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’?

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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 legalization

Niall Crowley
freelance designer and writer

Produced by
Niall Crowley freelance designer and writer
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