years, to create a more peaceful country and give the women more rights.

I wish Dr Fane every success in the important work that she does.  It was an inspiration to meet and talk with her and I will take away a different perspective of Afghanistan.