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 →  Tabitha Topping: My Journey to BBC Proms at Sage Gateshead

Tabitha Topping: My Journey to BBC Proms at Sage Gateshead

Tabitha Proms Web Image

I began my Sage Gateshead singing journey in school a decade ago when my friend Joanna asked if I’d like to join the aptly named Swing Bridge Singers choir for teenagers.

The idea of singing Sage Gateshead was dreamlike, the building itself is alive as it oozes with music day and night. Many greats including Lou Reed, Van Morrison and Nancy Sinatra have all graced Sage Gateshead. I never thought that one day I would be back, now aged 24, singing for Sage Gateshead’s first BBC Proms.

Spending five years of my adolescence performing in various concerts and festivals with this choir gave me some of my fondest memories, as well as a motivation to keep singing thanks to our choir leader Andrew Scott (Scottee). Many members of the choir have since become composers, opera singers and music teachers, owing their inspiration to their time at Swing Bridge Singers.

Swing Bridge Singers in Sage One

Singing post-Covid

Fast forward to 2020, life is paused to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The next two years are a time of grief, loneliness and melancholy. Our frontline key workers facing the worst of it. The world of music faced huge losses with many venues closing, even Sage Gateshead struggled until securing Government funding.

From singing over zoom to socially distanced concerts people were desperate to make music together again. In March 2022 the Voices of the Rivers Edge choir application popping up in an email from my father seemed like a beacon for a passion I’d since lost.

I sent in my application and the nervous questions began to arise: Can I still sing? Will I pass the audition? Will I make any friends? Social skills had all but vanished with the isolating few years we’ve had.

Concourse Tabitha

First day fears

The first day of rehearsals comes around and I make my way to that mirrored slug-like building containing so many memories of music past. It’s been years but suddenly my fears disappear, and I feel like I have arrived home. Passing melodious practice rooms where my friends and I laughed, sang and sometimes cried over the latest drama of our teen angst.

I am greeted by a friendly hubbub of buzzing singers, everyone in the choir is smiling and introducing themselves, questions flying back and forth ‘When did you last sing?’ ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Isn’t it amazing to be back?’. I’m called into a room with the pianist and our welcoming musical director Grace Rossiter to perform the nerve-wracking voice test. Luckily, I pass the test and despite identifying as an Alto singer all these years I’m told I could also sing Soprano 2, perhaps the years of voice rest did some good.

The atmosphere in my first rehearsal is that of joy and laughter whilst dusting off questionable sight reading skills, everyone is just ecstatic to be making music again. It all begins to feel real, I take a deep breath and that sense of belonging kicks in as I harmonise with my newfound friends – all sharing the same relief that choral music is back!

During our lunch break with a feeling of nostalgia, I can’t help but wander downstairs to my old practice room where it all began. I’m looking ahead to the first BBC Proms at Sage Gateshead with a vast amount of northern pride.