I don’t think there’s any mistake that the word ‘community’ comes before ‘choir’! Every time I’ve started a new group of singers, a new community has been born.
My first adult choir was the Churchfields Community Choir which was named after and hosted in the primary school where I was the music teacher. I assumed that most of the people who came along would be parents from the school who’s children I taught in (I also ran the KS2 children’s choir) but I advertised with flyers, generally nagging and across social media anyway. Of the 25 people on the first night, about half were from school and half from the wider community! And so, we were able to build a new community with people we didn’t know!
Performing at community events connected us to the wider local world. We had regular gigs in a local pub which was a great night out for everyone (the pub itself loved us – they had a great night’s takings. Thirsty work this singing!)
My second adult choir was the West Bridgford Liberty Singers which I again, attached to a school (by now I’d stopped teaching myself, so this was my daughter’s infant school.) The Head was very supportive of us using the hall as a community space. Again, I advertised with flyers, social media, a bit of playground chatting and some local radio interviews. We also made the local online news. On this first night we had 128 people and when I checked, only 4 of them were associated with the school! Many, many people came alone and so it was my role to knit the community together through song.
Something very special happens when people sing together. There’s a shared sense of wonder, a common goal and an understanding quickly develops as do friendships. I know people who sat next to someone they didn’t know on that first night and have sat next to them ever since. But how do I keep that sense of community running between sessions?
Social media really comes into its own here. I have a large free Facebook group and we keep in touch there. I post regular live videos (always very short) either giving information or asking questions. There are polls so that I can find out quickly and easily what people have enjoyed singing and what they want to work on next. After every rehearsal there’s an online ‘match report’ going over what we covered and what’s coming next. I host audio files on the website for people to practice and audio from the whole rehearsal if anyone wants to catch up and not feel left out.
Essentially, amongst all of this, there is THE TEA BREAK! Having the chance to chat together, to drink tea and eat cake is really important. We had a volunteer baking rota running at WBLS so 5 people chose to bake and share their treats at each fortnightly rehearsal. The cake baking was taken almost as seriously as the singing! I’ve just instigated a ‘recipe sharing’ activity on the Facebook group for us to continue enjoy cake. If you bake something, please pot your photo and hashtag #imadeit. Often, after rehearsals, singers would go to the pub together or meet up socially – always encouraged to share their photos!
We supported many local community events including the bid to try to save the hall we rehearsed in! We raised money for local charities and supported some of our own singers in their fundraising.
The Online Liberty Singers
When lockdown came into force and we were no longer allowed to meet face to face as a community, it was essential that I kept something going – not just the singing, but also the friendships and community cohesion. We moved the singing to Facebook live first and then later to zoom. The Facebook group kept going (one as membership for those paying to stay singing, and the free one too, purely for community stuff).
Our first social thing was a ‘gig’. We’d been due to sing at Portello Lounge in March so we sang instead in ‘Porthouse Lounge’ Using recordings we had of ourselves (thanks Rich) from previous gigs, we sang along and I conducted just as we would if we were live in the venue. This was a free event open to anyone and quite a few attended. Since then, we’ve done it again, similarly at different times for events that we would’ve been normally doing live (Proms in the park because ‘Proms in your garden’ etc). We ran a quiz night in the free group and kept the singing for the membership group. Every time we recorded a virtual song, it was shared to the wider audience to help them feel included – and the doors were always open for them to join us online.
On zoom, we were able to utilise the breakout rooms for people to chat to each other. When restrictions were briefly relaxed, some singers met up socially distanced in gardens and got together for choir that way (no idea how much actually singing they did!!) We are still very much our own community even though new people are joining all the time.
The ICU Liberty Singers
Taking an existing choir online was one thing. Creating a brand new one online was something else. The ICU Liberty SIngers have a shared understanding as they are all critical careworkers pulling together as a team across the whole country during the pandemic. Many of them don’t know each other or have only encountered each other on Twitter – so putting a face to a name has been really important for them. The singing is great and the creation of the virtual recording last year ‘Every breath you take (we watch over you)’ re-written by Jackie Shears still reduces many of them to tears even now.
This really brought them together as a community – to be able to hear their voices together, as if they really were in the same room, was amazing. There community is kept alive between rehearsals through a very active chatty WhatsApp group – a safe space for them to talk to each other about not just the singing, but what’s going on in their ICU worlds. There’s a massive amount of support in here which is humbling to be a part of.
So, can virtual singing help maintain workplace communities? I think it can. Over Christmas I ran a couple of short luncthime workshops for companies as wellbeing activities. Both have expressed an interest for me to return. Workplaces are missing out on being together In the same building just as community choirs are. They don’t get their tea breaks either. Zoom fatigue is real! And yet, a quick blast of one of my movement warm ups, a bit of vocal work and some songs from my ‘spellbook’ can get people laughing, motivated and feeling like they are together again. The community spirit of the workplace needs to find new ways to flourish, and singing can help. Regular meet ups can give people something to look forward to – a lifeline which can be essential for colleagues, especially those working from home alone.
We all feel a little bit better when we sing – but this is amplified when we sing together and although we are on mute for zoom sessions, the effects of being ‘together’ as a community still have powerful effects.
Doors to my online community choir are open (Mondays 7.30-8.30pm £15 a month). Register Here.
Enquires for workplace singing can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org