It’s said to release endorphins, reduce stress, and increase life satisfaction. I asked three of my friends about their experiences of singing in choirs.
Which choir did you join and why?
Caroline: Belper Rock Choir. I saw a documentary about the national Rock Choir. I was attracted by the style of music they were singing and it looked like fun. There was no pressure as there’s no audition and no need to read music. Nor do the members have to take part in performances if they don’t want to.
Helen: Lady Bay Community Choir. It was mentioned by a neighbour over a drink one night and sounded like fun. It’s really local, friendly and thankfully there were no auditions.
Penny: SoundSwell. I was looking for one that was relaxed and friendly and not too focussed on serious performance. It’s also inclusive with an emphasis on the fact that anyone and everyone can enjoy singing no matter what their ability, disability or music knowledge.
What’s so good about it?
Caroline: Learning and singing the songs you enjoy, performing these songs and the friendship aspect. We have a regular meet up for a meal at a local pub.
Helen: It’s almost the only time in the week when I switch off from my day job totally – the hour and a half whizzes by. So it’s very relaxing and fun at the same time.
Penny: Having a really good sing definitely helps shake off any of the day’s stresses or worries. SoundSwell is quite a big choir with usually about 100 people in it and it’s amazing what a fantastic sound we can make together.
What do you sing?
Caroline: Pop, Motown and chart stuff. Recently we’ve sung 70’s and 80’s songs: Living on a Prayer, Take on Me, You’re So Vain, Labi Siffre’s Something Inside So Strong. And the more recent Bruno Mars’ Just the Way You Are. We also have “the moves” that go along with them. They aren’t normally too complicated and we have a laugh getting them wrong in rehearsal.
Helen: Abba, The Beatles, some African songs which are fun even though we sometimes don’t know what we are singing! The last playlist included California Dreamin’, Something Inside So Strong, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, I’m a Believer.
Penny: All sorts: pop songs, world music including African songs, folk songs, songs from the musicals, gospel songs.
And where do you perform?
Caroline: Our performances are varied. We’ve done flashmobs at places like John Lewis. Local Christmas light switch-ons. Jubilee concerts last year. This summer 6,000 of us sang at Liverpool Arena with the southern choirs doing a similar thing at the O2. We’ve also helped break a world record for the most people simultaneously singing and doing a dance routine.
Helen: At local open garden events, small charity concerts in the hall, we’ll be entertaining one of the local pubs with carols just before Christmas and are talking about going to a national choir event next year.
Penny: At the end of each of the three terms a year we perform the songs we have been learning in front of an audience of friends and families. The choir is sometimes invited to get involved in other events; we sang as part of a huge choir/crowd when the Olympic torch was in town! But it’s very much a “singing for pleasure” choir.
Any tips for those thinking of joining a choir?
Caroline: Don’t be afraid to go along to try it. Taster sessions are free, and I went to a couple before I made the decision to join.
Helen: Find a friendly one and just join! I had very, very basic school level music reading ability which helped. I had never sung in parts but I was able to join in from the first visit and really enjoy it.
Penny: I think it pays to do a bit of research about the kind of choir that would suit you. Do you want to go to an audition? Do you want to have to commit to serious rehearsals for public performance? Are you expected to sight read or learn words by heart?
Caroline: Only in that our leader got ill and left, but we were able to travel to other Rock Choirs until a new one was appointed. The organisation did all they could and reduced our fees in the interim. And the experience was positive as I got to know my fellow choir members better as we travelled together.
Helen: None really, other than travel for my job means I miss half of the rehearsals so I really should practice a lot more than I do.
Penny: The biggest downside for me is getting the music we’re learning stuck in my head. There are only so many times you can sing California Dreamin’ over and over in your head!
And finally, how much does it cost?
Caroline: £100 per 10 week term. This includes getting the songs on downloads so you can practice. And if you can’t make your normal rehearsal night you can go along to another choir – as long as it’s the same year group they will be learning the same songs. You can even go twice a week!
Helen: £5 a week for 10 week terms.
Penny: It costs between £30 and £35 per term (following school terms) depending on how much money we have in reserves. The choir is run by a committee of members and is not a commercial venture.
I really wish I could sing in tune now, as I would love to join a choir. Especially when I read about health benefits that singing brings. But aged 11 the music teacher at school turned to me and said “Please stop. You’re spoiling it for the others”. So I have to keep it to the shower!
For those of you who aren’t quite as flat as me, there is an index of British Choirs on the internet. If you give it a go then do let us know how you get on!