ON Sunday, July 6, an up-and coming West End star called Sarah Covey will be at the Wyvern Theatre for a gala concert.
Sarah, whose current London show is Queen musical We Will Rock you, will share a bill including other top Swindon singers such as Polly Leech, who played Diana Dors in Swindon The Opera and has been offered a Royal Academy of Music post-gradiate scholarship.
A scene from Swindon The Opera
Some of our finest choirs will be represented, and there’ll be excerpts from Swindon the Opera as well as a fondly-remembered show called Brunel: The Little Man in the Tall Hat The woman without whom none of this would be possible is about to spend a few days in Italy, where she’ll address a conference of some of the world’s finest musical experts and work with a choir.
“I’ve always been very strong on links with the community,” said Janice Thompson. “One of my main philosophies is that the voice comes free, so everybody should have access to good singing training.”
Janice, 59, has been providing that training since the age of 14, when she coached children from a church music group in her parents’ Gorse Hill front room.
July’s concert marks the 10th anniversary of the Janice Thompson Performance Trust, an educational charity which runs classes, choirs, shows and workshops covering all age groups, all abilities and all kinds of sung music.
It is one of those Swindon success stories many of us know of, but few are aware of the sheer scope of its work.
That engagement in Italy, for example. In 2007, Janice was asked by the chairman of Association of Teachers of Singing – which she herself now chairs – to prepare some information about the training of boys’ voices as those voices changed.
Happening to have several such boys in her classes at the time, she prepared – with their and their parents’ consent – what is widely regarded as the definitive instructional film on the subject.
The voice the greatest instrument, she insists. “It’s the one that’s part of us.
“It’s the core instrument, the central one that we all have, and from which we work outwards.
“I started being interested in being a singing teacher when I was very young, even in junior school.
“My parents were members of Gorse Hill Methodist Church, so I grew up in a church and I can remember at school listening to voices and being interested in the sound of people’s singing voices.”
Janice is married with three children and three grandchildren, and is based in Gorse Hill, where she grew up.
She is the daughter of a personnel officer and a teacher. “They both worked for the railways in their youth, so I see myself as a daughter of the Great Western Railway.”
The young Janice asked for singing lessons at the age of nine, and after school, studied music in London, including at the Royal Academy of Music.
Her first love was always teaching, although she gave performances while in London.
“The best two performances I remember – singing solo with the City of London Choir at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in their carol concert. That was a lovely one. The other was with Brompton Oratory Choir. That was singing the solos in Britten’s Ceremony of Carols.”
Janice returned to Swindon and began teaching in 1986, but the community aspect of the work soon came to the fore.
The trust? “I happened to be talking to a friend of mine, a businessman, and he said, ‘You know, what you’re running here is something educational – an educational charity.’ I’d been very strong on the educational side.
“It was at that point that we started looking at setting up the trust.”
At the core of everything, though, is singing.
“It’s one of the things we can do for the whole of our lives.
“It brings people together, It allows them to share a common goal, it moves people physically and emotionally and it gives them a purpose. And there’s some fantastic music out there to learn.”
The trust’s website is jtptrust.org