As most people will know by now Ian Grice has taken over from Meryl as Acting Musical Director. Ian has the weighty responsibility of preparing the Choir for the Festival of Welsh Male Voice Choirs at the Royal Albert Hall in May and, more immediately, for the visit of Alwyn Humphreys for a very special choir practice on the 6th February.
The Mansfield & District MVC blog caught up with Ian after one of our special Saturday morning rehearsals.
We started off by asking Ian how he got starting in the singing business.
What were your early musical memories growing up?
My musical memories are absolutely enjoying singing in the choir at school from about the age of 9. The school had an award-winning choir and took part in the Mansfield and Nottingham festivals. We were 9, 10 and 11 year olds. Every year the choir either won or came second. It was something I really wanted to be part of.
What was the name of the school?
The Jeffries Primary School, Kirkby-in Ashfield
Can you remember the teachers?
Yes the teacher who was the choir tutor was Miss Poole and the accompanist was Miss Thorpe
You’ve been involved with Mansfield & District Male Voice Choir for over 30 years. How did you get involved?
Complete fluke. My best friend at the time was a guy called Nigel Barden. Rachel and I went on holidays with Nigel and his wife Julie and we were good friends. They got married at Mansfield Baptist Church and who should be singing at the wedding but Mansfield & District male Voice Choir. Nigel had been in the Choir for about 7 or 8 months but he never mentioned it to me. I never even knew he was a singer! When I heard the Choir sing at the wedding I knew I wanted to be part of it.
The Choir has had its ups and downs over the years. How have you kept yourself motivated all these years?
An absolute want to sing. It really is a desire to sing. When the numbers in the Choir dropped down to about 18 choristers it was hard but there was a strong core within the Choir and that motivated me to stay. I had offers to go and sing with other choirs at that time and some other members did go. I stuck it out and said “No, we can rebuild this Choir.”
Do you have a favourite moment or performance as a chorister?
One of the favourite memories was a massed choir event which we did as a Nottinghamshire Male Voice Choir. Carlton, Radcliffe, Bestwood and Mansfield joined together to create a Notts MVC for a massive charity concert at the old Mansfield Leisure Centre in 1990. The concert itself and the camaraderie between the guys put something really deep into me about what can be done by merging with other choirs. Every concert is a good concert – I love every time we sing but that concert brought out some very special camaraderie between choirs. We are still good friends will our local colleagues.
But the highlight memory was a concert we did in 2004. The Choir was asked to sing at the National Lottery 10th anniversary concert at Tate Modern in London. We sang as a separate choir on the BBC big stage. We went down a storm on the day and were looked after with full hospitality.
My favourite venue, though, is the QEA building here in Mansfield. There’s just something about that building which seems to bring out the best in our Choir.
What do you think is the thing which makes Male Voice Choirs special?
The special thing about male voice choirs and the special thing about our choir is the camaraderie. Like now, we’ve just finished the rehearsal and 15 or 20 minutes later the guys are still talking and chatting to each other. There’s a proper friendship in the choir. Nobody’s left out- we look after those around us.
Outside of choral music, what sort of music do you enjoy?
I enjoy 60’s, 70’s and 80’s music. I love the style of rock where there’s a story being told especially bands like ELO, Queen, The Eagles – groups like that. I love the Beach Boys for their brilliant harmonies. I’m a big Abba fan. I remember the night when they won the Eurovision Song Contest and still love them today. If they reformed I’d definitely want a ticket!
What are your other interests apart from music?
I love cricket. I’ve only just stopped playing cricket. Absolutely adore it! I enjoy watching football, especially local football. My son Peter, plays for Blidworth and every Saturday I’m committed to watching him play.
What are your thoughts after just a few weeks into your job as Acting Musical Director?
I am enjoying watching the guys being really attentive to what I’m trying to get across. We make a very good sound and I think we can improve even more. I’m enjoying going through the songs and I’m hoping, in time, we will take on another style of singing. I would like to try and bring the Choir right up to date with some songs which have been really big hits in the past 10 years or so. I think we can get our fingers into that pie and make it work for us.
Last question Ian- how much are you looking forward to Alwyn’s visit on the 6th of February?
Absolutely bursting because we know that we’ve got to a point where we can only improve with Alwyn’s input. I feel that we will really move on when he’s had his touch on these songs especially the ones we have not rehearsed with him yet.
Thanks Ian – no doubt we’ll be hearing from him again on the run-up to May.