OK, strap yourselves in, this is going to be a long topic entailing a series of 10 posts! Stay tuned for future weeks when I’ll be looking in detail at how to start a community choir.
Here are all the posts in this series:
- What is a community choir?
- Forward planning
- Finding the money
- The right place and the right time
- Getting the word out
- The first session
- Carrying on
- The choir which just grew and grew
- Tending and caring for a growing choir
- Case study: guest post from David Burbidge
What is a community choir?
Apparently singing is the UK’s second most popular activity after sport. According to The Guardian:
“there are more than 25,000 choirs and over half a million singers in the UK*. They get some of the health benefits of the sporty types — increased lung capacity, better posture and so on. But they also get the sheer joy of singing in a group with friends.”
*These figures are supplied by TONSIL (The Ongoing Singing Liaison Group) which
“represents 14 organisations promoting choral singing across a wide variety of genres, supporting over 25,000 members choirs and over 500,000 singers, who each year perform to audiences totalling nearly 3 million.”
(In stark contrast to this, Cindy L. Bell of Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY wrote a paper this year entitled Toward a definition of a community choir in which she contends that “many community choirs [in the US] are either facing a declining membership and ageing singers, or have evolved into semi-elite performance machines that are no longer characteristic of the community”).
So … choirs are cool, and more and more people seem to want to join singing groups. An excellent time to set up your very own community choir. But before I can start on that, I have to ask: what do we mean by community choir?
“Imagine … a world where every city, town, and neighborhood had a community choir, one where the music of many cultures and faiths was celebrated. Imagine … a non-auditioned choir in your community where all were welcome. Imagine … that this choir could support and engage in powerful community-based activities.”
For me, they have hit on the two essential defining points of what a community choir is:
- open to all
- a sense of community
Open to all
A community choir should be open to anybody who wants to come and sing. Basically, everyone is treated equally and nobody is excluded. This means that:
- there are no auditions (everyone is able to sing)
- the choir is not affiliated to any particular idea, culture or organisation (e.g. church or other faith group, particular style of music)
- no prior musical knowledge is required (e.g. the ability to read music)
- people are not excluded on the basis of age, race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, etc.
In practice, however, it may well be possible to call a choir a community choir even though it only targets a specific (possibly otherwise under-represented) sub-group of the local community, e.g. community gospel choir, gay men’s chorus, barbershop group, women’s choir, youth chorus, etc.
Sense of community
A group of people singing together, united by their love of music, will inevitably create a strong sense of community. This is definitely something that any community choir should strive for instead of being a group of anonymous voices who are simply there to serve the needs of the music and/ or the musical director. To this end, many community choirs often have some kind of organising committee which represents the views of the choir as a whole, and which also helps to run social events for the choir.
Any community choir also exists within a wider community from which it draws its members. Such a choir can become a focal point for a local community by offering public performances, raising money for local charities, setting up concerts for local schools, care homes, etc., and representing the local community on a wider stage by, for example, entering choir competitions or performing at national choir festivals.
Even though a community choir might be initially set up by an individual or a local arts organisation, eventually there should be a sense that the choir is a result of “people grouping themselves together — not from policy on high.” (Community singing doesn't need bureaucracy).
Now, armed with a slightly less vague idea of what a community choir is, next week I shall look at the planning needed before you rush out and start your choir. Part of this involves difficult questions such as: why now? what do I have to offer? where is the money coming from?
See you next week for part 2 of How to start your own community choir — Forward planning.