Skip to main content

Hymn to the game - our day at Wembley

Myself, Rob, Adam and Harry from the "Footy to Verdi' film will be joining 21 other singers from diverse backgrounds to lead the singing of Abide with Me at the Emirates FA Cup Final on 27th May. The choir has been put together by tenor Sean Ruane's  CHANT Productions on behalf of The FA

Collective singing is something we have all done at one time or another in our lives: at school, church, weddings, funerals, during the national anthem and, of course, at football matches.

Hymns have a special place in the hearts of any nation, perhaps because of religion or just national pride. How many of us name 'Jerusalem' as their school hymn? Indeed, so prevalent is that piece in our society, so all encompassing is it's role as the country's favourite,  I even know a Scottish church in London where it is permitted to be sung at weddings.

Sport and singing are intertwined and have been for many years. Football and rugby fans know this better than most,  and even the most self-effacing singer will belt out a hymn from the terrace because there is something noble and uplifting about the sentiments of many hymns: the glory, the sacrifice. Sports fans are melodramatic souls at heart and we are never afraid to express it vocally in the arenas we occupy, although we wouldn't be found doing it solo to an audience.

It is, of course, my job to encourage people to enjoy singing, mainly as audience members, but I was a keen chorister at school and whilst I don't do it often, when the chance appears I tend to take it. My children used to be horrified at my lusty roar from the back of their Christmas Carol concerts when the congregation were invited to join in. Now, however, as me and my pals from the  Footy to Verdi film face the prospect of singing Abide With Me in front of 90,000 people at Wembley at the Emirates FA Cup Final - and a few hundred millions more on worldwide television - my love of singing will be tested this is no time for reservation or timidity. Furthermore, this is 'Abide with me' the hymn to faith, death and sacrifice that has been the FA Cup hymn for about 90 years. And I, along with 23 others  will lead the nation in its delivery on Cup Final day. The hymn, which does have funereal overtones and thus may be considered an odd choice for the occasion, was nevertheless first introduced as part of a campaign to encourage community singing, so in that respect, its enduring presence at the Cup Final remains apposite.

Now, I can hold a tune, I will be honest, and beyond the mind-boggling audience numbers, two verses of Abide with Me is no huge vocal challenge. Yet I am an amateur and because of my job, frequently find myself singing at events or carol concerts standing next to people who belt out Puccini in opera houses (imagine taking your shirt off next to a young Arnold Schwarzenegger and you get the idea of how that feels). The real purpose of accepting this invitation from Chant Productions to participate in something few - if any - of us have ever done before is to reinforce the belief that singing  is one of life's great, cathartic experiences, one that enriches and fulfils us in ways we hardly realise is possible until we have done it. And as I have been telling Adam, Rob and Harry, it will be an experience we are unlikely to be given  a repeat chance of having. I imagine you think that the 'experience' will be found in the act of standing on Wembley's hallowed turf, or the fact it will be on television etc. Well, I am sure that will bring a thrill too, but I think the real memories will be of how it sounds – and feels -  to be at the centre of 90,000 voices singing a glorious hymn that has found a place in the hearts of a nation. 

The music will be what I remember, the collective experience of the musical roar of those thousands of people, not the urgings and howling of a football crowd in thrall to the match, but one that is in unison, note for note, beat for beat. Hymns are religious, but often their sentiment, whether you have faith or not, is what moves us, and few hymns offer the supplicant admissions of weakness and need, the pleading and humility  of Abide with Me. We can all find relevance in its words, even in a football context and sport evokes the kind of emotional wringing-out we experience when we hear great music. The two belong together. And I, along with my fellow choristers, will be belting it out full tilt when the time comes.


Popular posts from this blog

Audiences will decide the future of opera

I have news: the audience will decide the future of opera.
When our season at Opera Holland Park comes to an end, I pore over spreadsheets trying to find reasons why our audience have behaved in the way that they have, and the most concentrated analysis tends to come after seasons during which our house has been full. The theory is this; if we have underperformed, we are programmed to find solutions, but if we have performed well, we are less likely to look for the gremlins that might lose us that ever-capricious audience in a trice – you are never more vulnerable than when you are successful.  Sometimes, though, one can miss the obvious, or perhaps ignore it.
In nearly three decades in opera, I have experienced one "boom" in the art form but an almost perpetual "crisis" of confidence, an alarmed perma-reflection on whether we remain relevant as an art form. This introspective brew is spiced by the occasional real crisis, like that recently at ENO, but we never reall…

XTC -This is Pop (Documentary, Sky 1)

The long awaited - and even longer overdue - documentary about the British band XTC felt to many of us who have considered them the best ever group to emerge from these shores, like a simultaneous roar of approval and a shocking great slap in the face, a sharp reminder of what we have lost now that they no longer record together. Apple Venus Vol.1 and Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol. 2) were released in 1999 and 2000 respectively and together represented the almost perfect distillation of British popular music. I hesitate to just call it "pop" although there are almost unequalled examples of it on both these albums and right through the XTC canon. Andy Partridge's lavishly inventive songwriting, lyrical brilliance and at times almost extra-terrestrial knack for a breathtaking melody or crushingly beautiful harmony seemed to improve and grow throughout the band's 14 album career. It came to a mighty zenith on those final two records. 
Followers of XTC were often torn betwee…

Panic! Culture and the working class

A new report on the working class relationship with culture has been doing the rounds recently.
Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries (which you can find here ( comes at the issue from the point of view of the working class and their opportunities to find careers in the cultural sector. I usually concern myself most with the audience aspects of this debate but this report does touch on matters that relate to that, too. The general issue was also recently making waves with respect to entrants into Oxbridge and with Owen Jones's huge Twitter spat about the class of those in the media. 
The Panic! report takes data from various sources and draws conclusions from it. Some of the conclusions are based on what appear to me to be oddly skewed impressions and some of the report sounds like an argument looking for a validation, rather t…