The Magic of Group Singing: Abracadabra and the Starling state of mind

Forte member Amanda Johnston reflects on her three and a half years performing with Starling Arts, culminating in 'Abracadabra' on July 6th and 7th 2013. 

July 16th 2013 

The Starling Arts community came together on the 6th & 7th July for Abracadabra, our first large formal show since last summer. A lot has happened in the last year - we recorded Starling's debut album Taking Flight, held a launch party for the album at Christmas and had an Easter Cabaret, and we've spent months learning new songs, fretting over choreography, and polishing our performances for Abracadabra. With nearly 60 singers, a live band, technical crew, and a host of supporting characters to wrangle, this show was truly a labour of love, not just for Anna & Emily, but for all involved.

Singing together fosters a community- a sense of which is vital to pulling off a show like Abracadabra, with so many moving parts. Whether you've been singing in public since you were a child, or you've previously been too terrified to air your voice, the simple act of uniting in song naturally fosters relationships where every choir member is important. Choirs must work together to harmonise and blend their voices- the whole is stronger than its parts. When that team work moves out of the rehearsal room and onto the stage in front of an audience, magic can happen.

Abracadabra was testament to the strength of the Starling Arts community. The weekend - and as a result, the theatre - was hot, and everyone was doubtless feeling frazzled and a little worse for wear. Somehow, though, tempers were kept in check, and everyone soldiered on- through the technical rehearsal, onto the (slightly sweaty) dress rehearsal, and finally the shows themselves. With show faces plastered on our faces, we sang and danced to two crowded houses. That anyone showed up on Sunday, while Andy Murray was in the final set of the Wimbledon final, was living proof of the love and support within the community. Starling Arts extends beyond those you see on stage at shows- it includes all the family and friends who support us through late night rehearsals, tolerated our absences, and in the case of my boyfriend, allow the flat to be taken over for dance rehearsals and costume making production lines. 

Performing for an audience can be nerve wracking, even for those who've been doing it for years. No matter how polished a song sounds in rehearsal, how sharp the choreography, or how many times we practice our entrances, we can never completely control how it will go on the night. However, one of the best pieces of advice Emily & Anna once gave us was to remember that this was a loving audience- the majority of ticket holders were there because they knew (and presumably liked!) someone in the show personally. Those are the people who want you to succeed; they're not there to judge or ridicule. So in the end, all we can do is let go of any doubts, get out there, and just enjoy it. Feedback from the audience included one of the best compliments- that everyone on stage looked like they were having a good time.

At the end of the day, that's the power of singing, and coming together as a group in song. While it never hurts to hear rapturous applause, the real proof of success is in everyone having a great time- both on and off stage- and that that enjoyment was shared with the Starling community. The standards of performance which Anna & Emily push us towards each show get higher, but the most satisfying part is standing on stage, surrounded by great friends, making a sound beyond what any of us could have imagined when we first walked into the rehearsal room, nervous of what we were opening ourselves up to. 

On a personal level, Abracadabra was a particularly special show. After singing with Forte since its inception in 2010, I'm preparing to move home to Australia later this year, making Abracadabra my final formal show with Starling Arts for the foreseeable future (never say never, right?). Of all the things I'm sad to be leaving here in London, Starling is a contender for the top spot. 

I joined Starling just after moving to London from Essex, and so my experience of London is entwined with my experience with Starling. Starling has provided me much more than just the opportunity to sing (I've found the motivation to see many West End shows; made costumes for Starling's 2012 Summer School Beauty and the Beast along with costumes for numerous London shows; and contributed to a championship quiz team, all because of Starling). What started as a a group of strangers who wanted to try singing together has branched out into a full fledged community. It's testament to the success of Starling Arts, and singing in general, that in many ways the singing becomes a side product of a supportive, inclusive community- the singing simply provides the structure around which the community thrives. I never laugh as hard as I do when I'm surrounded by fellow Starlings. Performances are often a focal point for any singing community, however for me Abracadabra was a bittersweet experience- like any show, I wanted it to go well, but it also felt like an ending (even though I'll still be around next term!).

Amanda's costume designs for Starling Arts' Beauty and the Beast in 2012

I've sung, danced and sewn my way through the last few years (and at one point had the hot glue gun burn to prove it), and the ethos and mindset of Starling Arts will stay with me once I move home. Singing fosters communities, and communities foster support, friendship, and love. I'm certain that future shows will continue to exceed the expectations of all involved, due to the strong community behind Starling Arts.

Who knows how I'll carry on singing once I get to Australia, but one thing's certain- there will always be singing, and I'll always be a Starling.

Amanda Johnston, Forte Member 

The cast of Abracadabra