by Matthew Farrall and Stephanie Chard.

JMA performing arts teacher Tommy Robinson accepting a Lets Sing 2018 award from Mayor Rose Williams at the Hexagon, Reading. Photo courtesy of Reading Borough Council.

Crisply compèred by Breeze FM‘s Robert Kenny, the Let’s Sing 2018 charity choir concert on Monday 26 March was of such a high standard that the trio of independent judges had a very difficult task indeed. Every choir received rapturous applause on merit from a lively audience.

There were 13 school and community choirs from many age ranges, and they performed songs from shows, the modern charts, traditional pieces, pop and even some grime. The sheer variety of talent on display was impressive and the full-house atmosphere at the Hexagon was electric at times.

All the acts sang in the first round before a 15 minute interval when the judges pared these down to eight finalists. There were a couple of moments in the first round when singers were affected by nerves, but it must take a lot of courage to sing in front of a thousand people on a night like this, and the crowd were sympathetic.

Readiphonics community choir.

The eight finalists were:

  • South Lake Primary School who rendered a soulful version of Sing,
  • the rather brilliant Readiophonics who sang Crazy by Gnarls Barkley with a human beat box and great lead singer,
  • the Bulmershe Ensemble, who sang This is me with some sublime vocals,
  • St Anne’s School Choir with When we sing with very youthful pitch-perfect high voices,
  • Thames Valley Chorus, who sang Elvis’s Are you lonesome tonight which was truly tear jerking – the lady next to me pointed out her husband in the choir with justified pride,
  • St Martin’s Glee Club sang New Beginnings, which was just lovely, moving and light,
  • John Madejski Academy (JMA) Performing Arts sang Winter Trees, a great melodic folky song with two rather cool-looking acoustic guitar players; they really looked liked they enjoyed singing this,
  • The Barberettes sang We get together. They had an amazing presence and sound and should consider themselves seriously unfortunate not to win something on the night,

After a short interval, Theatre Train read a poem from world war one, then sang and danced a number called The company that loves to perform.

The winners were announced to some ecstatic celebrations, especially from the JMA team who took both the overall winner and youth awards.

JuniorSt Martin’s Glee Club
YouthJohn Madejski Academy
Overall winnerJohn Madejski Academy

Tommy Robinson, the JMA performing arts teacher, told me what he thought about his team’s victory.

Winning was the best feeling I’ve ever had! I would say, the proudest moment in my whole career.

I was happy to win the youth choir award, but to win the overall award against some very tough competition was just jaw dropping. We have worked really hard for this, and yes it was deserved… but still I really couldn’t believe it, and neither could the students, to be honest!

Our song choice was relatively easy. We have a reputation doing ‘mash-ups’ (we won last year with one), so expectation was the same this year. Winter Trees, the winning song, is a lesser known Staves song that we all love. And I think that was the key; pick a song no-one knows and sing it with the passion we feel for it.

We have had a lot of press over the past year about the Academy, and to be honest, most of it was unfounded and unfair. My hope is that this, and all the other things we have done this year, will show the people of Reading that not only are we an amazing talent to be reckoned with (acting, dancing and singing) but we are an Academy that believes in our community and our students.

The next big thing for us, apart from the raft of school productions and show cases, is Reading Fringe Festival – keep an eye out for details!

Reading Mayor Rose Williams ended the evening by praising the talent on display and extolling the work of her three chosen local charities, Phab, Readipop and Reading City of Sanctuary, all of whom will benefit from the event.

Mayor Williams also made a plea for Reading people to come along to the re-opening of the Abbey ruins on the 16 June and sing Reading’s first contribution to world culture, the song Sumer is icumen in. This song may have been written by a monk at Reading Abbey in the thirteenth century and is not only charming and beautiful, but it is the first known song written in the English language (Wessex dialect) and a pastoral harbinger of springtime.

Manuscript ‘Sumer is icumen in’ from the British Library. Photo public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Matthew Farrall, the author of this article, died on 20 April 2018.
We are grateful to his family for allowing us to continue to display his work online.

  1. John Madejski Academy
  2. South Lake Primary School
  3. Readiophonics
  4. Bulmershe Ensemble
  5. St Anne’s School
  6. Thames Valley Chorus
  7. St Martin’s Glee Club
  8. The Barberettes
  9. Hexagon Theatre
  10. Phab
  11. Readipop
  12. Reading City of Sanctuary
  13. Reading Fringe Festival
  14. Theatre Train