One of the new activities in my life recently has been joining a choir. I don’t read music, I’ve never sung in a choir before and I’m not religious. So why am I singing in a gospel choir??? And loving it!!
Answer: my wife.
She wanted to join a choir. She investigated several other choirs and rejected them for different reasons, till she found this one. A friend was a member of this one (this is a common way people join particular choirs), it didn’t require auditions (you don’t have to be able to sing well, just want to sing) and she liked gospel music. She asked me if I’d like to come, being sure the answer would be ‘No’. Bad luck! I said, ‘Yes!’ I like singing and I thought this would be an opportunity and a chance to do something different.
My First Nights
What a shock I got! I was very nervous when the first night arrived. First I was given sheet music and allocated to the bass section. Second I found the basses were singing different tunes and notes from the other parts. (In my head, I thought I would be singing along with a melody or doing backing work, like in pop songs…). Third I found ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’ or ‘Lord’ was in most of the songs.
But I wanted to sing. I was made to feel very welcome. I was helped to understand the music (following the up and down of the notes) and at the end of the night there was a nice supper where you got to talk to people about other things than music. I found they were an interesting bunch of disparate people who liked having fun as well as singing. I liked the choir director and her team. I decided to not worry too much about the words and their meaning and instead focus on enjoying the feeling and finding this new group of interesting, friendly, likeable people.
Performing, Not Practising
Then I found that the choir performed to audiences. That was a real challenge, quite different from singing to ourselves on a weeknight. But, being innately competitive, I found I liked the challenge and, being part of a group, mine was just one of many voices, so our performance didn’t depend just on me (thank god!).
I really liked the sense of achievement from our performances. We put more effort in, we were proud of what we did, we wanted to do our best for the director and her team and for the audience. And it was a great feeling when we felt we had done well. It gave purpose to the nights of practice,
Developing a Community
Over time, the members of the choir found we wanted to know more about each other, so we developed ‘bonding nights’ for each of the four parts (sopranos, altos, tenors and basses), meeting once a year for conversation rather than singing. We also found that going away for a weekend to a singing festival was a great builder of relationships. We added wine at the end of the evening and rostered supper providers so that everyone took a turn, as we did for washing up and all the other jobs necessary for the choir to function.
Over the course of a couple of years, i found we had created a community more than just a choir. Each time we meet, it feels like a group of friends (and, within the choir, there are now several many groups of people who meet for different reasons, as a result of having met at the choir). The singing is great and is the centrepiece of our activities, but we enjoy the supper and conversations before and afterwards almost as much. It’s hard to get people to go home at the end of the night now ! And other choirs we meet and who see us perform say how happy we all look and how much fun we seem to have. And we are and we do!
The value of our choir
So the value of our choir now is not just as a singing outlet, where people come to sing and then go back to their separate lives. This choir is a community. It has great social value. We care for each other. We support people when then need it. We keep track of people when they are not able to come. We share skills. We each do our bit. We have fun. (OK, we are called Yarra Gospel.)
There’s also research to show that choirs in general increase lung capacity, improve health and that people in choirs are happier than average. We certainly are! Singing certainly can bring joy to life and it is a great antidote to the pressures of everyday life.
Should you join a choir?
Well, this is not just about our choir, or even choirs. This is about creating communities – groups of people who care for each other, who support each other. When a group of people put effort in collectively, they can achieve so much more than as individuals. And it is so rewarding to see a group of ordinary individuals (we don’t have many really talented singers) who perform so well collectively and get so much pleasure from that collective performance.
These communities are not groups of friends. They are groups of individuals with one or more common interests, some of whom may become friends as a result. These types of communities add richness to life for all of us. They expose us to different types of people, with different interests and values, yet with something in common. Not every interest group becomes a community. In fact, few do. But creating these communities is so valuable, for us all. Are you involved in such communities, or creating one?