All together now: the rise of the choir

Saturday 20 October, 1.30pm until 3.00pm, Fountain Room

Choirs have been with us a long time. They have their origins in Greek tragedy and the Italian Renaissance. Fifty years ago they were commonplace in our schools, workplaces and social organisations, but until recently we’d come to associate them with Christmas concerts and village halls. Now though, they are making a spectacular comeback. Like the growth of book clubs, debating societies and various specialist-interest groups, choirs have benefitted from a renewed interest in communal activities.

New choirs are popping up around the country, as are singing workshops and festivals such as Voicelab at the South Bank Centre, the Barbican’s Extraordinary Voices and the annual celebration of all things choral, Voices Now, which was launched in 2011 at the Roundhouse in London. However, it is the huge success of BBC series The Choir and its various spin-offs, that has most clearly demonstrated the renewed public interest in all things choral. With little more than the wave of his conducting stick, TV presenter and charismatic choirmaster Gareth Malone, transforms sullen school kids into beaming angels and shy, stay-at-home housewives into confident, strutting divas, ready to take on the world. And the sight of happy, smiling faces hasn’t escaped the attention of social policymakers, increasingly concerned with managing our mental and physical health. Music associations too, have begun to present the benefits of choral singing in social terms. According to national choir representative body Making Music, community music groups ‘impact social cohesion, individual wellbeing’ and are ‘the perfect embodiment of the Big Society in action’.

So what is it that motivates people to get together once or twice a week on often cold winter evenings just to sing along with others? Does choral singing really have the power to uplift and transform individuals and communities, as some claim? And if choirs do have such magical qualities, should we use them to help mend ‘Broken Britain’?

Listen to session audio:

 

Download mp3 (right-click and choose “Save link as”)

Speakers
Suzi Digby
music educator; choral conductor, London Youth Choirs; founder, Vocal Futures and Voices Foundation; OBE, services to music education

Tessa Marchington
pianist; founder, Music in Offices; co-founder (with Wu Qian), Surrey Hills Music Festival

Robin Osterley
chief executive, Making Music; director, Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations

Professor David Vinden
tutor; teacher of Kodály Musicianship; chorus master, Guildhall School of Music

Dr Kevin Yuill
senior lecturer, history, University of Sunderland; author, Assisted Suicide: the liberal, humanist case against liberalization

Chair:
Niall Crowley
volunteer production coordinator, WORLDwrite; co-author, Dark Island (forthcoming)

Produced by
Niall Crowley volunteer production coordinator, WORLDwrite; co-author, Dark Island (forthcoming)
Recommended readings
Music and wellbeing

As the UK’s number one organisation for voluntary music, we feel passionately that the more music people make together, the healthier and happier we all are.

Making Music, 10 October 2012

Choirs are magical - but should they be a social tool, too?

There's a risk that in using choirs for everything from helping fragmented communities to stress relief, we drag them down to the level of the mundane

Niall Crowley, Independent Voices, 10 October 2012

Our Manifesto

Our vision is of communities and individuals flourishing through music making. This manifesto is intended to show how that vision can be realised in the context of music & wellbeing.

Making Music, 1 February 2012

We’re all equal here: singing together is the great leveller

It doesn’t matter how much you earn, what your job is, where you went to school or who you know. Just add your voice to the overall sound.

Chris Rowbury, From the front of the choir blog, 22 January 2012

It saddens me that choir can't solve everything

Can Britain’s favourite choirmaster, the man who taught boys to love singing, now make them love school as well?

Jane Wheatley, The Times, 12 October 2010

Choral singing and psychological wellbeing

Over 600 choral singers drawn from English choirs completed the WHOQOL-BREF questionnaire to measure physical, psychological, social, and environmental wellbeing, and a 12-item “effects of choral singing scale.”

Stephen Clift, Grenville Hancox, Ian Morrison, Bärbel Hess, Gunter Kreutz, and Don Stewart, International Symposium on Performance Science, 2007

Don't look back: why does history matter?

"The Battle of Ideas is quite simply the single most impressive and intellectually challenging event I have ever attended."
Professor Neil McKeganey, director, Centre for Drug Misuse Research

follow the Institute of Ideas

in association with