So what happens on concert day?

8 March 2012

Some singers organise their black and scarlet kit on the spare bed with military precision a day or two before the concert, leaving only the lunchbox to be filled on the important day. Some of us believe in travelling light; others spend the day before each concert cooking up a storm and co-ordinating with friends in the choir to provide a spread that rivals the famous picnics of Harewood House or Glyndebourne - missing only copious quantities of fizzy stuff.

If you’re anything like me the food boils down to some of last night’s leftovers or an M&S salad and fruit, and the precious hours the night before are spent not brushing fluff off the Little Black Dress but walking up and down the kitchen droning a few lines from the one song that still sometimes thinks it’s scrambled egg instead of an immaculate omelette. Always a professional at last-minute cramming years ago, I still believe (although it’s probably nonsense) that going over words until the very last moment will make a difference, even if I actually knew the words weeks ago. As with wearing my granny’s silver medallion on all important occasions, it’s a ritual that you just have to go with if it gives you confidence and comfort.

First-timers might wonder what on earth there is to do for all those hours at Leeds Town Hall or The Sage Gateshead, when we’re perfectly oven-ready thanks to Gary's enjoyable yet exhaustive rehearsal regime. Let me tell you: we do not spend a minute too long in that glorious building, and most of us end the day wishing it had all started earlier and lasted longer. As with a child who dreams about Santa and Christmas Day and has sleepless nights before their birthday, anticipation is everything with an Inspiration concert, and a vital element of the fun is the build-up.

Having found a table and organised the all-important clothes (bring hangers!) bags of food and drink, make-up, accessories and mirrors, we assemble in the stalls while the piano is still being tuned. At this point everyone looks as they usually do – apart from tell-tale flashes of scarlet nails or newly-cut hair. From here on in almost every minute is accounted for by lining up, streaming up the stairs and onto the stage, filling the risers until they’re fit to bust, putting soloists in the right places… then finally facing the lights, the baton and the glorious music provided by Northern Sinfonia or The Orchestra of Opera North. At first, their brilliance and professionalism are scary. How can we possibly measure up? Answer: by raising our game that final nano-distance to the summit.

Singing to Gary’s gran at the back of the upper circle is a tall order; projecting that far and making the words clear while preserving the nuances of the songs is exhausting, and at first the presence of the wall of sound provided by the orchestra is daunting. But somehow we quickly settle down, perfectly blended into a cocktail of music we hope is delicious to the ear. With every dress rehearsal inevitably there comes some howler – a moment when we know a song is definitely pear-shaped. Thankfully the musicians don’t roll their eyes, and the problem is addressed after they've gone off for a break. Gary knows we get it, we've got it and we can give it – and no dress rehearsal gaffe has ever been repeated at showtime.

So now the day is almost done… If we’re lucky we’ll have a couple of hours to nip out for some fresh air before the all-important chow-down and major hair, make-up and wardrobe operation that will help to raise everyone into full concert mode. Who knew so many versions of ‘scarlet’ existed in lipstick or bow ties? Who knows how much sponge cake and how many chocolate brownies fuel our magnificence?

When we’ve just about stopped admiring ourselves and each other there’s Gary at the door, all shiny shoes and primped beard. With a few words he lifts us that last inch or two to the pinnacle. The foil is off, we're succulent, browned and stuffed full of sensational musical goodies – let’s get this feast on the table!

For those of us who’ve been with Inspiration since early 2009, the excitement, butterflies, mild dose of nervous ‘glow’ and sheer unadulterated thrill have not worn off. Every time is almost like the first time, not least because the will to give of our very best is not merely as strong as ever – it’s getting even more intense. As with anything you do that gives joy to others as well as yourself you want to keep doing it and improving so everybody feels good. Joy given, joy experienced… and the guarantee of more to come. How good is that?

Sheena Hastings

Concert day prepartions Concert day nourishment The finishing touches Gary and the orchestra