Hitting top notes on the high seas
When I board Sun Princess in Brisbane for a cruise to Papua New Guinea, little do I know I will star in a live stage performance, channelling my inner Julie Andrews as part of a choir to an audience of at least 100 fellow passengers. Three-part harmonies, four rehearsals, a five song-repertoire? OK, I am in ...
At the first rehearsal, the average age of the rickety choir members appears to be about 100. However the choirmaster and assistant cruise director, Sasha, looks about 35. And then I see the girl with the banjo. Fifteen years younger than me, she is even more out of her demographic. Her name, improbably, is Harmonie, so we become instant friends. For the next 10 days, we do lots of singing, dancing, drinking and laughing. We sing karaoke duets, dance to the all-black American soul band, chat to musos playing on the ship and bond over mojitos and bloody marys.
Best of all, we play together a few times out on deck, Harmonie on banjo and me on ukulele. She performs with bands in Brisbane. I sing soprano in a Sydney choir.
As the lazy ocean blue sweeps by day after day, Harmonie and I sing together in queues and elevators and one night in the ship’s atrium as the pianist tinkles out Edelweiss. I am with elderly parents aboard and Harmonie with a friend who is not musical, so we feel lucky to have found a rare connection among 2000 passengers.
Our choir only has 20 members but Sasha, who has directed shows on six ships over the past five years, says that on bigger lines “you can get about 150”. Our quirky retro performance celebrates the joint 50th anniversary of the US-owned cruise line and The Sound of Music film, which is good singalong material. But Sasha says mostly her choristers practise contemporary tunes such as Waterloo, New York New York, Blue Bayou, Under the Boardwalk, Oh What a Night, That’s Amore and Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
Some members have sung in choirs or bands and have excellent voices. Only one soprano sounds really bad. Surprisingly, we have eight males and they sing better than the women, or so we are told. One chap even suggests we change the lyrics of Sixteen Going on Seventeen to Sixty Going on Seventy. “I love singing and teaching songs to people,” Sasha says. “They come out of their shell and if only one person becomes more confident, then I feel I’ve done a good job. I really like the way it all comes together at the end.”
Another musical adventure for us is going ashore in PNG, where local Melanesian choirs sweetly sing heartfelt songs of welcome. During our stops at Rabaul, Alotau, Kiriwina Island and Doini Island, we see amazing tribal dancing and listen to local guitar and ukulele groups. When it comes to our own performance, we all turn out in smart black and white for an exciting sound check with the technical guys, standing for the first time together under white-hot stage lights.
The audience generously applauds, despite our gloriously imperfect performance. Sasha tricks them by asking for requests and pretending we don’t have Edelweiss. But, of course, it is our grand finale and as we take our bows, I am reluctant to leave the spotlight.
On a high, Harmonie (whom my Dad calls Melody) and I head to late lunch and wonder if we should flash mob the buffet diners. Sasha gives us classy badges that read “Princess Cruises Pop Choir Sound of Music Edition” and I am proud to wear mine for the remainder of the cruise.