Nine singers who formed a group with the sole intention of performing at Shaftesbury Fringe are putting the final touches to their debut show this weekend.
Ed Bersey set up The Sylvafield Singers in January. “We said let’s do this as a six month project. We’ve all got other commitments. We are all in other choirs. Let’s rehearse once a month over the next six months. We’re just about ready and we’re very excited,” said Ed.
The group has chosen a repertoire of songs that work with their members’ voices. “We just need soprano, alto, tenor and bass. You need to sing in one of those ranges. We only have nine people in the group and that’s a fixed size. We’re not expecting this group to change. It’s designed to cover the necessary variations that happen,” explained Ed.
“We’ve got a core of people from this local area and we were lucky enough to engage Karen Wimhurst as our musical director and she sings with us. We’ve got a couple of people from London, who sing in choirs. There is a community of us that have met on choir engagements over the years that know each other,” added Ed.
After forming the group, the members struggled to think of a name. “We spent about six weeks going, ‘what should we call ourselves?’ It seemed like an easy connection to make with my studio work,” said Ed, who owns Sylvafield Recording studio in Semley. “We pinched the name from there, although we’re slightly concerned that it is Sylvafield is spelt with a ‘y’. It isn’t in relation to our hair. We’re not all silver-haired singers,” he joked. Some members of the group are showing no signs of grey.
Sylvafield Singers consists of Tina Learmonth, Robin Walter, Mike Dawson, Jane Wymark, Karen Wimhurst, Babs Sears, Kate Symonds and Yuko Leece. The nine friends will perform a twelve-song set list that certainly sets them apart from other local choral groups.
“We are in different choirs already and lots of us are actually in Palida. We wanted to do something a bit different and a bit more challenging. Karen Wimhurst has introduced me to a variety of different arrangers, one of which was a chap called Deke Sharon, who was involved in a lot of the arrangements for the ‘Pitch Perfect’ movies in America. We started to get interested in doing more modern-oriented arrangements, which are quite difficult. We’re also doing an original composition by myself,” Ed explained.
The view from Ed’s Gutch Common studio has inspired his composition. “I’ve always thought it’d be wonderful to have a lake at the bottom of my garden. Perhaps one day, we might do that. The piece that I’ve written is called ‘Silver Lake’. It’s all about being able to go to a very peaceful place and lose yourself in your thoughts.”
I walked in on the singers’ rehearsal at Gold Hill Museum’s Garden Room. They were interpreting Mark Ronson’s 2014 hit ‘Uptown Funk’ with a powerful, accapella version that I had not expected.
“That was a Deke Sharon arrangement,” said Ed. “It’s interesting, because of the way he arranges it. He takes an existing song that has got a set of instruments playing all the different parts. He put the brass section into certain voices. So you will hear the tenors effectively singing like the brass section.”
Ed’s deep voice boomed as he sings the bass notes on the track. “Typically, I’m bopping along on the bottom end of everything. I have far fewer words to learn. There is lots of ‘dee-bopping’ and ‘dum-ing’ and that kind of thing.”
It’s hard to pin down the Sylvafield Singers’ inspiration. Their Shaftesbury Fringe programme entry says that their range encompasses ‘Ed Sheeran to Fats Waller’. “I suppose it’s all coming from jazz. We don’t tend to sing church music because that’s well-catered for elsewhere,” said Ed.
“We’re not doing early music or adaptations of early music. We’re very lucky to have living in our community, Steve Hale, who is a very experienced musician and arranger. He’s had a long musical career and has run lots of vocal groups. He’s great at arrangements of jazz standards. We do a couple of his in this particular set.”
Saturday’s gig represents six months of work for the Sylvafield Singers. Ed hopes that the Gold Hill Museum Garden Room will be packed for the performance at 5pm on 6th July. “We’re going to be a very good, quality listening experience. We hope that we will offer something a little bit different and unexpected. We’ve worked hard to make it an enjoyable show. One of the songs is called ‘Everything Stops For Tea’, and our slot is at five o’clock, so it’s a perfect aperitif to the rest of the evening. Come and relax. Perhaps have a cup of tea. It will set you up for the rest of the Fringe,” smiled Ed.