Please don't be alarmed. Even though this blog post is about the Heart & Soul Choir in Epsom, it doesn't include any audio clips of me singing, a fact that will reassure anybody who has ever heard me in real life. (Hey, it's about enthusiasm, not ability, ok?)
I say that but, whilst my best singing voice is currently grating enough to repel a herd of stampeding buffalo, I know that choir leader and vocal/personal coach, Roz McLeod, would be capable of cajoling something a lot more pleasant from my vocal chords. Actually, having spent time in her company I'm pretty convinced that Roz could persuade anybody to do anything.
It may sound hyperbolic but Roz is one of those people whose energy hits you before you even clap eyes on them. I've been lucky enough to visit this choir twice: once in June 2018 and once again last week and her presence easily explains why the group was fizzing with enthusiasm on both occasions.
The choir first sang together in 2008 at a fundraising event that Roz organised. The group of singers that she got together enjoyed the experience so much that they wanted to do it again, and so Heart & Soul began. They rehearse on Wednesday nights in the Unity Hall, part of the United Reformed Church in Epsom, a venue spacious enough to do their big sound justice.
When I arrive this time, on a warm summer evening, there's a steady stream of people walking in through the doors and taking their seats in a big semi-circle of chairs. The thing that immediately stands out is that not one person is sat on their own; by the time 8pm rolls around every single person, without exception, is in conversation with somebody else. The cheerful chatting en masse is a lovely noise to be enveloped in.
Roz then leads them in a vocal warm-up (which sounds amazing from the off), before they launch into their opening number. Last time I was emotionally unprepared for their version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a song that resonates with me as it was a favourite of my not-long-departed beloved Nan. The choir, accompanied by pianist Siobhan, sounded stunning and I had to blink and swallow furiously in order to avoid becoming a blubbing mess.
This time I'm ready with the tissues but manage to escape with my mascara intact as they start with The Greatest Show, the opening number from The Greatest Showman soundtrack. I'll be the first to admit that this kind of tune doesn't usually do much for me (and indeed, as I've never seen the TGS film, I watched the song on YouTube when I got home and remained pretty unmoved by it) but it's testimony to the power of live music that the H&S Choir's version is vibrant, powerful and utterly enjoyable as their voices soar and swell towards its climax. (That final note - wow!)
Roz then spends a few minutes refining individual singing parts with the different voice types within the group before blending it all back together again. I find it fascinating how anybody can concentrate on singing one set of notes, when the person next to you is belting out totally different ones. It's like the adult version of a round of London's Burning, only without any smokey nostalgia for the devastation of a major English city.
Rag'n'Bone Man's Human is next. It's a complete change of tone and not the type of song I'd usually be expecting a choir to take on but Roz's arrangement is lovely and it really works.
During this I wander around the hall, interested to hear whether the collective sound of everyone's voices is concealing any individual duff, flat or squeaky notes, but no, they all sounds good. I am beginning to question whether this choir really is an amateur, 'anybody can join' type of affair because they sound bloody amazing. Roz assures me that there are no auditions and that anybody who wants to be a member is automatically accepted, even if they have a voice like a rusty buzzsaw (Roz absolutely didn't say that last bit).
I now have a real understanding of why choirs are such positive places and why singing therapy works so well. There's an absolute joy in this room: happiness in harmony, and everybody is on their feet and moving as they sing. I suddenly want to burst into song myself and, in fact, I do, during the last one of the night, (Something Inside) So Strong. Quietly, mind. I don't want to scare anyone.
Roz brings immense warmth and humour to her leadership (lots of praise was heaped on her by everybody I spoke to and they ALL mentioned how funny she is) but she keeps things on track. There's discussion between the songs but a word or a wave from her brings everyone back to full attention, ready for the next vocal challenge.
The choir regularly sings in public: they've just done their annual appearance at Mayfield Lavender Farm, and their spirit-lifting festive performances are looked forward to each Christmas by singers and audience alike.
Roz often enlists her choir to help her raise money for children's charity, Winston's Wish. She has a personal reason for supporting this amazing cause, which she explained more about in a recent Facebook post.
And, excitingly, Roz is now going to be bringing her Heart & Soul to Ashtead. She's running a free trial night on Wednesday 2 September, at West Ashtead Primary School, so if you fancy setting your voice free in supportive surroundings follow that link and let her know you'll be joining her.
I could easily sing the praises (see what I did there?) of Roz and her choir for many more paragraphs but I think these testimonies, posted on the Heart & Soul Facebook page by choir members, sum up the experience well enough:
"Something was missing from my life. Then I found Roz McLeod and the H & S choir. My life is now fulfilled. This community choir offers fun, love, laughter, friendship and, above all, beautiful singing that will touch your heart and soul."
"Warmth, vibrancy, fun, laughter, enjoyment......what more could anyone wish for. Come join us. Singing nourishes the soul."
To find our more about the Heart & Soul Choir in Epsom or Ashtead, get in contact with Roz here.
I'm off now to frighten the pigeons roosting in the trees at the end of my garden. All together now: "I'm only HOOOOOOOOOMAN after all...."