Viva La Vida: a flash of Inspiration

Let the sunshine in.

That was the title of the concert I attended at the Sage Gateshead yesterday afternoon. After a week of rain, we’d been enjoying a weekend of sunshine and here we were, ready to be inspired by the massed voices of Inspiration and the orchestra of Opera North.

These singers love what they are doing. They clearly adore their music director Gary Griffiths and derive such joy from singing. You can see it in their faces. I’m watching my friend. I love watching her doing what she loves doing. She comes alive up on that stage. Her whole body resonates with the music, like her whole body is singing. Her face radiates pure joy. I never see her any happier than this. For each of these singers, this is Inspiration. This is where they feel inspired. They are joining together in a beautiful act of creation. Each one is a part of this glorious whole. They sing together, they move together, they sit and stand together.

I was eager to be inspired.

Not knowing the musical ‘Hair’ at all, I was surprised that my favourite piece in the first half was ‘Let the sunshine in’ and ‘Aquarius’. It was so strong and confident, a wall of sound. It worked for me.

At the interval, I pondered how subjective inspiration is. How I knew exactly what I had liked and disliked up to this point and the person next to me would know exactly what they had liked and disliked and that was likely to be two very different opinions right there. The same with the choir members, I suspect. We all have different tastes, different things that move us. That’s what makes it so varied and exciting.

I have to admit I was bracing myself for ‘Viva la Vida’. I’d call myself a Coldplay fan, you see – the Mylo Xyloto gig at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland was the best performance I have ever witnessed. And generally, as with books and films, a cover is never anywhere near as good as the original.

But I was intrigued when narrator Liz Green explained that ‘Viva la Vida’ was inspired by the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. I may call myself a Coldplay fan, but I hadn’t done my research.

‘Viva la Vida’ is a painting by Frida Kahlo from 1954. A painting of melons. Bold. Bright. Cheerful. Full of life. Which given the actual life that Frieda Kahlo had to live was a creative feat of inspiration in itself.

When asked about the album’s title, referring to Frida Kahlo’s strength, enduring polio, a broken spine, and a decade of chronic pain, lead singer Chris Martin said: ‘She went through a lot of pain, of course, and then she started a big painting in her house that said ‘Viva la Vida’, I just loved the boldness of it.’  Wikipedia

Viva la vida. These words are from the Spanish.

Long live life!

May life live.

Live (the) life.

Any of the above. Take your pick.

In the context of chronic pain and suffering, these words gather even more significance. Live life to the full. Make of it all that you can. The ultimate in positive thinking.

And actually, I was overwhelmed by Inspiration’s rendition of the song. As a string player, the orchestration was mesmerising – what I would give to have been a part of that orchestra in that moment! As for the voices, I loved the syncopation that feels like it’s driving forward and yet holding back at the same time. So hard to get right. Tough not to slip into dotted rhythm or triplets.

My favourite lyric?

And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand.  Viva la Vida

Pretty much sums up much of life. Still making those discoveries.


I loved how the choir gathered strength and momentum. Growing in volume and confidence and positive energy until the last note, until the sound faded away and the applause resounded.

That was Inspiration right there. When all the elements come together to create something truly remarkable – my friend, this choir and orchestra, Gary Griffiths, Chris Martin and Coldplay, Frida Kahlo, they all contributed to this flash of inspiration.

Life is to be lived in all its fullness.

So Inspirationers, keep doing your thing!



  1. Gwen July 15, 2017 / 9:06 pm

    As a member of the Inspiration Choir in Leeds I would say you have told it just right – truly perfect ! and although I am a working member ( work part time as a Speech and Language Therapist ) – I find that attending the choir has been my life saver – my mother died in 2013 and it was she who told me to go back to singing in a choir – so not so long after she died I remembered her words and looked for a new choir to attend close to home – and found Inspiration ! I have thought of her when we sing “your song – ( partly think of my father who also died as he loved this song by Elton John )- and the words about it was your song that made me sing I think of my mother .. all the pieces we have sung so far for me have had some connection.
    Without the choir I would have been so much more depressed ( having found it difficult when my mother died ) I reduced my working hours and it has been the best part of my Monday off to attend the rehearsals- it always gives me a buzz and I return happier for the hard work Gary makes us all put in.
    To hear about the background to the Vida La Vida was amazing. Its so lovely that someone took the time to think about this.
    Singing is a great tonic and a tribute to life itself – thank you for the words

    • Helen R July 16, 2017 / 8:26 am

      Thanks Gwen for posting your comment. It’s always great when women take the time to get in touch and it’s so good to hear that you have found something to help you through a difficult time. I’m sure all the other Inspirationers out there will identify with your words. Hx

  2. Gill Lisk August 2, 2017 / 10:39 am

    I loved reading about this choir. It feels strange as I am in this choir but was away with work for this gig. I think it must be a bit like having what people describe as an ‘out of body’ experience. It’s insightful to see it from the outside for once. It is inspiring others to be who they are, go find what they are good at and just love doing what they love. ❤️ My friends singing know this. My friend taking the great pictures knows this. My friend writing about it knows this. Be inspired to find your you. X

    • Helen R August 2, 2017 / 11:28 am

      Thanks for the encouragement, Gill. As you say, when you take a step back, you often gain a fresh perspective. Hx

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