The BBC Choir sand in Wokingham Market Square today.  We were performing as part of the Wokingham Summer of Sun concerts that have been staged in the town since May.  In fact we were the last day of the programme and we had great weather for the event which saw a number of people stop and enjoy the music.  Considering the summer we have had perhaps it was a divine gift that we had such good weather to finish the programme with.

Talking of ‘divine gifts’ makes me think of the ethos that drives me to continue to develop the choirs.  Some people are born with an innate ability to sing tunefully, others have to develop that.  Whatever our ability however, we can all share the physiological benefits that singing can bring us.  We can feel happy, less stressed, more aware of ourselves, better able to cope and generally more peaceful with the world.  My choirs will be full of members who will have the opportunity to feel those effects every time we meet.  My choirs are inclusive and open to all, whatever their past experience or perception of their singing ability.  As i say over and over – no auditions, no pressure.

I have a simple driver for why I run my choirs and it goes back to my schooldays.  I was one of the lucky ones in that I could sing in tune and had the confidence to take to performing in public.  My parents were both singers and I grew up in a home where music was a central to our lives and singing in particular was something we all indulged in during car journeys, or at times within the home.  I can remember however, the time the school was putting together a choir for a specific Christmas concert and a number of us  were in the school hall singing a festive song.  I clearly recall the ‘music teacher’ picking out pupils and telling them they were not good enough for the choir and asking them to go and sit apart from the choir.  I can remember clearly the look of defeat on one child’s face because she had been pulled out from the group.  It was cruel to make an eight year old child feel so useless and I had the front to voice my opinion to the teacher concerned.  The teacher was unimpressed that an ‘oik’ like me would have the nerve to question his decision and I was duly given a choice to either shut up, or leave the choir as well and join the no hopers (his words not mine).  I left the choir at that point.  It was unfair to stop anyone taking part at that early but impressionable age.  I still have choir members who remember being either tapped on the shoulder and told to stop singing, or like my friends experience, being asked to sit apart from the choir.  Without get too dramatic about it, I liken this style of selection as akin to child abuse. People remember it for ever and it does contribute to their belief that they cannot sing, or get any benefit from the singing.  I should say that I had the last word on the school choir incident, for the local vicar who organised the Christmas Concert knew I sang and actually gave me the solo’s at the concert and a number of others later on.  I was never asked back into the school choir however, but never regretted my decision to speak up.

How many of you have enjoyed seeing a group of infant or junior school children singing their songs with joy.  Sure there are some less tuneful moments, but watching children singing and loving what they do is the most heart warming of spectacles.  It’s the joy that makes the difference.  Not that I don’t enjoy a professional, or good amateur choir.  I do.  Music is written to be heard and enjoyed and there are many forms of presentation style that achieve that aim, ours being one of them.  People who hear us sing enjoy the experience, but most of all I see the enjoyment of my singers as they smile, give 100% and transfer their love of singing to the listening audience.

People hear what they see and I will never divert from my intention to give all my singers the opportunity to feel the ‘high’ they experience when they deliver a song and hear an audience response.  To this end I will never do auditions, never force an issues on my singers but continue to trust in the belief that if you are happy because you are singing, then the listener can share that happiness with you.  They look at us, hear the song and it’s good for them and us. “ I don’t sing because I am happy, I am happy because I sing” said William James.  Hear, hear say I.

To all of you in the choir I simply say keep on doing what you are doing now.  Enjoy the group. continue to develop you listening skills to the voices around you, but never lose the joy, never forget you are worth listening to, you are a choir, a good one at that.