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Members of Seaview Choir familiarise themselves with the lyrics and score for Bloom Britannia. Photo © Josie Barnes

Seaview: a Bloomin’ Britannia lovely choir

Artistic director of Barefoot Opera, Jenny Miller, sings the praises of the Seaview Choir, one of many groups of singers participating in Bloom Britannia – the community opera running from Friday 22–Sunday 24 October at St Mary in the Castle.

Barefoot Opera’s Jenny Miller is the artistic director of Bloom Britannia and has worked closely with the Seaview Choir for many years.

We dodge chest freezers, large pieces of gym equipment and a punch bag, pull out the small but determined upright piano, and hunt down chairs. The space has to accommodate many disparate activities but it is large, airy, and works perfectly well.  We are in the back room of the Seaview Project on Hatherley Road, St Leonards. We are prepping for one of our favourite dates in the Bloom Britannia rehearsal calendar: our weekly session with the Seaview Choir. If you don’t know about ‘Seaview’ please check out their website here.

For many years now they have provided a drop-in day centre for vulnerable, marginalised adults, with help on hand for practical issues, with a relaxed hang-out area, with a really affordable café for clients, and an open generous atmosphere in the room.  I have always felt welcomed and happy walking through the blue painted front door.

Many years ago I volunteered to help pull together a Christmas carol choir at the Seaview Project, and found the experience so rewarding that my company, Barefoot Opera, has kept involved, on an off, when possible and especially at Christmas, ever since.

Christmas 2019 performance by Seaview Choir and Barefoot Opera.

Why so rewarding? The group is completely eclectic, with literally no restrictions put on who can join in. One singer is a veteran who has known the Sussex countryside from girlhood, and has that rarest of things, a true Sussex accent.  One singer had worked in bands, had sung as a chorister and is marvellously rhythmic.  One singer has bid cigarettes farewell forever, but still retains a fabulous Marlene Dietrich timbre. Each singer brings their own character and personality to the musical table.

Double bass player Lucy Mulgan loves working with Seaview Choir. Photograph © Eve Morris

This is not a conventional choir.  This is a choir with guts.  Furthermore, no ifs and buts, they ask us to work with the choir and respond to their ideas, quite as much as bringing our own ideas along.  Over the years Barefoot Opera’s double-bassist and composer Lucy Mulgan has developed a terrific relationship with the group, and recently we brought along Bev Lee Harling, singer-songwriter extraordinaire, as part of our huge community opera Bloom Britannia. We suggested the group might like the adventure of joining in with a part of the newly commissioned opera, as, pre-pandemic, they had already joined in with our initial research and development workshops.  They are up for it!

Singer-songwriter Bev Lee Harling has also been working with the Seaview Choir in preparation for Bloom Britannia. © Josie Barnes

Lucy says: “It’s been a blast learning this tongue twister of a chorus! It’ll be so exciting to see the choir singing in St Mary in the Castle with the wider community.”

Paul from the choir says, “Suck it and see!”

We are thrilled – we wanted this opera to truly represent as many segments of our arguably over-segmented society as we can.  We are hoping to score in two directions (at least): to have participants and audience members who say opera is not for them to re-think that idea, and to have habitués of established opera and classical music venues also re-think their definition of what an opera should be.  Seaview Choir will help champion our cause.

Not only that. The opera is certainly a comedy, but, as with all good comedy, has a serious intention, and asks us to take a close look at ourselves, our town, and our nation today.  With comic punch, the opera puts a spotlight on our relationship as a community to the vulnerable, the newcomers, the homeless, and the dispossessed, and the Seaview Choir are ambassadors for that message.

Come see the show – tickets are disappearing fast, so book now! – via our website.  The Seaview Choir are making a special appearance in the number ‘Who invented lunch?’, on Friday 22 October, the opening night of our world premiere. Not bad for a choir who get together when they can behind fridge freezers and gym equipment.

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Posted 18:35 Sunday, Oct 17, 2021 In: Community Arts

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