Beth Moran

Writer, speaker, free range chick

The underestimated importance of choirs

When I was much younger, I sang in a choir.

The secondary school I went to took great pride in its musical magnificence. Unusually for a state school, it had a special junior department for kids so musical they couldn`t wait until age 11 to get there. Being linked to the Minster (not York, the other one) the music was not the kind of stuff 90s kids usually rocked on down to. I attended history lessons with someone who earned golden-boy status for achieving 4th in the choir boy of the year competition. I took chemistry with a semi-celebrity in the pipe organ world.

You get the drift.

The musical snobbery was such that my grade 7 (out of 8) piano barely counted as being able to play an instrument. So, under my piano teacher`s advice, I joined the school choir in order to improve my pathetic musical ability.

The school choir was not a cool place to be. That was OK. I had no illusions of being, and made no attempt to be, cool.

And I really liked it. I liked learning all the extra parts to Christmas carols. I soaked up the buzz of performing in front of 5000 people in a proper theatre. Most of all, I loved being able to sing, in public, and instead of telling me to shut up or put their hands over their ears, those in hearing distance usually clapped.

I miss my choir days. It`s one of the things on my list of “what I`m going to do when I have more time”. A list I try and pretend is not really a list of “things I`m never going to get around to”.

A few weeks ago, as research for a book I`m writing, I visited my friend Sarah`s barbershop chorus, the Lace City Chorus, to see what had changed and remind myself of what choirs were like.

What was it like? Breath taking.

It made me miss my choir days even more. I quickly ran through the days of the week trying to find an extra day I`d forgotten about that wasn`t taken up with meetings, or volunteering, driving my children about or actually sitting down and having a conversation with my husband. Nope, still only 7 days in the week.

The sound these women made when they sang together made my heart sing back at them (quietly, inside my chest so I didn`t spoil it).

But what struck me more than what I heard, was what I saw.

Looking at the faces and body language of the singers as they lost themselves in the music, it struck me how every one of these women became, for that short practice, no longer a mum, or a stressed out employee, a pensioner or a student.

Age, size, status became irrelevant.

And let`s face it – how often does that happen for most women?

In that moment, they were a simply a choir – working together to create something wonderful. How incredible to step off the busy treadmill of life so many find ourselves on, and for a while forget about everything else but the music.

It reminded me of when my husband played football – for 90 minutes no-one cared who you were or what you did off the pitch. You were a team, working together with one goal (or hopefully two or three…)

So, watching the choir, I had to acknowledge we humans need this. Opportunities to cast aside our labels, our roles, our place and position in life, and just be a person, working with other people to produce something far greater than we could alone.

At times I`ve considered other stuff (coincidentally, the type of stuff I did – important, scientifical stuff like cancer research and teaching antenatal classes) more worthy, superior even, to those “non essential” areas like arts and sports. That it was right and good to slash their funding when people were lingering for months on NHS waiting lists or failing maths and English at school.

I stand corrected. These things are way more essential than I once gave them credit for. Maybe not to life – but to lives that are endurable, meaningful, soul-ful. Lives that are worth living.

You can find out more about the fabulous Lace City Chorus at www.lacecity.net/
How about you? How do you step outside your everyday life, the to-do lists and the hassle and just be you?

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