Abu Dhabi choir that helped the Stones to shine a light
Next time a big musical act rolls into town, a certain group of local singers won’t be able to stop wondering if they’ll be getting a call to back them up on stage.
After being asked to perform with Andrea Bocelli, Susan Boyle and, most recently, The Rolling Stones, the Al Khubairat Singers are becoming the go-to Abu Dhabi choir when big stars needs a big vocal sound.
They were thrilled to be asked to sing with the Britain’s Got Talent reality-show heroine Susan Boyle last December, but were left disappointed when the concert was cancelled.
Last March, Karen Minkkinen Page, a music teacher at Raha International School, was part of the choir invited to sing with the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli at du Arena.
“It was probably the most exciting musical event of my four years living and singing here,” she says.
The Al Khubairat Singers are a community choir run by Jonathan Lyall, the head of the instrumental music department at Al Khubairat School. They rehearse for two hours every Sunday evening at the school.
“We’ve performed classical, jazz, rock – our singers are versatile and happy to perform with anyone who comes to town,” says Lyall.
Lyall and his wife, Kate Denton, who are both from Britain, are moving to Singapore in August. He is yet to choose a replacement to lead the choir he founded seven years ago. He helped the singers to prepare for the Rolling Stones performance, but couldn’t be there in person.
“It came to us in an email, quite randomly, saying The Rolling Stones needed a choir,” he says. “I got the biggest gig ever – but I couldn’t make it as I had a school music trip in Beijing on the same day. I was gutted I couldn’t be there.”
The 35 members of the choir range in age from those in their 20s to their 60s, but because the Stones required a younger mix, Lyall roped in nine students from the school who were 18. In the end there were 23 singers for the gig. He helped the group rehearse You Can’t Always Get What You Want, one of the Stones’ most popular tunes, before leaving fellow music teacher Denton in charge.
Denton admits she got last-minute nerves when she saw the size of du Arena, where 30,000 fans had gathered. “We had never sung or played to such a massive crowd before.
“The audience was amazing. Mick Jagger got them to join in with the choruses, so there was lots of screaming and shouting.
“For the students who sang, of course the Stones are not their generation, but they were quite overwhelmed and really humble about being given such an opportunity.”
One of those A-Level students, Joe Frost, says: “During the rehearsal, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards gave us a hearty welcome and commended us for reacting normally to their presence.
“The amount of effort they go through to fluidise their tunes is more than enough to respect their art. If you closed your eyes during their performance you would think they were in their early 20s.”
Ashley Moyles, 30, a Canadian teacher, has long been a Stones fan and had a ticket for the show – not realising she would end up on stage.“It wasn’t real until we saw them rehearsing. I was shaking with excitement. Everyone was giving off that really great energy.
“Mick used to be my favourite. But now I have a real strong appreciation for Ronnie. He wore this fantastic bright-pink jacket for the soundcheck and sparkly shoes which he kept on throughout the night. I thought he looked so cool. He could even light a cigarette, smoke it and carry on playing at the same time.
“It’s great to think there’s still potential to sing with other big-name singers.”
For their next collaboration, the Al Khubairat Singers will be joined by the UAE Symphony Orchestra to perform sections of Carmina Burana by Carl Orff at the Abu Dhabi National Theatre on April 25. They will perform the same piece with the Morgan State University Choir on May 27 at Al Khubairat School.
Updated: March 4, 2014 04:00 AM