It was in the small room behind the stage of South Woodham Village Hall that twelve would be male voice choir members first met one spring evening in 1979.
The twelve men: T.Fenn, L.French, T.Bason, C.Gold, P.Hatcher, D.Watts, P.Robson, B.Grice, A.Shaw, A.Giles, F.Barlow, P.Walden and A.Arnot the Musical Director.
Most had never sung in a choir before but, nevertheless, felt that it was something worth trying. A handful of them had taken part in annual pantomime, others came from the Village Hall bar and two or three with some singing experience responded to an advert in the local magazine.
Despite having reservations concerning the venture a local teacher, Alan Arnot, who had a fine voice and could play the piano, agreed to be the conductor. It was a brave thing to do as in his capacity as musical director of the local panto, mentioned earlier, he had come across some of the men before and, although being far too nice to say, had every reason wonder about what he was undertaking. However, before the choir had sing a collective note there was no doubt in the minds of those there that it wouldn`t be long before they were a force to be reckoned with in the world of male choral singing.
In the Beginning
MEN2SING's origins go back to 1979 when it started life as the South Woodham Ferrers Male Voice Choir. Quickly establishing a reputation for the excellence of its singing, it wasn`t long before the Choir was receiving invitations to give concerts both at home and abroad.
The Choir now has 60 or so members, many with no previous singing or musical experience. Our members, some of whom make long journeys to attend the twice weekly rehearsals, are drawn from all walks of life.
Even in early days, the Choir never quite conformed to the accepted norms of what male choirs should include in their repertoire. This in no way hindered its appeal and the Choir went on to win a number of prestigious competitions including one of the largest Eisteddfods for male choirs in Wales, an award for services to the arts from Chelmsford City Council and passed the advanced choral singing examination of The Associated Board of the Royal College of Music.
Successive musical directors have contributed the Choir`s development but it was in 2003, when John Trent Wallace accepted the post, that the most significant changes started to take place. His combined skill as an arranger and as a sound engineer have raised the Choir's approach to their singing to a level not previously attained. Many of the pieces now have orchestral backing bringing a further dimension to each performance. More and more choirs are now seeking his advice and requesting copies of his arrangements as they recognise, like MEN2SING, that it is not possible to survive solely on traditional songs.
Good music is good music from whatever the era. MEN2SING, recognising the need for change, are leading the way in transforming male choirs.
Given that a number of the men were famous for their ability to drink and bellow out songs in the bar on a Friday night, it`s perhaps not surprising that one of their very first challenges was a piece called “My Comrades When I'm No more Drinking” the final wording finishes with the tombstone inscription “This man was born , lived, drank and died. And now he lies here, who imbibed in all life`s joy and purple tide. Poor man. Poor man” Another was “ Gaudeamus Igitur” , an exhortation to enjoy life, along with The Wiffenpoof Song. Other than the fact that they are short and simple it's not clear why Alan Arnot chose them but within a few weeks, and to everyone`s surprise, they were being sung reasonably well and the choir was on its way.