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Being Part of the Family

Christmas, they tell us, is all about family. Getting together, caring for each other, celebrating, empathising and belonging.

If that is so, then Christmas happens early every Friday afternoon in The Old School in Cuckfield where The Cuckoo Choir meets to sing.

One Friday afternoon, as the time approached to sing in earnest, the pianist Fiona, flourishing in her 80s, had not appeared. Everyone was anxious... ’she’s never late’, ’perhaps her car has’, ’maybe she thinks that’. Concern penetrated through the group, and then she arrived, swept in exuding an aura of stardom, sped to the piano and struck the first chords. Relief, warmth and closeness exploded and the singing began.

This over 60s choir is open to everyone who fits into that age category, and the range of musicality is extensive – professional, amateur, experienced, non- experienced.

The only requirement is a love of singing and an appreciation of friendship and companionship. They gather early for tea, biscuits and plenty of chat then, after an hour or two of singing, adjourn to The Talbot for something to relax and nurture those stretched and weary vocal chords.

The standard of singing, however, is high. One might be tempted to have thought that this was a ‘round the piano singsong for a couple of hours’ but how wrong that assumption would have been. Under the talented baton of Jane Haughton this choir produces an excellent sound. Four-part harmony from male and female voices brings texture and depth to a wide range of music delivered with delight, commitment and a breadth of choral expertise. Daphne Stuart, for example, an original Cuckoo Choir member, Cuckfield born and bred, sang for years in the Holy Trinity Church Choir and John Bunn, who used to live next door to Daphne’s grandmother, was a choir boy there 70 years ago. He can still ‘hold his audience’ when requested. ‘Are you ready darling?’ he checks with Fiona before he slides effortlessly into The Mamas and the Papas ‘Dream a little dream of me’, capturing the romance and allowing us to momentarily drift into the oblivion of happy love memory. ‘Say nighty night and kiss me’ indeed! Brian sings bass; he has always loved singing and comes from a musical background. His mother was a talented pianist. His life, however, has been devoted to sport. He wrestled for a living for some years but has always sung, even if it was only in the rugby dressing room with the lads. Now, he jokes, his voice is the only part of his body that remains undamaged.

Norma sang professionally in the Royal Opera House chorus for many years and here, in her ninth decade, she performs the solo in Handel’s ‘ Lascia Ch’io Pianga’ with sheer beauty, emotion and confidence. ‘When the night’s over the sun will rise again’ is now indelibly printed on the musical memory of everyone privileged to be present for that special Friday afternoon moment.

Originally Norma was accompanied by her stepdaughter Dee, who enjoyed it so much that she stayed and is now a staunch member.

Sarah Cheesmur’s idea for The Cuckoo Choir was inspired by her mother, 92 year old Mo. She had been a music and history teacher at Warden Park School since the opening in 1956, and her love of singing has always been strong. Sarah wanted to provide an opportunity for Mo and others to sing together. Hence The Cuckoo Choir was born. Along with her husband Pete and many friends, plus the invaluable financial support from The Independent State of Cuckfield and West Sussex Community Initiative Fund, the firm foundation of the choir was established, ensuring that the organisation and administration is quietly efficient so that the enjoyment and rewards for everyone, singing and listening, are rich and plentiful.

Jane Haughton is a powerful catalyst in the success of this community choir, leading from the front in all ways. She is enthusiastic and encouraging, fun and inspirational, demonstrating when necessary, always positive and complimentary. Showing that positive reinforcement is not the sole prerogative of the classroom and childhood but is important throughout life. Underlying her charm and affection, however, is a hard taskmaster; returning to complex sections of the scores to make sure that choir confidence is high and that their musical knowledge and expertise moves forward and performance constantly improves. As an audience you feel they want you to listen to them, enjoy their singing and get as much pleasure out of hearing as they get out of singing.

Banter, laughter and fun permeate the afternoon; the atmosphere is joyful. Arrive tired, stressed and out of sorts with the world and leave refreshed calm and at ease; that seems to be the plan for The Cuckoo Choir. There is a restorative quality embedded in the power of the arts which nourishes wellbeing and is strengthened by the collective nature of singing together to produce an artistic achievement.

The 21st century has many wonderful advantages. We are healthier, live longer, know more, travel across the world, enjoy so much more about this amazing planet, and beyond, but it also has a dark side which perhaps we have created ourselves. Lifestyles are demanding for both young and old and community structure has insidiously altered to suit contemporary culture. Meeting up to sing together once a week, creating a great sound, laughing and joking, enjoying a cup of tea or a glass of wine, developing talent and belonging seems to be a great idea and might even shine a light on that dark side of this wonderful century.

The choir have been rehearsing their Christmas numbers in readiness for their appearance at the Christmas Tree Festival, which recently took place in our beautiful Holy Trinity Church.

Happy Christmas and a peaceful healthy 2016 from The Cuckoo Choir. If you are one of those people who relate to the glam rock 70s band Wizzard and ...’wish it could be Christmas everyday’ or even if you are not, then drop in to the Old School at 2pm on a Friday afternoon ‘when the choir starts singing and Fiona begins to play’ where, at least, it can be Christmas every week!


(reproduced with kind permission)



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