I know I write about this a lot, but living in Birmingham is a real joy for us as a family. There is of course a lot of bad about the city, if I may be political (I don’t need your permission actually dear reader), a policy of austerity shows its effects on a population of a million fairly dramatically. There is a lot of good though. Green spaces, cultural events, community organisations.
All of that came together yesterday in a lovely, if under-publicised, Song Festival, held at the Birmingham University Green Heart – an outdoor amphitheatre which has just been created. Choirs from all over the Midlands were invited to come along and sing with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Simon Halsey and the mesmerising Music Director of the CBSO, MirgaGražinytė-Tyla. To be conducted by world-renowned conductors and accompanied by an internationally acclaimed orchestra is one of those opportunities that living in a city offers.
We were able to cycle to the venue, off road pretty much all the way, surrounded by green and birdsong. The rain stopped long enough that it was a pleasant, although chilly, evening. Sitting outside surrounded by modern and Victorian architecture and listening to beautiful varied music and witnessing the joy of hundreds of people singing for pleasure together was a beautiful way to end a Sunday.
The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) is a renowned symphony orchestra and an integral part of the varied cultural scene in Birmingham. CBSO has suffered huge cuts to its budget for community outreach, although at least one part of their work has remained in place – the large unauditioned community choir, SOVocal, created to bring the joy of singing in a choir to anyone who fancies joining it. The choir rehearses in the south of the city and is a joyful collection of up to about 200 people meeting weekly to sing together.
The husband has sung with them for several years now and his decision to join a choir positively changed the fabric of the family in some ways. He had never sung really before (hymns in church was the limit), so this was a new experience and a chance to hone a skill. He gained a regular hobby as a focus in his week and he has met new people, making new friends and having fun – all hugely important in life. And all that before we even get to the health benefits of singing. It’s a great hobby.
And just before Christmas every year we get to share in it, as the choir joins their parent Symphony Orchestra for a Christmas concert in the city’s Symphony Hall, an immense venue which imposes a real sense of occasion with SOVocal joining two other choirs and the full and very loud orchestra. It is a family occasion for the McMillans. It’s fun to be going to watch Dad in a performance, after many years of Dad having to watch offspring in various things. We gather the wider family together and last night it was good to see my niece cracking up to Alan Titchmarsh’s Christmas-themed antics.
Every year the concert feels like the proper start to our family Christmas celebrations and one of the best nights of the year.