Sonia: When my husband and I booked ourselves onto the Pacific Princess World Cruise in 2011, the last thing I expected was to find myself in a choir of 40 lively passengers singing under the able direction of an incredibly gifted choir director, who was also the singer and piano player in the Casino Lounge on board the ship. But life is full of quirky, unanticipated surprises that come popping out when we least expect them.
The surprise this time turned out to be none other than Princess’ very own David Crathorne, who with patience and irresistible charm, managed to mold a random assortment of passengers into a choir that drew wild applause from our shipmates at our performances in the Cabaret Lounge at the end of every segment of the world cruise.
David: I didn’t expect to be leading a choir. In 2009 during my first World Cruise on Tahitian Princess, I noticed in the Princess Patter that passengers were gathering to sing. My job is to entertain in the Piano Bar and one night one of the passengers approached me and told me about this little gathering of singing passengers.
I asked whether they were doing harmonies and she replied in the negative. I offered to come along and maybe teach them some harmonies. I went around the following day and was confronted with about eight people, singing “Summertime.” The ship’s bandmaster was playing the piano for them. I worked out a simple harmony and taught it to them. I was very excited, as I have never done this before. The next day I went back and asked the bandmaster whether I could play piano for them. He was all too happy to oblige.
Word began to spread about our group and we eventually ended up with about 50 passengers, which is a good amount of people for the size of the ship. We performed several times throughout the voyage. Now, keep in mind, I have or had never had any training in choir work. I just love hearing choirs sing, because harmony work is so beautiful. So on my next cruise ship, Dawn Princess, I wanted to continue, so I asked head office whether I could please put another choir together.
I had no idea of what response I would receive, I simply posted something in the daily Princess Patter asking interested passengers to meet in the Atrium Lounge. Well, I received the surprise of my life when I entered the lounge and saw a sea of people. I picked up the microphone and asked whether they were here to join the choir and in one voice, they all said, “Yes!” I was speechless. There were close to 100 people there.
As the days went by, more people joined and I ended up with about 140 passengers. People from all walks of life had joined. People who had never sung before, let alone in a choir, but enjoyed singing. I told them from the beginning that we were all there to have fun and not to take it seriously. That has always been my philosophy since I started the choir.
Sonia: Some of us had sung in choirs in our schools and churches, and others had some knowledge of musical instruments, but most of us had never sung anything in our lives before, other than the occasional Christmas carol. We were just amateurs, but we were filled with energy and joy, thanks to the soul-stirring Broadway songs that David taught us and the love we shared as members of a choir that had the honor of being directed by a man with his talent and leadership abilities.
David: Since then, I have put choirs together on several World Cruises and other longer voyages. Passengers have kept in touch via email and have asked whether I would be on certain ships, as they would love to come back to be in my choir. That has meant a lot to me and I’ve had quite a few passengers who keep on returning because of the choir, and it’s always a pleasure to welcome them back.
Sonia: Many of us booked the World Cruise the following year, and once again we sang our way across the oceans blue, while David wrote new harmonies for us every time he had one of his famous “epiphanies,” or “moments of insight.” Each one of us found that we had developed a special connection with David, whose choir had in one way or another inspired us to reach for the stars that shone down on us during the cruise, especially on those nights when we performed in the Cabaret Lounge.
David: After doing a season on the ship and with a choir, I normally assemble everybody together and we talk about the different experiences each individual has been through by singing in the choir.
One man said that he had joined the choir because he had a brain tumor and singing helped him forget the pain he was constantly in. He looked perfectly normal and healthy. Another woman joined the choir because she had lost her teenage son the previous year and the two of them loved singing together, but she hadn’t plucked up the courage to sing again until she joined the choir on the ship, where she knew that her son was singing along from above.
There was one lady, who had been on a previous World Cruise with me, but had not joined the choir. When she came back the following year, I asked her to join us, but she said she couldn’t sing. I asked whether she enjoyed singing and if she did she must come — if she didn’t like it she didn’t have to come back. Well, the next day when I saw her, I asked her how she enjoyed the previous day. She said that when she went back to her cabin, she just burst into tears! I asked why and she said that it was the first time in her life that she’d been accepted into a group without being turned away, and that she felt part of something. I used to watch her when we rehearsed and she would light up and shine when we performed on stage.
To me, this is the greatest reward – when I sit in front of the choir at the piano during the concert. The audience can’t see my face, but I have this group of excited, invigorated and inspirational people standing in front of me. When they sing, their faces just light up and the energy emitting from them is so powerful. It’s a great feeling to know that I’ve perhaps changed some lives during the time we were together.
When I was much younger, I always wanted to become a teacher of deaf children. Recently, I’ve realized that my dream of becoming a teacher had come true in an indirect way. I’m teaching harmonies to groups of people and teaching them to sing together. It’s amazing how things turn out. I’ve discovered that putting choirs together on Princess ships has become a true passion.
Sonia: I can say without hesitation that we were a choir who loved what we did, and our choir director was clearly a man who loved his work as well. The David Crathorne Choir, as we called it, helped us to illuminate in song the dazzling beauty we saw around us as we came to realize that we were “Linked by the Sea.”
David Crathorne is currently directing the choir aboard Dawn Princess. Sonia Harrison Jones wrote a book about her experience, called “The Choir.”