It all started with a tiny pondering, and a few brief chats with some very enthusiastic people, about setting up a family singing club in a community where I worked as a teacher. My connections to the place, its families and community organisations pulled strongly as I moved on from my permanent teaching role; the sense of joy that had been a constant when I was running the school choir also made me explore opportunities engage in community singing. In short, I missed leading singing and all the benefits I had seen, over and over again, for those involved in it - social engagement and stress relief to name only a couple. The decision to move on from my teaching job had been challenging. I had other ventures that I wanted to pursue, but, as with many things in life, something can feel right and trigger a sense of loss at the same time. I wondered whether there was a way to build something from this experience.
It was never my intention to set up what has become our Community Chorus. The idea evolved and grew, like so many things that prove to be amazing. We are now in the early days of a joyous weekly singing group - it's not focused on performance but the pure fun of getting together, using our voices (whatever they sound like) and joining together. The result is always beautiful. And that's the point, really. Collectively, we produce something special and unique when we sing together. We are not looking to become an award-winning festival choir but to fun in a low key, high enjoyment singing group.
What is particularly lovely about the Chorus is its diversity. With a youngest member of six and an oldest member of...well, it would be rude to say....the Chorus supports strengthening community connections. It is reminiscent of the type of sense of community that often recalled fondly - children, Mums, Grandmas and other adults come together on a regular basis. Even though we are in our early days, bonds and friendships are already growing each week. We laugh, chat, make mistakes and find solutions; I can see it evolving into something really special. It feels right that the Chorus venue is held in a church hall (which has the most fabulous acoustics). Last week, the weather was miserable and it was dark outside but that hall was the brightest place I could have been on a November Wednesday evening. The buzz in room is fantastic - filled with chatter!
So, how does it work? Well, in short we have a number of songs (familiar and new) that we sing. Sometimes, the makeup of the group makes it tricky to decide on how to pitch a piece (especially given the range of voices) but we figure it out - it definitely keeps me on my toes as an interested amateur rather than a professionally training choir leader. Last week, there was a bit of a break though when we realised acapella singing might work best for some pieces. We work as a team and ownership is shared. Yes, I provide the words and music but it is not my Community Chorus. I think that is, perhaps, the most important thing. The Chorus belongs to everyone, everyone's viewpoint and wishes are valid, whether you are 6 or 60+. I just provide the starting points and keep things moving along.
The other important feature of our Chorus is the role of some incredible community advocates - though they would think that is too grand a term for them. These amazing people are active in the community managing the space where we meet, promoting the Chorus to others who might be interested in joining (including those who are a bit reticent) and supporting me to get things off the ground. I am incredibly grateful to every one of them.
So, what do we sing? Well at the moment it is Christmas songs but I'm already looking forward to choosing songs for January...so exciting. These are likely to be diverse - something for everyone - and well-known, probably in unison. We are looking forward to moving to singing in parts as we grow in confidence.
The Community Chorus is one of the best things I have ever had the privilege to set up. I am extremely grateful to everyone who comes with enthusiasm to our sessions. I hope that it meets people where they are in their life - they come when they can, can join at any stage but there is never a pressure to commit more than they feel able. Our weekly singing hour is definitely a highlight of my week. Hopefully, it is growing into a joyful part of the Chorus members' lives too.