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                                           History

A million good ideas have probably been conceived over a cup of tea. This was certainly the case in 1936, when three ladies, at a house on Mansfield Road decided to form a ladies choir in the town of Alfreton. Of this original trio Cissy Wager, herself a local renowned contralto singer, became its conductor. She held this position until 1970, an incredible achievement in its own right!

Following her retirement Rachel Kennedy, Veronica Wragg and Frank Smith continued the strong choral traditions of the choir and in 1989, Liz Moulder arrived and took the helm until May 2019.

The choir's success is reflected in a variety of ways. This includes the many Music Festival Challenge Cups it has won and its excellent reputation in the East of England for musicianship continues to this day.

In the last twenty years it has also raised considerable amounts of money for charities including DAB, NSPCC, British Heart Foundation, Breast Cancer Research and the Jenny O’Neil Diabetic Clinic at the Royal Derby Infirmary, as well as many other small, local charities. Tens of thousands of pounds has been raised through the work of the choir since its inauguration. Some of our most successful concerts to date have been: the Six Choirs concert at the Alfreton Leisure Centre which raised a large sum for the NSPCC; a concert at Derby Cathedral for DAB which raised over £1500; and an event at Chatsworth Painted Hall which raised £3000 for Breast Cancer. It is hoped that our charity concert on Friday 16 April 2010 at the Chatsworth Painted Hall will result in another considerable donations to the Jenny O'Neil Diabetic Clinic at the DRI.

The choir has also been actively engaged in the past two decades, to widening its performance venues and styles of concert. The Boston Stump, Shrewsbury Abbey, Derby Cathedral and Chatsworth House are just a few of the more prestigious venues for concerts.

 

Links with choirs further afield, has also meant that they have traveled travel to Bristol, Shrewsbury, West Sussex and Colchester as they share their enjoyment of singing with other like-minded choirs.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the choir chair and other Committee members have also been active members of the National Association of Choirs having joined the organisation to further support and share their love of singing. This has led to their participation and often, hosting, of large scale concerts which encourage choirs throughout the East Midlands to join together in music making. The concert in 2012 was particularly successful, as having initiated the idea, and with the support of the E.C.M.V.C. and Rolls Royce Ladies, the choir helped to raise £2046 for the Sunshine Deck Appeal for a play area at the Royal Derby Infirmary. This concert was the first of its type for the local N.A.C. but definitley not be its last.

It was decided to move the choir into the 21st Century with our new name Sonara Singers which reflects

  • growing membership from local Derbyshire districts

  • move from Alfreton to new premises in South Normanton

  • age range of members from 16 upwards

  • continual development of new choral traditions and 21st century compositions

Celebrating its 75th birthday with an appearance on Central News in 2012. Sonara Singers continue to welcome women who enjoy singing to participate in the varied musical activities and opportunities it offers it singers as we move throughout the 21st century.

  
 
 

The Reflective Ramblings of a past MD
Late in 1988 I answered an advert in our local paper, for the post of MD to Alfreton Ladies Choir, and was contacted by phone by the choir’s secretary, Sandra. My two outstanding memories of the conversation are that the choir had had a rather interesting year under the baton of a young man who wore white glove to concerts, and the fact that she asked me my age!  I was invited to look at the choir and was presented with some music to peruse; I took out a couple of pieces and the rest is history. Little did I think I would still be in the job thirty years on!
The choir was then only fourteen strong but some of these members were still singing when I retired. Gradually, others returned and we became a choir of about 28 members and there we stayed for a few years until the numbers began to rise again and by 2019 the choir was over fifty strong.   Although we occasionally talked about recruiting there was only one real big push and all other singers have come by word of mouth, or in the later years, the use of media.  So what changes took place and how did I use these thirty years to develop the choir?
Alfreton Ladies was a well-disciplined, traditional choir and I felt my role was to build on this without destroying what had gone before. My first and principal aim became that of widening the range of music we sang without completely losing the roots of the female choir repertoire. To this end I started by introducing new young composers, often from Canada, many of whom have become commonplace in this country now, but back in the early 1990’s they were unknown. Thi
s was followed by arrangements of a wide range of genres to ensure that every programme was as varied and entertaining as possible.  Commissioned pieces by Michael Neaum, Alex Patterson and others also challenged the choir whilst Voiceworks provided fun and interesting warm ups and short pieces to further entertain our audiences.  
There also came a point when the name of the choir seemed to bring certain connotations to peoples’ minds especially when applying for grants and funds to buy keyboards and put on larger scale concerts with visiting choirs. On more than one occasion an official would brand us a choir of middle-cIass, grey/white haired polite ladies having never seen or heard us!  By the late nineties we were a very diverse group with a wide age range, of differing cultures and backgrounds. So ‘Sonara’ was chosen from a variety of suggestions after much deliberation!
During the thirty years, audiences also changed in age, musical tastes, knowledge etc  Gareth Malone and the media have brought choral music to a much wider audience who look to be entertained. Of course, the choir did not always like all the music all of the time but it is the MD’s role to encourage and challenge! And of course, copies went immediately with all concerts performed from memory allowing for an often spontaneous but musical response to the audiences’ reactions!
Talking of audiences, when I first joined we performed regular concerts with Senior Citizen and church groups throughout the year which meant that we really needed to just organise two concerts, the Summer Soiree and Christmas Concert in order to keep us financially viable.  Over the years this has changed as more of these groups did not want to pay and many closed down. So we needed to become more proactive to generate our own concert schedule. We were successful at organising high profile concerts at Derby Cathedral and Chatsworth etc as well as working to support charities. Singing in the local towns and shopping centres targeted a wider audience. The decision to start performing with choirs from various parts of England came through a contact from one of our members with Shrewsbury MVC and we kept the ball rolling, seeing the choir join others for weekends of fun, frolic and, of course, singing. Like many other choirs, we supported our local community where we could and used media to generate and publicise our concerts throughout the year.
I introduced guest soloists, many of them young musicians as well as working with children’s groups, brass bands and other performers which continued to ensure good audiences wherever we went. Many choirs were successfully promoting themselves so we needed to get out there and work hard to procure new audiences and venues changing the format to challenge the choir and further entertain our audiences but never to the detriment of our choral skills and standards of performance.
As the choir got larger and with a variety of ages, I became more aware of the need to look after our members’ voices so I began by introducing a basic warm up session as well as producing notes for all choir members on tips for looking after their voices. As they progressed I gradually began to develop the vocal technique of the choir which helped create its unique sound. I can say with some certainty, they were the first choir in the area to do such focused work during rehearsal time. I also invited vocal teachers to support the choirs training whilst I returned to have lessons myself realising that much had changed in the development of vocal teaching since my time at music college. 
I also recommended joining the local NAC group, originally, like many choirs for a reasonable insurance deal, but with our Chair and Secretary by my side, we got involved often hosting the annual Midlands East Concerts with great success. Eventually I took over the chair so we had regular contact with choirs not only from our area, but much further afield. The group also introduced focus sessions twice a year where guest speakers or members shared their expertise on a variety of subjects which helped the choir gain more knowledge and expertise. With the NAC contacts I have gone on to run vocal workshops not just in the East Midlands but nationally which has allowed me insights into the working of other choirs and their conductors which in the long run have also benefitted our choir.
Talking of change, some of us have gone through the process of changing the uniforms more times that we’d like to admit too. No matter how hard you try, what style you pick and what colour is chosen, not everyone will be happy.  I believe that since the uniform is the first thing an audience sees it sets the tone of the evening or occasion. By 2019 we had both an informal uniform which was extremely useful whilst a new formal dress would certainly set the tone for the grander concerts. I have always believed that as a large group of performers the uniform shows solidarity and professionalism before a choir even opens their mouths! Audiences make immediate judgements whether it be the uniform or how you walk on to the stage!
So, after thirty years as MD  I decided to retire. The decision was not taken easily nor lightly but after due consideration. It was time for a younger MD to take over.
I have written about the developments and skills I tried to introduce to the choir to keep them engaged, challenged and to continually develop as singers.  But what did I gain from the partnership? Over the thirty years the ladies have supported, and given their all whether it was singing carols in the shopping centre at Christmas or in the Painted Hall at Chatsworth. It was not possible without various chairpersons, secretaries, treasurers and committee members who kept everything non-musical going and functioning at the highest possible level. But the most important thing for any MD to remember is that we are a musical team. Teresa Mills was at my side all through the thirty years except for a brief maternity break! Her expert musical accompanying, listening skills and professionalism was there throughout my time supporting both the choir and myself. Teresa was an absolute joy to work with at all times. But the most important thing I gained was the friendship and joy of making music which it was my privilege to watch over and develop.  And so, I thank every member whoever sang with me through the thirty years. You are what made the choir during these years, and I wish you all the best for the future.

Liz Moulder

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