Once Upon a Time …..

Two people started an adventure with nothing more than “what if”.  18 years later I ask “what if not”.  It’s the first time I have actually asked myself that and I realise the answer doesn’t bear thinking about.

Today is the last day of a world I have been immersed in for so long.  There was no apprenticeship or training course to learn the ‘trade’ just a vision, a lot of work and a lot of excitement.  It was a new concept and we stepped out into the unknown.  The concept of course abounds everywhere now and the ‘joy of singing’ has been spread far and wide, whether that be in offshoots of what we created, reality shows on TV, the promotion of health benefits, the creation of diverse choirs or our own company – the fact is ‘singing’ as a leisure activity is now firmly on the map.  So, in many ways the vision I signed up for is now complete!  Acknowledging this makes it easier to move on from the structure of concerts and take pleasure in the fact that one of our earliest crew members will now take on that mantle to ensure what we started can continue to spread musical joy.

From way back when I suggested it would be a nice idea to sing in a Castle in Scotland and was told that would be impossible, I have known that my passion lay in travel and the creation and organisation of singing holidays.  It was fortunate that so many of our singers had and continue to have a passion for going on such holidays!  Our first trip to Culzean Castle in Scotland seems like a distant memory now as does the discussion about the possibility!  However, it laid a solid foundation for our ‘travel arm’ and implanted a filter button for future conversations about what would be impossible, “you’ll never be able to sing at the Vatican” springs to mind.  This past week’s trip to the Yorkshire Coast was a great example of just how far our singing holidays have come.  The diversity of singing locations which our singers embrace, a castle, an abbey, a stately home, a bird sanctuary, a castellated garden, a cliff top, a bandstand, a spa and a priory confirms that nothing is impossible as far as our singers are concerned!  Even swimming in the North Sea and building sandcastles!!

As I reflect back today on both ‘arms’ of our company I do so with pride and awe at the number of concerts, events and trips we have done and the numbers of people who have been involved over the years.  From the early days when we were nothing more than an idea and singers joined with blind faith to where we are now with a track record of amazing accomplishments and everlasting friendships.

Opening up companies around the country and meeting new people was an intrinsic part of our growth – ten companies was a lot of travelling!  Roadshows, presentations, familiarisation visits, venue visits, planning meetings, crew meetings, music meetings, library visits, and that’s before the concerts or events take place!  1998 Northern, 2000 Central, 2001 North West, 2002 South Yorkshire, 2003 North East, 2005 Merseyside, 2006 East Midlands, 2006 Northern Ireland, 2007 USA, 2008 West Midlands.  We have produced over 365 concerts, events and trips including over 30 international trips.  Our musical directors, vocal coaches and accompanists have been very busy not to mention our administration office here in Northallerton!

We have sung on prestigious stages around the world and on small stages which no-one has ever heard of, we have sung outdoors, indoors, with famous people, with non famous people, we have sung on boats, trains, planes, under the stars, over the ocean, to the ocean, under the ground, under a waterfall, on a lake, in the sunshine, in the rain, up in the clouds, out on a cliff, in gardens,  concert halls,  arenas, theatres, churches, cathedrals, basilicas, stately homes, historic homes, castles, abbeys, restaurants, hotels, with Mickey Mouse, in front of Cinderella’s Castle, in open air theatres, on staircases and still I will have missed something out!

Everyone will have a favourite – Leeds Town Hall, Birmingham Symphony Hall, The Royal Yacht, The Vatican, St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, The Passion Play Theatre in Oberammergau, The Royal Albert Hall, Versailles in Paris, St Paul’s Cathedral in London, Walt Disney World in Florida, The Sanctuary in Pompeii, the list is endless and for some of us it is difficult to choose a favourite.  It might be our production of Evita when Tim Rice came to watch on the last night at The Grand in Leeds, it might be the production of one of our CD’s, or a singing day exploring specific music, or The Armed Man at York Minster or it might simply be all of it! Whatever it is the memories are precious.

It is those precious memories that make it all worthwhile and no-one can take them away no matter how hard they have tried.  The death of our visionary and the aftermath which followed highlighted how precious life is and how bizarre it can become.  Opening our companies in the USA was one of his highlights. It was the saddest thing in the world to watch the very essence of our creation become the focus in his final months, and even sadder that it resulted in the closure of the company and the opening of new ones without his name attached.

We may have had name changes but the essence of what we are about has never changed.  The family we have created has a unique and special bond which strives to support each other both in and out of the singing arena.  The longevity of our Godfather Michael and office Queen Teresa and still some original singers from our very first concert in 1998, mixed with everyone who has joined us along the way gives continuity and paves the way for future adventures and excitement.  The retirement of Maestro Steve is essential to his personal longevity and I applaud him for finally taking the time to look after himself and his loved ones.  However, I have made no secret of the fact that I hope when he is rested in time to come he will join us for the odd trip here and there!  I look forward to future trips with Laura and Richard and I wish Richard the best of everything with his Espressivo Chorus and the continuation of wonderful concerts.

As for me – today is full of mixed emotions.  I am excited about the future and I will be emailing everyone in the next couple of weeks with the tours planned for Unlimited Voices Travel starting in August.  I look forward to furthering my pursuits as a Yorkshire Tour guide and my work involving other tour companies.  However, right now that question I started with “what if not?”  If I hadn’t met John I would not have had the opportunity to build this overwhelming creation with him which has caused me and many others to step out into the unknown and achieve things we didn’t even know were possible, never mind impossible!  Thank you John for being the maverick you were and for having the courage to say ‘what if’.  To everyone who has joined us along the way, thank you for doing so.   Thank you to every single singer who has delighted us and entertained us wherever the venue.  Thank you for the friendships and happy times we have shared together and long may it continue!  Special thanks to Teresa, Laraine and Michael who have kept me sane when others could not and that special group of people (you know who you are) who continue to help make things happen.  To Laura and Richard for all things musical, to Barbara and Alessia for all things travel and to the one and only Steve Roberts for everything he has done to bring the company to this point.  My final thanks at this cross roads is to my girls Georgina and Alex who have been there every step of the way, through the good and the bad.  This company has changed the lives of many but none more so than us.  My intention to be a stay at home Mum went out of the window when we created this company.  ‘What if not’ – what if I had not done it and I had stayed at home?  Thank goodness I chose ‘what if’ !!


Today’s photo is at Burton Agnes Hall and is of the final performance as Unlimited Voices.