The Phoenix Male Voice Choir was established at a public meeting in Norwich in February 2010 and gave its inaugural concert in July that year, so we arrived at our 10th Anniversary Year in 2020. Sadly though, the Covid-19 Coronavirus situation meant the cancellation of our celebratory 2020 Concert Programme and nearly all of our 2021 activities. However, we were able to treat our Families and Friends to a pre-Christmas short concert in December 2021 and are planning 3 'home base' concerts in 2022.
Our origins though really go back to the year prior to our actual formation....
When the Norfolk Millennium Male Voice Choir disbanded in 2009, several of its past members wanted to continue singing together, so resolved to set up a new all-men choir. Inspired by ex-NMMVC Member Chris Williams, the search began for a founding Musical Director and Sarah Sheldrake - now Sarah Grimes - was recruited, along with searches for more Singing Members, an Accompanist and Venues where the fledgling choir might rehearse. After the initial public meeting, its rehearsal base (the function room at the Methodist Church in Mile Cross, north of Norwich City Centre), the name of the new choir (... the Phoenix, which rose from the ashes of the previous choir ...), its uniform (an easily accessible all-black, no blazer, with a long green tie), and its ethos (welcoming to all men of any adult generation as singing members without audition) were determined, a first Management Committee was elected and, delighted that local musician Neil Ricketts had accepted the important role of Accompanist, rehearsals began in earnest. Since that Inaugural Concert in July 2010, Norwich's Phoenix Male Voice Choir has gone from strength to strength with a hard-working Musical Team and Committee, and the enthusiasm of its Singing Membership. In the latter half of that inaugural season, we gave two packed house performances at our newly appointed home base, receiving fantastic comments and feedback from our new-found audience on both occasions. In 2011, the Choir doubled its number of performances and has since produced a regular programme of Spring, Summer and Christmas Concert events in the years following and, more increasingly, in between times too. We have also been pleased to share the concert stage with guest talented local musical groups and ensembles, other visiting and touring Male Choirs and, in turn, to accept invitations from festival groups and churches to perform our songs, and to visit our new Male Choir friends at their invitation.
In 2012, we were pleased to accept an invitation from then-rising soprano Rebecca Newman to guest with her in Norwich during her 2012 RNLI 'Coast to Coast' UK Tour. Rebecca is now much better known as 'The People's Soprano', and supported well-known tenor Russell Watson on his 2015 UK Tour, among other eye-catching engagements for her. We were also equally delighted to appear during a return visit by Rebecca in February 2016 at the prestigious Norwich Assembly House on her mini-tour 'Romantica - the Love Songs', where the Choir, as her special guests, joined in the mood with five love songs of its own. During the Choir's first decade, whilst Sarah has remained firmly at our musical helm with unwaivering approval, we wished a fond farewell as accompanist to the extraordinary Neil Ricketts in 2013 as he took up a new musical role, we warmly welcomed (and just as fondly in 2016 bade farewell to) Simon Ireson as he brought his cheerful personality and considerable musical talents to continue our success (but delighted that Simon was able to support us for a while behind - and on occasions in front of - the scenes!), and have just as warmly welcomed Jason Lambert to our midst as our accompanist. As his exceptional debut piano solo at our Christmas Concert 2016 promised, our audiences have been in for continuing musical treats since! With the obvious dedication of our talented Musical Team and the enthusiasm of its Singing Members, Norwich's Phoenix Male Voice Choir continues building on its experiences to deliver a varied and interesting repertoire of male voice song in its concerts. In a more relaxed moment (well, more relaxed for those not involved, anyway!!!), our Quiz Team "Yes, Sarah!" challenged the Eggheads and proudly gave an excellent account of themselves then, and on every occasion that their episode is repeated on BBC Television! A firm highlight of Spring 2017 was being able to host a local joint concert with the well-established Radcliffe-on-Trent Male Voice Choir on their tour to Norwich and we immensely enjoyed the opportunity to link up with them again as their guests in Grantham in May 2019.
For 2018, we were pleased to share the stage in Sheringham's St Peter's Church as guests of the New Sheringham Singers in March. A first for us in that our hosts were an all-ladies choir! That gave the evening's audience the chance to listen to not only our excellent host's SSAA Choir selections as well as those of our own TTBB voices, but we combined to effectively form an SATB Choir to close the show in style! An extraordinary highlight the following month was our participation as one of the 'Four Choirs in Concert' with colleague songster members of the National Association of Choirs in East Anglia at Norwich's iconic Anglican Cathedral, compered by Phoenix's own M.C. and local broadcaster, Ian Masters. The concert was the Saturday evening gala event of the NAC's 2018 National Conference held this time in Norwich. Not only were NAC guests treated to a programme of our four individual choir performances, an evening fully BSL-signed by the very passionate Dr Paul Whittaker, and a piece written by well-known composer Bob Chilcott and signed by conference delegates, but our massed Choirs of more than 100 voices closed the show under the direction of our own Sarah Grimes. We also 'dared' to leave Norfolk for the first time when we brought our "Summer Evenings of Song" to Beccles, and our singing year ended on a massive high note with "We'll Be Home For Christmas", our best-ever attended Advent concert event. Norwich's Phoenix Male Voice Choir embarked on its biggest-ever singing programme in 2019 with five of its own concert productions in Spring, Autumn and Christmas, along with 3 guest invitations, and marking several more 'firsts' on the way! The year started with our first private engagement, a wedding, and we were delighted to sing before, during and after the Marriage Service. Our rendition in Welsh of Calon Lan, judging by the cheers, was well received and, presumably, understood!!! We visited our MVC Friends at Radcliffe-on-Trent (so, our first real tour visit!) in May, as well as welcoming new MVC Friends from Millhouse Green to Thorpe St Andrew, east of Norwich, in September for "A Night of Fire and Steel". We also took the opportunity to present our 2019 festive event "Heralding Christmas!" not only at our Mile Cross base as usual (and on the 'usual' Saturday!), but additionally at Stalham near the Norfolk Broads on the Saturday prior to Christmas.
In reflecting upon our past programmes, we are very conscious that it is the enthusiasm of our supporters, volunteers and concert audiences that make all the difference for us. We remain very grateful as usual to all of our supporters and helpers, to everyone who follows our social media for our latest news, and we send the hugest thank you to our past audiences for your concert support and for making these evenings so memorable for us - we hope to have made them memorable for you too. We looked forward in eager anticipation to our 10th Anniversary Year in 2020, and our planned programme of 6 concerts in Norwich and around the County including a very special Gala 10th Birthday Concert at our home base, and a small number of other lower key charity performances. However, unfortunately, in mid-March 2020, the progression of the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak led to the decision to suspend all Choir activities until further notice, followed by the national 'lockdowns'. It was not until late-Summer 2021 that the Choir's Committee felt it safe enough to approach Members with a view to considering whether and how it would be acceptable to meet together again to sing.
Following a full consultation with our Members including the holding of an informal meeting, given the assurance of a Covid-secure environment in our home-base Church worship area together with other mitigation features regarding ventilation and voice amplification, we met again and rehearsed for the first time in eighteen months in mid-September 2021, and performed in concert for the first time in 2 years in December to an invited audience. By giving a cautious approach to the resumption of activities for existing Members, by restricting invitations to Membership to men with past established membership of a choir (because the need to socially distancing and offering 'singing buddies' to support new singers does not work very well...), and by holding a limited number of 2022 Concerts at our home base, we will be better placed to recommence recruitment activities and plan for a wider programme in Norwich and beyond in 2023.
2016 - With Rebecca Newman Photograph: Graham Gall
2016 - The People's Soprano Rebecca Newman (left), with our very own MD Sarah Grimes
The Norwich Phoenix Male Voice Choir, Norwich, Norfolk, United Kingdom