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âThereâs a real mix of people in Islington – everyone who lives and works here is interesting,â says Michael Waldron. And he should know. Every Tuesday evening he stands in front of 150, mostly locals, and coaxes great music out of them. Each term â Islington Choral Society (also known as ICS) shadows the academic year â the choir works towards a performance. This year itâs Haydnâs Nelson Mass on Saturday 16 December at Holy Trinity Sloane Square, which Michael promises will be an âuplifting and rousing concert.â
âAbout 75-80% of ICS are Islington based, but ICS has a good reputation so increasingly people travel a long way, even from Croydon to rehearse. There are a lot of young people joining,â he says. Meeting at Kipferl in Camden Pasage itâs clear that Michael, 30, has a fantastic energy that helps him get the best out of anyone. He sees it in more pragmatic terms: âWe rehearse at a good venue and everyone is very friendly, welcoming and they sing well â they focus for two hours. Afterwards we always go to the Brewhouse on Highbury Corner for a drink. Iâm always there, though itâs against my better judgment,â he says laughing.
As a freelance conductor Michaelâs evenings are spent coaxing great performances out of amateur singing groups, such as ICS, including the University of West London Chamber Choir, a Woking choir and the Guildford Choral Society. Four years ago he also established a professional chamber-sized choir, the London Choral Sinfonia, which holds four concerts a year; the next one is a Christmas programme on Sunday 17 December at St John Smith Square.
So how does he do it? Obviously you need to be super musical, but Michael points out that: âIt requires a lot of energy pushing people. You have to know when to say âwe can do betterâ and knowing when itâs as good as it is going to be. Rehearsal has got to be fun, stimulating and challenging, but people have to have an appetite too.â
He may have a non-stop musical life now, but Michael comes from an unmusical family.
âMy sister, Helen, is two years older than me. We both started playing the piano when I was four years old (she was six) with a neighbour of my granny. I really got into it.â At school he was then introduced to the organ. Michael subsequently spent his gap year as organ scholar at Worcester Cathedral. He then went to Trinity College Cambridge â to study music – as their organ scholar.
âI had an official commitment to play at four services a week and we rehearsed five days a week. I loved it.â At Trinity, Director of Music, Stephen Layton, âtook me under his wing and made me conduct evensong in the first term of the first year. Something clicked for me, even though it was an ordinary weekday service. I thought this is what I want to do. Stephen taught me the technicalities, gave me more opportunities and all sorts of projects, and I still work with him a lot now.
Places Michael Waldron likes in Islington
- Highbury Baptist Church, 40 Highbury Place, is where I rehearse Islington Choral Society (ICS) every Tuesday night. Itâs a big new, pie-shaped building with lots of light and lots of memories.
- I always order boeuf bourguignon at SacrĂ© Coeur on Theberton Street. The guy who runs it is lovely.
- Barnard Park is always changing. It has mature trees, nice shrubs and roses. One of my neighbours tends all the beds in the park.
- Frederickâs is for high days and holidays. The food is lovely – itâs a special place to go from time to time.
- Iâve been a member of Virgin Active Gym, 333 Goswell Road, for years. I go all the time â three or four times a week. Because I work freelance I can avoid the rush hours when all the office workers are in.
Sing it louder
âEveryone can sing. Being a singer is like being a runner â everyone can sing or run, but the world doesnât need everyone to be Linford Christie or Pavarotti,â says Michael. âWith singing your body is your instrument, so people need to be relaxed. My job is to make sure things never become tense or stressful. ICS has sopranos, altos, tenors and bases â 30 to 40 in each section â so there are enough people to create a good sound.â
Singing in a choir is definitely having a moment: it seems as popular an after work activity as yoga, pilates or the gym, almost a form of mindfulness in the busy city. Michael suggests that TV has had an impact too. âI think Gareth Malone has made classical music accessible â one of the great jewels in our cultural crown. The tradition of cathedrals and boy choristers is unique, but I do wonder if it was seen as a bit elitist. Gareth Maloneâs TV shows (The Choir and Pitch Battle) opened choral singing up and showed that anyone can sing. Itâs a hobby you can get enormous pleasure from.â
And of course that âenormous pleasureâ is exactly what takes so many Islingtonians back to rehearsal with the Islington Choral Society every Tuesday.
- More about Michael Waldron â conductor, pianist and repetiteur â on his website and more about his London Choral Sinfonia
- Find out more about Islington Choral Society â either to enjoy a concert or join the (non-auditioned) choir
- You can read an interview on Islington Faces with the organ players at St Thomasâ Church, Finsbury Park, Andrew Greer and Robert Shrubsall.
Over to you
If youâd like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird dot green at gmail dot com. Thank you to Sarah Matthias for this suggestion.
If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at theÂ A-Z Â index, orÂ search by intervieweeâs roles orÂ Meet IslingtoniansÂ to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola