A couple of years ago my sister-in-law came to me with a proposal, which she said would be ‘fun’. Alarm bells began to ring at this point. During our
child-free years our definitions of ‘fun’ led to some pretty evil hangovers and one particularly lengthy wait in A&E.
Still, we are older and wiser now or maybe just perpetually tired, so these days the proposals tend to be a bit more low-key.
‘My friend’s starting a community choir. She’s lovely. It will be fun. Do you fancy it?’
And actually I realised that I did. I’m not sure if it’s my age or possibly the age of my children, but I was suddenly aware that I no longer had any hobbies aside from ‘reading whilst my eyes slowly close at bedtime’ and ‘going to the cinema to see films provided they are rated 12A or below’.
I had officially become middle-aged and boring. It was time to get a hobby and have another go at this thing called fun.
So off to choir I went. From the first second I stepped into the room and we belted out ‘California Dreamin’’ I have loved it.
Here are the reasons why.
- Singing is good for you
Due a combination of a wonky spine, two children and writing, I have a bad back but I never notice it while I’m singing. After a session of belting out everything from Stevie Wonder to Snow Patrol, my back often feels less tense too. It might be the posture, the breathing or my pretty awesome moves but there’s something about it that is positively healing.
- Life has a soundtrack
In the film of my life, I make an entrance every morning to ‘Feeling Good’ by Nina Simone. Sadly, a combination of factors including my inability to make coherent conversation before the first coffee of the day and the withering response I would receive from my children, makes this impractical. However, I always have a song buzzing in my head. Sometimes it’s an ear-worm, often it’s something fantastic. Being part of a choir means I can now belt these out in the car, shower and supermarket with the legitimate excuse that I’m rehearsing. It’s brilliant.
- You are never alone in a choir
I can carry a tune and I learn a harmony but I am not a soloist. Despite my best efforts in front of the mirror giving a heartfelt rendition of ‘Someone Like You’, I am not Adele. I’m not even Adele’s backing singer but I would give it a go if the call came. I can sing fine on my own but I sing better with my choir buddies. There’s something about catching someone’s eye mid-song and sharing a smile because you’ve got this. You are nailing ‘Uptown Girl’.
Billy Joel would be proud.
- You are learning new stuff and it’s challenging
In week three we started to learn ‘Africa’ by Toto. If you don’t know this song, add it to your playlist immediately. There’s a reason why NME ranked it 32 on a list of 50 ‘most explosive choruses’ – it’s choral catnip. It also has a three-part harmony (four if you’re ambitious). I was in group three. We ran through each part and then tried them all together. It didn’t go well for me. I kept getting distracted by the tune, groups one and two and Jeff Porcaro’s impeccable drumming. It was frustrating and difficult. Our MD directed us to an enthusiastic and charming Italian musician’s You Tube channel. He had helpfully recorded each harmony part. I pored over this video and decided that I loved this man. I made my husband (a talented musician himself) practice with me. I played it over and over in the car. And then it went in. Just like that. Like all those lyrics to 80s pop songs that are actually turning out to be quite handy now, the ‘Africa’ chorus harmony, part 3 is indelibly printed on my brain. And it feels good (cue Nina Simone moment).
- Performing in public is a blast
When I was a kid, I used to get nervous to the point of nausea about doing anything in public. Now, I get excited. Again, it wouldn’t be great for anyone if it was me singing on my own but in the spirit of ‘we’re all in this together’, it’s pure fun. Even when it goes wrong. And of course, when it goes right and people clap (an unexpected and welcome pleasure) or indeed cheer, it’s nothing short of intoxicating.
- We get to do some amazing stuff
Last year, we took part in an event to mark the opening of the new Tate Modern building in London. Our choir formed part of a 500-voice London community choir performing a specially composed piece called ‘The Bridge’ by installation artist Peter Liversidge. We rehearsed and performed in the Tate’s awe-inspiring turbine hall with the brilliant conductor, Esmeralda Conde-Ruiz. The piece was weird, wonderful and completely original. It felt incredible to be part of this and even my nine-year-old son (habitually underwhelmed by anything that isn’t linked to football or wrestling) declared it to be, ‘really cool, Mum.’ And it was.
Singing at the Tate Modern.
- There’s always cake
As everyone knows (ask Gareth Malone if you don’t believe me), the secret to a really good choir is excellent cake. We have a brilliant resident baker called Lucy (you can check out her rather super cake, book and film blog here – https://keeps-me-busy.com/ ). If Lucy ever left the choir, I think we would be in trouble. It’s simply not possible to channel your inner Dolly or indeed Kenny during ‘Islands in the Stream’ unless you have either eaten or are about to eat cake. The raspberry and Prosecco cupcakes were a particular high-point.
- Every community needs a choir
Yes, we kick up our heels at the Tate Modern and of course, when Kirstie Allsop invited us to her Handmade Fair, we said ‘will there be cake?’ and then agreed when we found out there would. But actually, our wonderful founder, Kari set up the choir for the local community. So we sing in our pub, at fundraising events, local fairs and basically anywhere we can if we’re asked. And when something awful happens as it did last year when a local boy and his aunt were killed when a car came off the road during a police pursuit, we come together to try to offer support by singing to raise money for the people who need it. It won’t take away the sadness but music has a way of offering comfort when you need it most.
- Every choir needs a brilliant Musical Director
Our founding MD, Kari is a passionate, enthusiastic fizzing ball of energy. Whilst she was running our choir, she inspired, cheered and booted us up the backside when we’re off key. She’s a great dancer and did her best to stop the mum-dancing and get us grooving. She taught us new stuff, she encouraged others to lead songs and she challenged us. Most of all, she made it fun. Very selfishly, she moved to Nottingham in the summer and we miss her dreadfully. Luckily for us, we have not one but two new amazing MDs, who have stepped up and are keeping her passion, enthusiasm and groovy dance moves very much alive. We are one lucky choir.
- Choir people are good people
I have met some lovely people since joining the choir. We sing, we chat, we sing some more, we eat cake, chat some more, possibly have another slice of cake and do a bit more singing. It’s the perfect evening really. Add in the occasional Prosecco-fuelled gig and I’m a happy camper. I have found my people and singing with them is the best.
Hanging with Kirsty – the cake was excellent.
It’s no great surprise therefore that my choir served as inspiration for the The Choir on Hope Street, although I have to add a disclaimer that no choir members were harmed in the writing of this book.
The two main characters, Natalie and Caroline form a community choir in a bid to save their beloved Hope Street Community hall. Or rather, perfect PTA mother Caroline forms the choir and drags a reluctant Natalie along with her. And of course, there is a resident choir baker in the form of Pamela and lots of cake because all good choirs need music, friendship and a decent slice of Lemon Drizzle.
I wanted to capture the spirit of what it’s like to be part of a choir and the way that music can unite and help people in the most unexpected of ways.
I think this photograph, taken at my book signing at Waterstone’s in Orpington earlier this year, when my lovely choir turned out to support me, just about sums it up.
Such a wonderful thing indeed.