A shot of vocal adrenaline

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Voices: Listen to the Music ~ MCC, Valletta, 08/10/2010

{Dean Muscat, Published in The Times of Malta, 13/10/2010}

A shot of vocal adrenaline

Voices is back, and this year it is celebrating its 20th birthday. Twenty years of producing increasingly popular choir shows, all of which have been organized and performed entirely by volunteers, is already an achievement to be extremely proud of, but Voices also has the added satisfaction of knowing that since its inception it has helped raise well over a million Euros for local and international charitable causes.

Once everyone had leisurely found their allocated seat in the MCC’s Republic Hall, the choir filed out on stage to a flurry of cheers. A number of choir members were greeted with called-out encouragements from friends and family who were present in the audience.

The two comperes Joseph Bonello and Ronnie Briffa, introduced the theme of this year’s Voices shows, Listen to the Music, with the help of a short video, urging the audience to really listen out for those around us in our daily lives who are in need. The two hosts made for a really entertaining double act; their comical sparring and bantering was laugh-out-loud funny throughout.

With everyone set, the Voices band laid down the breezy music to opening number Now We Are Free, signature piece from the soundtrack of the film Gladiator. The choir gently merged with the instrumental music, gradually building in volume, sounding heavenly.

This grand opening was followed with the jazzy pop of Sting’s We’ll Be Together, which was sung as a duet between Justin Galea and Sandrina Degabriele. The two singers sang with gusto and set the standard for the rest of the soloists of the night.

Because the Voices choir is made up of mostly amateur singers, it is always interesting to see the different category of solo performers that take the stage. Singers such as Vanessa Gatt and Louisa Wirth, who sung Beautiful and Hallelujah respectively, blew the audience away with the great technical vocal ability they possess.

Other performers’ chief merits lay in different qualities such as charisma and showmanship. In this vein was Anne Marie Mayo who sang an infectiously delightful version of the Doobie Brother’s Listen to the Music. With a smile that lit up the room, Ms Mayo wiggled and jiggled her way through one of the show’s most enjoyable numbers.

A few songs into the second half, choir director Martina Caruana explained the cogs and wheels of the choir to the audience. Each of the choir’s vocal sections began to sing their designated parts after a sequential introduction, collectively uniting for a charming a cappella medley of traditional Maltese songs. Sounding confident and perfectly harmonious, the choir proved that while it may be amateur, it still has abundant skill and talent.

After this Gianluca Bezzina took the stage, delivering a stellar performance of Viva La Vida. The young singer really worked the crowd and fully embodied the spirit of the Coldplay anthem.

If each audience member was allowed to cast a vote to select the performance of the night, there surely could have only been one sure fire winner. One did not need to be an expert in classical music and all of its complexities to realise that Edward Camilleri gave a world-class performance of Puccini’s Nessun Dorma. There were spontaneous bursts of applause seconds after Mr Camilleri’s elegant tenor vocals began to soar across the auditorium. Half the audience was already on its feet during the climactic “Vincerò!” segment, with the other half swiftly following suit as the aria drew to a close.

After a double dose of disco classics I Will Survive and Voulez-Vous, and an electrifying final encore of Shakira’s Waka Waka (This Time For Africa), which got most of the audience out of their seats happily clapping and singing along, the Voices choir and musicians left the stage to go home and get some well-deserved rest.

Having to perform ten demanding shows on top of the countless rehearsal sessions must be quite a daunting undertaking. So how does Voices manage to keep veteran and virgin volunteers so readily willing to give up their own precious free time and take part?

Choir member Ruth Grima, who is taking part in her fifth consecutive edition of Voices this year, describes the experience so; “Since Voices concerts are held every two years, going back is like one big family reunion. Although it is hard work, we always have the time of our lives performing and it feels so rewarding to know we are helping good causes. We only hope that the attending audiences experience the same sense of fun and joy we feel.”

With a great selection of songs and enough energy to compete with a Zumba dance group, one can’t help but feel the joy and good spirit at a Voices show … even if they tried.