Thursday, 18 July 2013

DonateLife Transplant Choir

A guest blog from Rob, Kath's husband, as a member of the inaugural Transplant Choir which gave its first performance on Saturday 13th July at the end of a successful National Transplant Week......

It seems to me when you are diagnosed with a serious illness you take one of three routes, you try to ignore it, you deal with it privately or you embrace it. There's no right or wrong way - it's down to each individual - but I guess we have chosen the third option as is evident from Kath's blogs. So a busy Transplant Week for us (talks, radio and TV, Papworth social) culminated in me driving up on Saturday at 6am to Yorkshire to join the Transplant Choir for its first public performance at the DonateLife concert at Sheffield City Hall. The Choir was the brainchild of Andy Eddy and Lynne Holt who are two of the trustees of Transplant Sport which supports the Transplant Games. Andy, a transplant recipient himself, is a member of the renowned Wessex Male Choir and he thought it would be novel to use the choir concept as an inspiring means to increasing organ donation awareness. So with the help of Lynne, a transplant coordinator from The Freeman in Newcastle, and Timothy Allen, an accomplished choirmaster, the idea germinated into reality on the 13th July 2013.

Drawn from the diverse Transplant community, the 60 or so strong choir was made up of adult and children recipients, donor families, those waiting on the list, specialist nurses and even a kidney transplant surgeon. Kidney, liver, pancreas, heart and lung transplants were all represented. I lost count of the number of times I was asked "so, what have you had?", but when I explained why I was there, I was still welcomed into the fold.

Andy Eddy centre

Although there had been a couple of regional rehearsals, the whole Choir had not rehearsed together at all until we assembled deep in the bowels of an acoustic unfriendly City Hall ball room at 10.30am on Saturday morning - just some nine hours before the concert commenced. As I hadn't been able to attend any of the rehearsals I had been reliant on getting to grips with the tenor harmonies, helpfully provided by Tim some weeks earlier, by practising at home. Definitely a 'Billy-no-Mates' experience. Credit to Tim for  taking on the project (probably seemed a good idea at the time, eh, Tim?) who managed to blend (mash?) together all the voices in no more than an hour and a half so the five songs we were to sing sounded half reasonable. His expectations were spot on, telling us to concentrate on enjoying ourselves as it was clear there was a vast range of abilities from the tone deaf to the semi professional and pretty much everything in between. Enthusiasm was not in short supply, however, which is probably just what you'd expect from a bunch of people who had learned to tackle adversity head on, so by the end of the technical rehearsal / sound checks in the auditorium, we were actually starting to sound like a real Choir rather than a collection of individuals.

As the concert got underway in the evening our dressing room was stifling on what was up until then the hottest day of the year, but people passed the time getting to know each other and swapping inspirational stories and planning what drink they would have in the bar afterwards and the final scene from the film Iced Cold in Alex dropped into my mind. The younger ones spent their time hunting down X Factor winner Matt Cardle whilst some of the ladies sought out Aled Jones in their dressing rooms both of whom were on the 'bill' - to be honest they were mere support acts for the Transplant Choir who were last on!

Actually we were fortunate enough to be able to sneak into some of the concert and so we had a chance to see some of the earlier acts - all with a Transplant connection, but the stand out for me was Toni Ratcliffe who sang 'Feeling Good' terrifically just a few months after her transplant - never have the words to a song sounded more poignant.
Toni and Tim

When the Choir finally came on stage at the end of a long old day, the adrenalin kicked in and it got the little ones and those who were more poorly, through the 20 min set which was delivered with unbelievable levels of passion and enthusiasm. The lyrics of the songs aptly chosen by Tim carried a very special resonance which clearly touched the audience who gave the Choir two standing ovations. Even Tim mouthed 'that was awesome' as he thumped his breastbone with his clenched fist whilst the perspiration ran down his forehead. We then had the privilege of singing 'Jerusalem' as a finale with the Wessex Male Choir. Now that sound was awesome.

The after show party was a cacophony of a hundred excitable voices having separate conversations as the Choir became a collection of individuals once again, punctuated with the ladies having their photo taken with an obliging Aled who was proving himself to be a good sport. There was also the usual adrenalin (and alcohol?) influenced resolutions to do it all again next year particularly on the back of very positive audience feedback. Andy and Tim and the team had  indeed pulled off a minor miracle and everyone was very grateful that they had 
had the vision to see it through.

Aled Jones and Lynne

Once home the following day, I started to reflect on the amazing and inspiring people I'd come across over the last couple of days (genuinely too many to mention here) with my thoughts especially turning back to the brave donor families I'd met who had consented to providing the gift of life. Without their selfless acts and those of others, some of the transplantees I had met simply wouldn't be alive, so it was a privilege to have stood shoulder to shoulder with them in the Choir. A great experience and one I will never forget.

Until next year......

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