“Happy Birthday to You” – Piazza 2014:

Piazza will probably always be my favourite National Rev event. I’ll admit I’m a little biased – I’m a Warwick Revver through and through and Warwick Rev is the home of Piazza – but that’s not the only reason. Piazza has charms that the bigger events can’t match. Whereas WiM and RESITS both last a whole week, Piazza is just a weekend, which means less stress, (slightly) less exhaustion and less hard work. WiM changes place every year so it’s difficult to become attached to one location, RESITS is in Edinburgh, a long way from a lot of the England dwelling members of Rev, but the University of Warwick is the most central Rev university and every year you can return to see what is the same and what has changed. For old Warwick Revvers who still live in Coventry, it’s hard to avoid, especially this year, when the weekend was also host to Warwick Rev’s twentieth birthday party. Even if you left Rev years ago, you’re still welcome here.

So, what is Piazza Weekend? It takes its name from the Piazza; a mythical place lying deep at the heart of the University of Warwick, between the Student Union, the Arts Centre and Rootes building. It’s a source of many rumours and legends. Sometimes, it’s even said, Rev concerts used to be held on the Piazza itself, before Warwick Student Arts Festival and rain and football intervened. Whilst no one is sure how true that is, the weekend of Warwick Rev’s Summer concert is and will always be known as Piazza Weekend.

Warwick’s concert is the culmination of the weekend, but it’s not its totality. First (and last, and many bits in the middle) is the pub. We met at Varsity, the pub just off campus, on the Friday afternoon. There was a lot of hugging involved, which I mostly avoided as a non-hugging person. Then there was alcohol, which I also avoided as a non-drinker. That didn’t stop the excitement or the laughter. By the end of the evening, the half dozen of us who were there at the start had multiplied to maybe a dozen and we were all well fed and watered. Those people lucky enough to live in the Coventry area eventually returned to their real beds and those of us less local and more foolish walked a short way down the road to the church where we would stay for the next two nights.

It takes a special kind of dedication to willingly go through the sleeplessness that is part of so many Rev events. You stay up late because there are so many people you need to catch up with, you curl up in your sleeping bag with the bones of the church floor digging into your back as you toss and turn and you tiptoe out before sensible people are awake to avoid interrupting the daily running of the church. We were bleary eyed when we dragged ourselves to the Piazza itself the next morning, but singing is the best way to wake up.

The Piazza can be a place of stifled dreams for Revvers. In June, it becomes one of the homes of Warwick Student Arts Festival and we have to book far in advance to make sure we can perform there. In the same month, England often forgets it’s nearly Summer and rains rather heavily, which isn’t compatible with complicated electronic equipment. This time, despite neither of those things presenting an issue, we were forced to surrender the main concert to a big screen and students eager to watch the Football World Cup. It didn’t mean we couldn’t sing on the Piazza at all, it just meant we were going to have to fit it in earlier. We were going to busk.

Busking with Rev is always an interesting thing. It takes a while to figure out who knows what songs and if they all know the same versions (I know the tenor version of the song Accapella very well. I don’t know the soprano, which is the part I’m supposed to sing. No one ever told me they were different). Of course, being Rev, it doesn’t actually matter if you know the songs or not, which is quite lucky. I’d sung Hlonolofatsa once before that weekend, in a concert three years earlier. We’d been running late and hadn’t done a sound check when the audience took their seats. One of the Revvers had stepped outside to where we lined up by the church and said, “Apparently we’re doing Hlonolofatsa in the sound check. I don’t know why, but I’m going to teach it to you anyway.” She shrugged and proceeded to teach it to us in about two minutes before we rushed inside to do an all-in-one sound check and concert. I didn’t sing it again until Piazza 2014, where again I skipped the rehearsal and went straight to the performance. This is how Rev teaches its busking songs.

On this Saturday morning, in true Rev fashion, we improvised our set list and grabbed anyone who looked like they could know what they were doing to conduct. We busked on the Piazza and basked in the applause we received. It wasn’t over though. Warwick was having an open day for next year’s prospective students and that meant we had the opportunity to perform to prospective Revvers and win them over. We headed over to where people were queuing for accommodation tours. They were more than happy to have something to break up their waiting.

Still, we couldn’t busk forever, particularly on such a hot day and especially when there was Warwick Rev’s 20th birthday party to attend, so we headed for the pub. Of course. It wasn’t Varsity this time but the Dirty Duck, the campus pub, where a room had been booked for Warwick to celebrate. As might be expected, the purchasing and consuming of food and drink were again an important part of the day, but there were also quizzes about things that happened long before I joined Rev and left me scrabbling at half-remembered pieces of Rev-lore as I tried to remember National Coordinators and Warwick presidents and songs from long ago. Mostly, there were a lot of people having fun.

Remember how I said we couldn’t busk forever? Well, no one had told the organisers of Warwick Open Day that. They were so impressed by our performance outside of Rootes accommodation that they wanted us to perform again outside of Jack Martin, another set of student halls hosting tours. We’d barely finished there, hot and breathless, when the open day organisers asked if, as they were fighting over where we would sing next, we could go to the registration tent and do the same thing all over again. Off we trudged, tired and thirsty, taking turns to announce our name and purpose to the world. We did manage to return to the pub eventually though, many of us staying there and chilling out until it was time to prepare for the Chaplaincy Ball. Warwick Rev rehearses in the Chaplaincy, so this annual event is well attended by us.

At this point, I should probably include a long section about the Chaplaincy Ball, which often overlaps with Piazza, but I will not talk about it because I have never actually been. All I know is that when I got up in the middle of the night, there were people asleep in the middle of the floor whilst still wearing their tuxes. Sometimes those of us who don’t go to the Chaplaincy Ball just hang out at the church, but this year we went geocaching instead. It was a new experience for me and some of the others, but the more experienced among led the way past two impossible to locate prizes and an eventual treasure trove on our third attempt.

I was asleep back at the church by the time people returned from the Chaplaincy Ball. They were still asleep when I woke up the next morning. There was some rather dramatic flailing around when they realised it was time for us to leave so the church could continue with its Sunday morning preparation. The remaining half dozen members of what had been a Rev army yesterday were soon blinking in the sunlight.

We were supposed to be busking again at ten o’clock, but we still had an hour and a half to wait. The main thought of those people who had not woken up in time to eat before leaving the church (I had quite happily munched my toast while they were still asleep) was breakfast. Unfortunately, as it was Sunday morning, everywhere was closed. The most popular idea seemed to be a trip to Ikea (I did not know you could have breakfast in Ikea. I didn’t even know there was an Ikea anywhere near campus), but we ended up in the only coffee shop open. When we did make our way to the busking spot, it was to find we were the only people there. No audience, no other choir members, just the six of us and an empty atrium. Everyone who had had the option of staying in bed had taken it. It was decided that it maybe wasn’t the optimum conditions for a performance but we didn’t have time to go to Ikea, so we left the SU for the room that had been booked for the most important and exciting part of the weekend: Forum.

Well, maybe not the most exciting, but Forum is very important. It’s when representatives from all Rev choirs and the National Volunteer Team get together and discuss the state of the choir, where it’s been and where it’s going. I still don’t have an official title or job description as a member of the team, but I was there. There were reports from choirs from all ends of the country, there was a vote on next year’s WiM Co-ordinator (congratulations, Alison) and there was some discussion of where next year’s WiM will be. It was such a long and interesting discussion that we had to cancel the still eagerly anticipated trip to Ikea for breakfast (at one in the afternoon) because it was already time for the tech people to start setting up for Warwick Rev’s concert, the real heart of the weekend.

The Summer concert at Warwick Rev, whether on the Piazza or not, has a very special place in my heart. It brings back fond memories of the concert in 2011 and the only time I played my saxophone so it sounded vaguely OK (mostly because a Rev saxophonist considerably more talented than me volunteered to tune it whilst I was staring at her, too terrified to actually speak and she did other magical things to it that I don’t understand. I’ve never managed to make it sound the same since). In 2012, Piazza was the first Rev concert I’d seen after a year in America without any choir. In 2013, it was the very last concert I sang in as an official member of Warwick Rev. This year was going to be the first year I watched it as a graduate. I relaxed in the lecture theatre and prepared to watch the sound check from a distance, right until one of the tech guys called up to me “Devon, are you singing?”

What? Singing?  In the concert? I hadn’t been to a single rehearsal! I didn’t know a single song! How on earth did he expect me to join in?

I went up to the stage anyway. I’m not sure how that happened. I’ve just got used to going along with things in Rev. At least the first song was one I had sung in Rev several years ago, so I vaguely remembered it.

And there was one from this year’s WiM, which of course I knew.

And there was one from last year’s WiM, which was still lodged somewhere in my brain.

And there was Accapella. Everyone knows Accapella. It’s one of my three favourite Rev songs of all time.

And I’d spent most of the previous day singing Hlonolofatsa, so I could probably manage that.

And I did know Seasons of Love and We Built this City as songs, even if I didn’t know the soprano parts, so I could just determinedly sing the tune even if it was miles away from what the sopranos were meant to sing.

So, really, it wasn’t too bad. I might even say it was rather fun.

Of course, the concert eventually had to end. Those of us who hadn’t already left for early trains or work the next day didn’t have the church to sleep in that night, but an extremely kind and wonderful Warwick Revver had offered to lend me her floor. First though, as I’m sure will surprise you, we headed to the pub. The concert was successful, the tech had been dismantled, and it was time to celebrate. Except the pub was closed.

Instead we ended up sprawling across the Piazza under a sky of warm stars, eating chips and burgers from a van and feeling slightly treacherous as we watched the football on the big screen, despite that it was the reason we hadn’t sung on the Piazza that day. It didn’t matter. Our contentment was complete, everyone breathed in the satisfaction of a weekend well spent. The atmosphere is always what Rev does best and that was there right to the very last moment.

© Devon Hazel, 2014