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’?
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music educator; choral conductor, London Youth Choirs; founder, Vocal Futures and Voices Foundation; OBE, services to music education
pianist; founder, Music in Offices; co-founder (with Wu Qian), Surrey Hills Music Festival
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
volunteer production coordinator, WORLDwrite; co-author, Dark Island (forthcoming)
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
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 mundaneNiall Crowley, Independent Voices, 10 October 2012
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
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
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
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
Doing it for charity?
"There's a real sense of intellectual delight that so much can be discussed in just sixty minutes - and so thoughtfully - both by the speakers and especially by the audience. A rich feast of ideas."
Christopher Kelly, reader in Ancient History and Fellow and Director of Studies in Classics at Corpus Christi College