A Weekend of Triumphs (great and small)

Our PianoVery occasionally, a weekend comes along that is so packed with wonderful occasions and memorable moments, you wonder if time was somehow suspended in those impossibly short two days.  Was Friday really only 3 days ago?  You find the normal mundanity of Monday takes on a new hue as the golden glow of the weekend reflects and bounces off it.

The weekend just gone was one such weekend.

But it wasn’t just a weekend full of fun events and meet ups. I realised that why I was feeling so elated was that it was one of triumphs, some great and some that bit smaller – for me, my daughter, a friend of mine, and for our city.  So I just had to write about it.  Its a story of perseverance, hard work, inspiration, and community effort.  It’s a long post (so you might need perseverance to read it), but you’ll see why when you do!


It started with my daughter taking her Grade 1 piano exam on Friday afternoon.  This was her first real taste of on-the-spot, hold-your-nerve testing. She’d done a pre-prep exam, and she’s done Grade 1 Viola, but those of you who have kids who have taken Grade 1 piano, will know how many notches up in skill is needed for Grade 1 piano than some other instruments.  And how some examiners sometimes seem like they might take prisoners….

Added to this, only 2 weeks earlier she very nearly decided to not go through with it and defer till March. It was her sight-reading, you see.  Oh, the dreaded sight-reading!  I remember hating that too.  She’s turning out to be a child who learns much more by ear than sight in music.  And she plays viola which has a totally different clef from either the right or left hand in piano (if only we’d realised that when she chose it out of the 4 string instruments they are allowed to learn at school in juniors).

Seeing her so worried and miserable, we’d decided to let her miss the exam and defer (sod the money, we thought) until her teacher said she was perfectly capable of passing the exam, even if she hadn’t had as much time to prepare as her other students.  Most importantly, she said “the examiner isn’t there to trip you up, she’s there to see how musical you are”.  And musical my daughter certainly is.  Being a bit of a perfectionist, like her mother (ehem), I added “If you focus on the mistakes you might make, it’ll seize you up, and stop you from showing how well you can play the rest of it.”  I made a mental note to remember that for Sunday (see last ‘triumph’).

We left her to make the decision.  She decided to go for it and, with a lightness in her heart, having heard the encouraging words from her teacher, the extreme worry left her.

And so, with a lot of encouragement from me in how to handle her nerves, she went into that exam a much more confident, and stronger child than 2 weeks earlier.

She came out even stronger: she played all her pieces well apart from her sight reading, she said (I went somewhere I couldn’t hear – I was as nervous as her!).  But who doesn’t?!

We get the result in a few weeks, but as far as I’m concerned she passed the test of nerves, of perseverance, and of sheer hard work with flying colours. Her confidence has blossomed. I was so proud.

Odyssey OutsideThen Saturday night came along.  This was a night I had been looking forward to for 20 years (I’m not exaggerating, honest!).  It was the much awaited opening of the Odyssey cinema in St Albans, a cinema that is as beautiful in its art deco glory, as it is the pride of all those who’ve worked so hard to build.   It’s a cinema that a community has put its money, campaigning, moral support and hard work into to stop developers from knocking down to turn into yet another apartment block with ensuite this and that.

You see, it used to be a cinema for many many years, until the multiplex cinema phenomena made it uneconomic to run.  It fell into disrepair and has sat like an eyesore on London Rd for 19 years.   When developers wanted to turn it into flats, a plucky 14 year old wrote to the local paper to complain, and the paper got behind her and started a campaign (why didn’t I think of that?!).  They convinced James Hannaway to take it on, the marvellous maverick entrepreneur behind the art deco Rex cinema in Berkhamsted (named ‘the most beautiful cinema in the UK’ by one of the big newspapers, I can’t remember which!).  To our delight he did!

Odyssey Proscenium LeftYou see this is the cinema where I cut my teenage teeth (so to speak!). This is where I used to laugh and yell at Beverley Hills Cop, Rambo or Superman on a Saturday night with my sixth-form friends. We’d avoid the dodgy boys at the back, or maybe surreptitiously sneak into the ‘smoking zone’.  Ok, we weren’t as loud as the Sicilians in Cinema Paradiso, the film they treated us to on Saturday for the opening (this is middle class England after all) but there was a whole lot more sense of community than is nowadays found in the plastic, soulless multiplexes that replaced it in the 1990s.  Being in town, kids could walk or get the bus to it, so going to the cinema was a social occasion. It may have had a sticky red carpet, but no-one really cared.

And so, on Saturday night, as I sat next to my husband in a comfy velvet, swivel chair around a table for four with our friends, sipping my Sauvignon Blanc, my heart swelled with pride as the curtain lifted, the state of the art sound system bored a small but pleasant hole in my eardrums, and the opening to one of my favourite films Cinema Paradiso started.  No one knew what the film would be as the screening for each of the 4 opening nights was kept a secret. We all agreed there couldn’t have been a more apt choice.

This was surely the greatest triumph of the weekend, of the year even.  A triumph for our community, a triumph against the seemingly inexorable power of property developers, and for our children, who have the chance to experience the romance and excitement of cinema as it was intended….. (The opening of this marvellous place was so wonderful that I wrote a separate post about it: The Opening of the Odyssey – a dream come true)

The evening before, we were at the opening of the St Albans Christmas market, an event which is in its second year only, and which a school mum friend took on the job of running last May, employed by the town council.  This was her first full-time ‘proper’ job since having children, and so all-consuming has the task been, that she’s worked incredibly long hours against many odds to make it a success. And a success it is indeed proving to be.

St A Xmas Market.W.RutherfordTraders sell various lovely Christmas goods from mini alpine-style sheds in the grounds of the historic St Albans Abbey.  Christmas lights are everywhere, mulled wine and local beer flow, local music groups will be performing (including my daughter’s choir and both of my singing groups) and crafts for kids provided by my good friend Kathy Evershed of Artshed, all add to the lovely atmosphere.

Bjorn the animatronic polar bearBut the piece de resistance on the opening night was the appearance of the unbelievably realistic giant animatronic polar bear!  The thing moved about and sounded like the real thing to such an alarming extent that at one moment it started pursuing (slowly, but surely) a lady he took a fancy too!  Thankfully the demonstrator got ‘Bjorn’ back into line…..Here’s a shot of some of the many little hands that patted his head that night (it was nice and sticky by the end of the evening!)

Fantastic effort, Liz – no small feat, what you’ve pulled off!

And last, but not least, came Sunday night when I stepped up to the challenge of singing 6 beautiful but rather tricky songs with my a capella singing group, the Corenno Singers, in Kimpton Village’s Winter concert.

Music at Kimpton church

I’ve sung with the Corenno singers before, but what made this more of a challenge from usual was that there were only 4/5 of us, meaning, er, no mistakes, whatever, as you can’t hide behind anyone!   And being the alto for most of the songs, I had some ‘interesting’ lines to learn, shall we say!  Anna, our director, loves to chose unusual versions of well known carols which might be lovely to hear but they’re not exactly easy to sing!  As I’ve recently started to have singing lessons again after 20 years, I initially thought this a do-able challenge.  Two weeks ago after a particularly tricky rehearsal, I was wondering…. 😉

But in the end, it turned out to be such a wonderful evening, with fantastic performances from all the electic and varied musical types from the village, that I totally enjoyed myself and nerves hardly got a look in.  I managed to get (nearly) all those tricky irksome notes right (wahey!)

If you fancy hearing what we sounded like, here’s a You Tube clip of Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer ….

(if you liked that and want to hear some more, search for ‘Corenno Singers’ with ‘Carol of the Bells’ or ‘Silent Night’ or ‘Over the Rainbow’)

I felt so privileged to be part of this group, run by the lovely and talented Anna Bosatta, who also has set up two Community choirs (our very own Gareth Malone!).  It’s such a buzz to sing in a small group like this.  It’s also a buzz to get something right which you wondered if you were able to do in such a short time.  And I realised, I had actually managed to apply the very thing I’d taught my daughter two days earlier – not to worry about the mistakes but to enjoy myself!

What a weekend.  I’m now recovering in a heap.

I’m linking this up with the linky Loud n Proud. Because I’m, you know, proud.

Mum of Three World

10 thoughts on “A Weekend of Triumphs (great and small)

  1. Wow, that really is a weekend of triumphs! No wonder you’re proud. You’re obviously a very talented and dedicated bunch!
    I felt a bit sad for your daughter that she was nervous about her exam. I realise that I’m obviously quite lucky in that my kids don’t get nervous about things like that.
    Also I’m jealous of the cinema. Our art deco cinema closed when the big cinema opened eight or 10 years ago. It was knocked down only the other day, for new flats of course 🙁 It’s a shame nobody fought hard to keep it.

    • Oh no!!!! Your cinema got knocked down! Ours was 19 years in disrepair. It houses so many fond memories for half the term who grew up in that cinema – I wrote more about that in my previous post ‘A Dream Come True – The Opening of the Odyssey’. Its now grander than its ever been, I think. We’ll have to organise a bloggers meet up there (now THAT’s an idea!)….

  2. Hi Siobhan, been so long since I’ve read you! I had a 10-week break over the summer and only just getting back on track. I didn’t realise you were a local! I’m in Berko! Will have to pop over to the Odyssey to compare with the Rex. Cinema Paradiso is one of my favourite films ever. Wonderful singing, and good luck to your daughter for her results – but, as you say, she has already succeeded by trying her best and taking the exam. x

  3. Wow what a few days you’ve had! Terrific post and reading this has really lifted me from a slough of despond over the last week (anticlimax after performance?).
    My son has just done Grade 2 piano and nearly ducked out at last minute. Like your daughter am proud of him for going thro with it. He got a Distinction last year in Grade 1 to his surprise, and again, I smiled at the sight-reading part. Find it hard to get him to practise those bits as he’s great at rattling away (at about twice the speed necessary!) at his set pieces once he’s mastered those. Anyway best of luck to her however well she does. She’s really stepped up to the plate.

    I must come to your town sometime and visit ‘Cinema Paradiso’ – is this where Vicky Arlidge is playing in January? It looks beautiful and I’m so inspired by St Albans’ communal efforts to create this masterpiece against the background of developers itching to convert the building into flats.

    LOVED the singing. I’ve joined various choirs over the years and know am an alto though in my mind am a soprano with an 8 octave range. (Saves that for the bathroom shower). Well done, i thought you were really good. Is that you in the boat-necked beige top? Perhaps you aren’t on camera, but you all sounded fantastic and will play it to my son later.

    Thanks again for a completely inspiring blog post – one of the best – and hope the memories stay with you always. Jo x

    • You are too kind, Jo! How fantastic that your son got distinction in his Grade 1! Its quite a watershed taking that exam, i feel. You MUST come up to S/A to the cinema. Its not where Vicky will be performing in Jan but I have high hopes to see her up on that stage sometime in the future – you heard it first from me! And no, I’m not the one in the beige top (that’s my lovely friend Debs). I’m the blonde one, looking far too middle aged in that black dress! I met you at BritMums – I offered you my seat in that crammed seminar as you were sitting on the floor….Sx

  4. That definitely sounds like an exciting week indeed. Well done to your daughter too! 🙂 I’m hoping when mine is old enough, she’d also want to learn how to play an instrument too 🙂 #loudnproud.

  5. Oh my goodness Siobhan. And breathe! What a weekend of proud moments! Well done to your daughter, I know firsthand how nerve racking those exams can be for both her (and you!). I used to hate the exams and sometimes I realise that I transfer those nerves to my daughter who is usually cool as a cucumber! That really was a difficult piece to sing. Wow! x

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