What are the Natural Voices Choirs?
Lizzie Renihan leads 10 choirs in the United Kingdom; these are community choirs with a commitment to rehearsal, performance…and fun. We caught up with Lizzie and asked her to explain the magic behind the energy of her groups.
Something you do with your choir that others might find bizarre!
In the build-up to a performance, I sometimes get the choir to perform the song but without singing, they just mouth the words. This puts a focus on their interpretation, faces, bodies — and it requires them to really open their mouths and conveys the words as if someone had to lip read what the song was. It’s crazy but really useful.
How does your choir bond ?
I’m not gonna lie: the pub! We have lots of pubs near my Walthamstow venues. I also put on events for everyone, this year we had a masked ball and sing-a-long. We also go for meals and outings to music nights. The best fun though is our karaoke nights – though no one gets to sing a solo on these nights because, regardless of who is holding the mic, everyone sings everyone else’s song! We just can’t help it. Not only that, there is a lot of expressive backing dancing…oh and wigs!
The funniest moment in a rehearsal?
We were rehearsing before a Valentine’s Day flash mob which was going to be in a restaurant across from our rehearsal venue. All 40 of us had to try and cross the road inconspicuously- quite a feat! There were large windows in the restaurant, so we had to crawl along the sidewalk and crouch on the ground so as not to be seen. All the passers-by wondered what the hell we were doing and we all got the giggles. One lady was in such hysterics, that she couldn’t get up and we were laughing so much we were too weak to lift her. A man walking his dog had to help us. In the end, all the romantic couples were totally shocked by our love medley and we received a standing ovation but the best bit was the mission impossible entrance.
What was the most emotional moment you had in a performance?
A wonderful lady in our choir was battling a brain tumour. She used to rest all week and just get out of bed to come to choir. When she was very sick, she didn’t want to miss our Christmas concert, so we set up a comfy chair in the middle and everyone stood around her in her last performance. A few days later, she passed away. This is the special power that a community choir has – it’s so much more than just singing.
What is something you do in rehearsals that surprises new members?
Sometimes the simple fact that I don’t sit behind a piano and that I teach everything by ear can surprise people as some expect a traditional choir director with sheet music. I’m up on my feet going over to each choir section and singing their part with them by heart.
What was your most special performance – and what made it special?
We have performed at many big events and have performed on radio and television but my fondest memory was when I started our first ever no-audition choir. We did a little performance in a tiny hall in the community. It was at Christmas and we didn’t expect many people to attend. Just before our performance a huge amount of the community had heard of the performance and so many people came to support us that they were crowding the doorway and standing at the back. The choir were so good and were so proud that they had the confidence to do it. The audience were cheering and there was so much love in the room. I had been a professional performer for 20 years in the West End, RSC and National Theatre yet this topped it all.
Elizabeth Renihan is a West End musical theatre actress, writer and concert soloist and has been performing for over 25 years. She trained at The London Academy Of Music And Dramatic Art and has been a leading actress in numerous West End hits – and also for the Royal Shakespeare Company and The National Theatre. Elizabeth has toured Europe with the BBC and the RTE Concert Orchestras and has performed as a soloist live on ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ and ‘Woman’s Hour’. See more about Elizabeth Renihan at www.naturalvoices.co.uk