by Simon Ager
I enjoy singing very much and have been singing regularly with various groups since 2007. Before that I sang a bit on my own, but didn't really have the confidence to sing in public. I particularly like songs in Welsh, Irish and Scottish Gaelic.
At secondary school I sang in the school choir for a few years before I took up the clarinet and joined the school band instead. A few years later I got interested in traditional Irish and Scottish music, and I've been listening to it ever since. I tried to learn some songs in Irish and Scottish Gaelic, but only sang them on my own.
In 2004 I did a course in Irish language at Oideas Gael, the Irish language and culture centre in Gleann Cholm Cille, Donegal in the northwest of Ireland. As part of the activities there we sang songs in Irish, which I really enjoyed, but it wasn't until the following year that I "found" my singing voice. Since then I've been back there every year for a week or two. Since 2007 I've taken part in workshops in traditional Irish sean-nós singing with Gearóidín Bhreathnach and Lillis Ó Laoire at Oideas Gael.
For a few months in 2007 I sang with a group lead by J Eoin at the Hammersmith Irish Centre in London. We sang traditional and contemporary songs from Ireland in English, and we did one performance in Hammersmith tube station to raise money for a local hospital. Eventually I decided that going to London every week was taking up too much of my time and money, so I decided to look for choirs to join in Brighton, where I was living at the time.
In January 2008 I joined the Brighton Welsh Male Voice Choir and the Brighton Vox Community Choir. The male voice choir performs regularly in Brighton and the surrounding area to raise money for various charities - during the six months I was in the choir we did no fewer than seven concerts. We sang songs from Wales in Welsh and English, as well as songs from films, musicals and other sources. The community choir sings songs from all over the world in many different languages, including English, French, Croatian, Zulu, Xhosa and Saami, but rarely performs in public
In July 2008 I moved to Bangor in Wales and not long after that I joined the Bangor Community Choir and the Bangor University Music Society Choir. The music society choir performs once or twice a term, usually in the university, and sings a mixture of songs - folk songs, songs from films, classical pieces and contemporary works by the likes of Karl Jenkins and John Rutter. The community choir sings songs from all over the world, especially from Eastern Europe and southern Africa, in many different languages. We perform several times a term around North Wales, and have also sung in parts of England and France.
There are some videos of the Music Society choir and the Bangor Community Choir:
In 2008 I did a course in Scottish Gaelic songs with Christine Primrose at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (SMO), the Gaelic College on the Isle of Skye. My Gaelic wasn't fluent at the time, but I did know how to pronounce the words and could have a basic conversation. Since then I have been back to SMO most years to do courses in Gaelic songs with Christine Primrose, Mary Ann Kennedy, Margaret Stewart and Joy Dunlop, and my spoken Gaelic has improved a lot as well.
I have taken part in a number of singing workshops with choir leaders from the UK, USA, Georgia, France and Australia to learn songs from all over the world, as well as Handel's Messiah, Mozart's Requiem and Gregorian chants. I have also taken part in Joy of Singing, a small group singing class run by Pauline Down, the former conductor of the Bangor Community Choir.
From 2009 to 2010 I sang with Criw Bangor, the Bangor Welsh Learners' Choir, which is made up of people who are studying or who have studied Welsh in Bangor at the University's School of Lifelong Learning. Although I haven't done a Welsh course there, I did do a Bangor University Welsh course at Nant Gwrtheyrn in 2008. The choir sings Welsh folk songs, and Welsh versions of other songs, and performs in eisteddfodau in North Wales, and also in the National Eisteddfod when it takes place in North Wales. In 2009 we won choral competitions at local eisteddfodau in Amlwch and Llandegfan, and at the National Eisteddfod in Bala. We also sang in Bangor Cathedral in December 2009. In May 2010 we came third in the choir competition at the Anglesey Eisteddfod in Llangefni.
In March 2012 I started writing songs, and was inspired to have a go after taking part in a poetry writing workshop. My first effort, The Elephant Song, in fact started as a poem, but later became a song. Since then I've written over 70 songs.
A video of me singing some of my songs at a gig in Bangor
In 2012 I joined the 'One Heart Voice Workshop', a.k.a. the Crazy Choir or Silly Singing - a small group of people who got met regularly to sing together. We played with existing songs, and improvised new ones, and were generally very silly. We occasionally performed in public to raise money for the One Heart charity, which helps homeless people in Bangor.
In 2014 I joined the MS Choir, which was founded in 2013 to give people with MS, and their families and friends, opportunities to sing together. We have performed in parts of North Wales and Manchester, and raise money the the Multiple Sclerosis Society. The founder of the choir, who works for the local MS society, also sang in the Bangor Community Choir and recruited me for the MS Choir as they needed more men.
Since early 2019, I've met with a few friends fairly regularly to share songs we're working on, to sing together and to be rather silly. I like to have at least one song to share each time, and have written at least one new one every month since then. When we perform in public, which we occasionally do, we call ourselves The Kaliphones / Y Califfôns.
During the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020/2021, the Bangor Community choir moved online, and other groups stopped meeting. When things started getting back to 'normal' 2021/2022, some choirs and other groups started meeting in person again, while others, such as the MS Choir, didn't. I went back to the Bangor Community Choir for few months, then realised that I wasn't enjoying it as much as I used, and decided to have a break from choral singing.
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