It is a fact generally acknowledged by local choirs that the curtains of the town hall’s upper chamber do not favour the acoustics for massed singing.
But that did not stop recently-formed all-female choir Veev, directed by Deirdre Hayward, from launching into public performance last night (with the red velvet curtains pulled firmly back) and getting a rapturous response from a sell-out audience.
The concert, A Fine Romance, was held on the leap year day of 29th February, a date on which traditionally women can propose to men. And love in all its guises was the theme of the evening, with the feel-good factor encouraged by the seating around tables, complete with roses, chocolates, fruit punch and candles.
The concert comprised a selection of well-known romantic songs, nothing too highbrow or too lowbrow, undemanding listening of pure enjoyment that suited the warm and convivial ambience. Easy listening piano solos from Nigel Hayward at the start set the tone for the evening and continued in the interval.
The concert might not have happened at all due to the untimely death at the weekend of the Haywards’ musical colleague Phil Taylor, head of music at Anderson High School, conductor of the Shetland Choral Society and member of Lerwick Brass Band. As it was the evening was dedicated to him with proceeds going to Starlight, the charity which grants wishes to seriously ill children.
In their red and black-themed outfits the members of Veev (the Shetland word for vivid) seemed the embodiment of life. The performance started with Gershwin’s Love Walked In followed by The Man I Love, with solo sections from Marianne Fraser and Helen Robertson. From the outset it was clear that, although the repertoire, which went on to include James Bond themes, was very familiar, a rigorous standard had been demanded and obtained.
The 18-strong choir of mixed ages sang in parts and harmonised impeccably, with the diction clear and true throughout and delivery tight and well-timed. Best of all, they seemed to be enjoying every minute, especially those who let themselves go and moved to the music. Mrs Hayward’s piano accompaniment, with flourishes in just the right places, complemented the singing perfectly.
The single row arrangement of the choir meant everyone could be easily seen, and the choice of different member “announcers” introducing the musical items made for a team feeling.
Member Frances Black’s solo debut with The Rose revealed a beautiful voice and her performance was most expressive. One audience member said later: “I wish the lights would have been lowered [in that number], I could feel the tears welling up.”
A brilliantly comic part of the evening came with Marlene Williamson’s rendition of the Cabaret number Mein Herr. Complete with black trilby atop her red evening gown, she conjured up the Kit Kat Club in 1930s Berlin. By turns coquettish and dominant, she had the audience in stitches.
This contrasted with the whimsical Autumn Leaves which featured some incredibly soft singing with no voice predominant, which contrasted again with You Make Me Feel So Young (once sung by the Simpsons) and the finale, a special fun adaptation of Sparkling Diamonds.
Immortalised by Marilyn Monroe, the track has also been performed by Madonna – and in tribute a burst of Material Girl erupted in the middle of the song, enhanced by the acting skills of members Joy Duncan and Helen Robertson.
The “lovely evening”, as one concert-goer described it, ended with a well-deserved bouquet for Mrs Hayward and more companiable food and wine in the council chamber. And the consensus of opinion was that the singers were “so talented, so professional” and should perform again – soon.