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Archive: Other Books > The Chillbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan, 5 stars!

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message 1: by Amy (new)

Amy | 8860 comments In the nick of time, this gorgeous 5 star read made its way both into my heart and into my top ten list for 2017.

Maybe not everyone would consider this a five star read - but everything about this appealed to me. For one, I am a singer and I have always known, understood, felt, and experienced, what music does. it makes joy more joyous, it lifts in times of sorrow. It heals, it transforms, it transcends, it binds. There are a thousand quotes in this story that express this well, but so does its story.

The story is written in the form of letters and journal entries, from five women and eventually one man, chronicling the life and times of the village of Chillbury, England, as seen through the women of the Chilbury Ladies Choir. Three of its narrators are young girls, one on the brink of womanhood. Through war, through bombings, loss, and great personal challenges, they find their strength through music and through each other. This is truly more than a coming of age, its a finding of voice, which is what each woman, younger to old needs to do, and finds their way to.

I think at least for today, my favorite character ever, is Mrs. B., Mrs. Brampton-Boyd, who is not one of our narrators. She is an insufferable nuisance, a bossy old crochety lady, whose nose is entirely out of joint and often stuck in precisely the wrong places. She just makes me laugh.

I spent many of the moments of this book thinking of choirs I have sang with, and times that music has been moments of healing, transcendence, and joy. I love singing in synagogue, and I understand the joy of singing for someone's wedding, engagement, for bris and baby naming ceremonies. I also understand the power of singing for healing, for ritual immersion, for funerals and loss. I think I will never forget singing in church for my close friend's tragic funeral a little over two years ago, and the night before at her wake, missing that to lead a number of women in song, for a dear friends 60th birthday celebration. It was a beautiful Hebrew chant, a niggun, a wordless melody that repeats and grows, and as the women learn it, it gets more full and embodied. Song leading that night, instead of attending that wake, was exactly where I needed to be, not just to keep my promise to my one friend who had asked me to do this special thing, but for my dear friend who had just passed. For my own healing and for her. We had sang together often, and I heard her words in my mind say with regularity, "Women are always stronger together when they sing together. Women need to be always connected in strength through song."

My husband and I had our first date at a Friday night synagogue service, (oddly enough). He had to usher and I had plans on the Saturday night, so we made plans to attend services before going out to a popular dueling piano called Jake Ivories (where we first kissed.) I believe I fell in love with him and the synagogue the very first night, with all the old familiar melodies and harmonies. He tells me that he fell in love with me that very night when he heard me sing. We began to go frequently, because we enjoyed it together, as well as do a thousand other things. He proposed to me 3 months later, and 15 months after that, we were married in that synagogue. And I joined the choir. 8 years after that, we had our first son's bris there, and we danced and sang.

So many communities and friends I have sang with, and sang with over the years. From teen conventions, to acapella groups, to spontaneous caroling and harmony. Most recently, I recall being with four friends at the Women's March in Boston (The Million Women March of January 20th.) They will tell you that 180,000 women and men marched on the common. I will tell you they were wrong. There were over 300,000. Possibly close to four. But the pivotal moments for me, in the long day, was getting all the people on the T to join us in song. This Land is Your Land, Blowing in the Wind, If I had a Hammer. Anything we could think of to match the protests we had heard about when we were young (born in 1968). Would you believe how few young folks knew this music on the T, but when we could get the whole packed car going, it was glorious and powerful.

And 25 years ago, when I worked for a nursing home, as a young new masters clinician, I tried to do "therapy" with the elders, but it often yielded little. So I sang with them - the old jazz standards they knew from when they were young. The songs they fell in love to, danced to, got married to. Many of them didn't even know their own names, but they knew every word. They would see me in the hallways and break out into song. That is where I first learned how healing music is and can be. It was healing, transforming, and transcending.

So years went by, and I sang my children to sleep. I got to be in a musical, two of them, and these experiences remain some of the penultimate bright highlights of my life. I sang in synagogue, sometimes with the choir. I sang with my father for Yom Kippur services every year. I helped out with the Newton Family Singers, and sang in their open sings, and open mikes. I did the Jewish Gospel Concert for years, until that unfortunately ended. I co-directed one 5th grade play. I participated in a talent show or two. Sang with my friends. And now recently, came the Notables into my life.

I had an emotionally tough year (with a consuming work situation, actually three of them.) I needed a lift and life - badly. Last end of May, I walked into my favorite coffee shop and saw a hot pink flyer (now I know posted by my new charming friend Brenda.) Singers wanted for female acapella group - sopranos needed. I believe I called right there on the spot. I sang Bewitched for the audition. They took me, and my life has been forever changed. I re-worked my schedule and my life to be available to sing with them on Wednesdays. These women are incredible. They are each in their 60's and 70's, possibly older, and maybe one or two younger, but I am clearly the youngest in the group. I now have 15 role models on how to age and how to live. These women are the most beautiful, loving, spiritual, dynamic, socially conscious group. They have the most incredible hearts, and their mission is to sing for nursing homes, assisted living, mens clubs, what have you. I often to always think I am the happiest person in the room, but then I look around and these women are just as joyful as I. So happy to be doing this - all songs from the 1920's to the 1970's. But to see how these elders are moved - its an unbelievable gift, and a clear harkening from my past. They are tearful with joy, and they sing along - some of them loudly and boldly. Its amazing. And... They gave me a solo, get this, the one I have wanted my entire life! And I get to sing it every Wednesday. Amazing what music can do. For me, for the other singers, for our audience. For my kids, my family - for life.

So yes, I understood every word about this power of music to transform, heal, and uplift. But the story was great too. Just loved the different voices and unfoldings. 5 stars, 6 or 7. Changing my top ten to include.


message 2: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7782 comments I knew you would love this! And how wonderful that it had an extra special personal connection for you. Those little connections are what can really make a book shine!

A nice ending to your reading year :)


message 3: by Tracy (new)

Tracy (tstan) | 1208 comments I always love reading your reviews, especially when you love a book. Your stories and background are much more interesting!

I have always loved music, too, though my (limited-should have practiced more) talents were in playing. I do enjoy singing, but I’m pretty sure those around me would prefer I didn’t...
But I get the power of healing and the joy that comes from it. An old friend is a music therapist, and she sees faces light up every day.
I’m so happy that you have this talent, and are able and willing to share it with others. And I’m happy for them, because not only are they treated to your voice, they get to see and feel your joy, too. Thank you for sharing this- it will keep a smile on my face today!


message 4: by Ellen (new)

Ellen | 2218 comments I loved this one as well and it was particularly good on audio.


message 5: by Ladyslott (new)

Ladyslott | 1880 comments I really liked this book, but I didn't love it. Mostly because of one storyline that seemed beyond preposterous.


message 6: by Jason (new)

Jason Oliver | 2063 comments What a wonderful and heartfelt review.


message 7: by Amy (new)

Amy | 8860 comments Lady Linda, I equate your thought to be sort of like Pitch Perfect 3, where one piece of it was so far fetched and beyond preposterous that it was an irksome assault on my intelligence. But as a whole, I still sort of loved the whole thing. And had a great time. Sometimes a suspension of disbelief is necessary. And yet we all can’t do it at the same time and in the same context - lol!


message 8: by Book Concierge (new)

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 6015 comments Amy ... just love this review. I'm going to bookmark it and read it every time I feel the need for some joy in my life!

(P.s. I also love to sing, and was a member of the Children's Hospital Employee Choir before I retired.)


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