‘A cappella’ and ‘A’ certificate

by Andrea J James

Hazel Price
Hazel Price

Hazel Price, a long-standing member of Aylesbury Ward, has always enjoyed singing, including singing in ward and stake choirs. It was in a rehearsal in her home ward where her Ward Music Leader, Jill Neenan, became her singing tutor.

As Hazel began to develop her talent during her singing lessons, she was invited to join a newly formed community choir with Jill as the Musical Director.  With over 100 members, The Wing Singers, allowed Hazel’s talent to thrive as she joined in as many public performances as possible – both within the main choir and in small ensembles. 

During a lesson with Jill, Hazel shared that lifelong dream was to be able to sing solo.  Jill introduced ‘soirees’ after some of the regular choir evenings.  These allowed Hazel and others to try something different in a safe environment and led to Jill encouraging Hazel to study for her Grade 5 Music Theatre exam.  This brought together two of her loves in life, singing and costume making! 

Being a member of the Church had given Hazel the opportunity to develop her skills over the years when making costumes for various roadshows in the Watford Stake; with her support Aylesbury Ward had won the Best Costumes award many times.

Solo-singing opportunities began to appear, on a few occasions at a local care home in 2016. Then she stepped on to the stage as a solo singer for the first time in January 2017.   She helped raise funds for the Stoke Mandeville Hospital Scan Appeal at the ‘Wing Musicathon’.  She performed With One Look from Sunset Boulevard in front of about 100 people, most of whom she didn’t know!  The year of 2017 also saw Hazel taking her Grade 5 Musical Theatre Singing exam, which she passed with merit.

Having accepted the challenge in February 2018 to enter her first competition – the Milton Keynes Festival of the Arts and Drama – she performed two songs within two categories: musical theatre and operetta.  She was accompanied by her tutor and performed in front of about 30 people, most of whom were also there to compete. 

Jill persuaded Hazel to perform in her costumes and with the props she had made and used for her exam.  Hazel recalled, “Being the only one in costumes, I stood out like a sore thumb!  I admit I felt rather unnerved, but I ploughed on.  I got excellent feedback and an award for my rendition of I’m Called Little Buttercup, the adjudicator enjoying the fun that was portrayed, which was in keeping with it being from HMS Pinafore.”

In 2021, despite not being able to meet up in person with her choir or her mentor, Hazel decided to again enter the Milton Keynes Festival of the Arts and Drama competition again.   COVID-19 lockdown regulations demanded video entries.  Hazel rose to the challenge, practising while being recorded by her teenage son to ensure she could submit her best possible video.  She and her son had to overcome obstacles, hunting around the house for the optimum lighting and sound.

Hazel was especially concerned when she discovered that the videos would be put online so everyone could watch them.  Hazel said, “This threw me.  It was not as bad as when I did my first public solo for charity, but I admit I didn’t do so well then.  However, I was determined I would send in my entry, so I submitted it despite knowing the errors I had made and the cooker alarm going off in the background.  However, I did ask them not to put my video online if it was just too embarrassing.”

She continued, “I was convinced I did not have a chance to win a place at all.  I had not been able to have lessons for many months, so I resigned myself to not participating in the competition.  I also wondered if it was likely to go ahead due to the current global situation.  In addition, I was stepping right out of my comfort zone by singing ‘a cappella’ (i.e., unaccompanied by music).  This was something I had to do because I had no suitable accompaniment or backing track.”

She explained that while some might say when singing ‘a cappella’ that it allowed them to sing in their way (any ‘errors’ being intended), it is not so.  Each entrant was required to send in a copy of the sheet music for this competition, so the adjudicators knew exactly what singing was intended.  Furthermore, without a backing track, there is nothing to hide any errors.  Hazel informed the adjudicators that she did not ‘wait out’ the musical interludes but allowed the song to flow, which was approved of in their feedback. 

Hazel waited anxiously for the results.   She shared, “I like this competition for amateur singers, on a comparable basis to why I love being a member of The Wing Singers—it is open to all ages and all abilities.  From what I can tell, you do not have to live locally to enter.   The competition covers music, dance, drama; and the website is already showing details of 2022 competition.”

She confided that joining The Wing Singers choir and entering this competition twice is all part of a journey.  The entry for 2021 was very different from her entry in 2018.  This time she had no encouragement, not even her singing tutor.  Hazel did not even tell her tutor until after she had sent in her submission.  This journey was part of her need to support herself and celebrate her attempting hard things, for managing her reaction to obstacles, and overcoming her deep-rooted negativity and self-doubt.

“Encouragement and praise were not something experienced in my home life as a child, quite the contrary – it was full of abuse, shame and negativity in many forms, most of which I blocked out for about half of my life.  For the other half of my life, I have been learning about the abuse, the effects on me, my character, confidence, and self-worth. 

“In the short time between the competition deadline and my 60th birthday, I happened to see a video on social media that helped me ‘understand me’ more than anything else has done in my life, especially when dealing with putting up barriers and not achieving all that I hope to.  It also, briefly, left me with the feeling that I cannot change; that ‘I could never succeed’.

“So, as I look back at this now, knowing all the mistakes and everything else surrounding my entry, I feel I have done some good in starting to break down another barrier and push against Satan and all the negativity I can be bombarded with.”

Finally, Hazel had news of the competition results. When the envelope arrived, she was happy to see the positive feedback.   From experience, she knew that awards are always genuine, as is the feedback. 

“I was delighted … but not as delighted as I was when I went to return the feedback page in the envelope and realised on the other side was a certificate!  I was extremely excited to see I had been awarded 2nd place, with commendation, in my chosen category.”

So, what next for Hazel?  She adds, “In 2019 my singing tutor talked with me and a few other students about setting up a ‘troupe’ to go into care homes, hospitals and possibly schools.  The idea is to perform with costumes and props and make it as entertaining and engaging as possible.  … I would love to see this happen.  For me, it would be another step in the right direction. I look forward to getting back on track with my next singing exam, and yes, I will compete again next year – with an accompanist.

“My accomplishments in life may not seem very grand compared to others, but I know Heavenly Father is aware of me, all I have been through and all the lessons and learning I have had during the COVID-19 pandemic.  As I look back on my life, I realise I have lived in fear for almost everything.  However, I also know that as long as I stay close to Heavenly Father and make the most of any opportunities I may get, He will continue to help me change, to heal and become all that He would like me to be.”