A closer look at 19 Surrey choirs and musical groups
PUBLISHED: 11:04 18 September 2018 | UPDATED: 11:04 18 September 2018
A choral singing boom is giving fresh meaning to the sound of music with new and traditional choirs pulling in more recruits than ever. Miriam Wakerly explores Surrey's contingent
With 145 choirs now listed in Surrey, the variety is extraordinary, but the common theme that shines through is how the attitude to singing has relaxed. Choirs have become more inclusive. No longer is there a fear of being unable to read music or feeling embarrassed for not knowing about intervals, sharps and minor keys or that ‘Presto’ is not a typo for pasta sauce and ‘Dim.’ refers to neither wit nor light.
As ever, there are exceptional choirs with highly-qualified musicians, but many others where folks without a musical education can go along, sing and have fun! ‘No auditions required’ is often the pull that draws in tentative newcomers who think they cannot sing but find they very much can.
Oxshott Choral Society is a friendly, enthusiastic choir with around 70 singers. They say, ‘The ability to read music would be an advantage, but it is not a requirement. Being able to count from one to four without moving your lips or using your fingers would also be useful.’ Their founder and conductor is Valerie Beynon and her involvement in the Leith Hill Musical Festival led her to re-found the Oxshott Choral Society in 1975.
North Kingston Choir is informal and relaxed, singing modern and uplifting music. They stress ‘no auditions’ and believe everyone can sing. Also they rehearse and perform with their own live band which not every choir can boast!
Surrey Music spells out its inclusivity. “Membership of our choirs is open to any person living in the county or surrounding areas regardless of sex, race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, belief or musical ability.” This choir also has a particularly altruistic way of helping other musical groups. They say, “Our goal is to nurture, protect and grow musical talent and initiatives in Surrey, and to provide help and hope for those less fortunate than ourselves. As well as awarding grants of more than £14,000 for music-related activities and projects in Surrey, we have raised more than £150,000 for other deserving charities through our concerts and performances.”
Dorking Loud & Proud is a friendly community choir for all ages and abilities. Again, no audition or ability to read music is required, just a love and enjoyment of singing. The choir performs a varied repertoire from rock, pop and musical theatre to world, jazz and contemporary songs. “We enjoy performing at a variety of different places both at events such as ‘Choiroke’ and also within the community as well.”
inChoir is a fun, welcoming choir with Surrey branches in Dorking, Oxted and Redhill. The focus is on making great music, having fun and raising money for charity. On top of the feel good factor gained from singing, helping local causes and meeting like-minded people members have sung everywhere from Christmas markets to the Arctic Circle, Boston, Cape Town, Disneyland Paris and Tuscany, and iconic landmarks such as The Cavern in Liverpool and the one and only Abbey Road recording studios.
The benefits of communal singing are well known and recognised as being good for both physical, mental and social wellbeing. Emily Heuvel started a new choir in Dorking in April 2018 called the Birch Tree Choir. She says: “The ethos of the choir is connection - to ourselves, our bodies, our heritage, our landscape, and to each other. The music selected is largely folk and traditional music, in part to reconnect with our heritage, and in part because this style of singing is more embodied, and stimulates the vagus nerve. I am a psychotherapist as well as a trained musician, and the choir aims to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (of which the vagus nerve is a key part) to reduce a number of issues, including stress, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and digestive issues such as IBS.”
For Surrey Show Choir performance is high on the agenda, appearing at many local events throughout the county and this year they are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. Their choir started four years ago in Banstead and has grown to four choirs in Dorking, West Byfleet and Cobham; so very much a Surrey success story. They sing “fabulous songs from musical theatre” and had an amazing year in 2017 with over 30 performances including backing Beyond The Barricade & Tenors UnLimited. This year they carry on enjoying fun and friendship as well as giving pleasure to others.
Vaughan Williams Singers is another new choir, which was set up recently by Ian Assersohn and Amy Bebbington. Their August 2018 performance mared the 60th anniversary of their namesake’s death and featured works by some of the great composers of the 20th century includign Finzi, Satnford and Elgar as well as, of course, music by the Dorking-based composer himself.
Special friendship and support
Some choirs bring people together with something in common. Kindred Spirits started in 2013 thanks to Ruth O’Connor, a Macmillan Breast Care Nurse Specialist at Frimley Park Hospital. Linda Bellows, who was a patient, asked Ruth if there was a choir locally that was specific to breast cancer as she had found that singing along loudly to the Beatles at home had uplifted her spirits.
Stephen Petch, former musical director of the Aldershot Military Wives Choir was invited to lead the choir and even the first meeting saw an amazing turnout. Through singing they convey that after a diagnosis there is definitely life to be had and that it can be a fun filled and fulfilling one. They enjoy singing a wide repertoire of songs at events which raise money for causes such as the Fountain Centre, Frimley Park Hospital breast cancer appeal and Phyllis Tuckwell.
Motivation by Music Gospel Choir is open to all adults regardless of musical experience. In March, Sun-kissed Bridge, was recorded in support of Mustard Seed Autism Trust, and can be downloaded on their website. “The first few lines are about taking brave steps with just the tiniest seed of faith. You just have to believe you can reach your goals,” explained MbM Gospel Choir’s founder, choir leader and songwriter Emily Bollon.
Most of the singers in RBC Gospel Choir, formed in 2008, are from Redhill Baptist Church but they also welcome gospel singers from other countries and talented people from other denominations.
Military Wives Choirs began in Gareth Malone’s TV series The Choir. The Military Wives Choirs charity was founded by a group of military wives from the very first choirs following the enormous success of the No.1 single Wherever You Are. The aim was to ensure a lasting legacy of choirs to enable women in the military community to share the enjoyment and pride that comes from singing together.
The Barisons Singers have “built up a reputation for excellence, versatility and sensitivity in both live performances and recordings”. They comprise experienced musicians – singers, instrumentalists and music teachers, their repertoire ranging from Handel’s Zadok the Priest to Karl Jenkin’s The Armed Man.
The choir has performed in major European venues, for the Queen’s arrival at Bushy Park during her Majesty’s Golden Jubilee, with the Prague Conservatoire String Quartet and London Metropolitan Orchestra.
Founded in 2005, Guildford based Surrey Hills Chamber Choir won Adult Choir of the Year 2012 on BBC Radio 3. Listen to their winning performance of Ivan Hrušovský’s Rytmus via thee website. Surrey Hills Singing School includes Surrey Hills Chamber Choir and Surrey Hills Singers as well as Young Voices and Training Choir for teenagers and children.
For sheer statistics, Rock Choir stands out. Stand back or sit down and be amazed! From about 5,000 members in 2010 there are now over 27,000 in 380 choirs nationally and last year Rock Choirs performed at 1,400 shows and events. It has gained 10,000 new members in the last three years. With its HQ in Farnham, where it started, there are 18 Rock Choirs in Surrey. It has released two top 20 albums and performed en-masse at major arenas and concert halls.
People first really took note of it in 2011 from The Choir That Rocks on ITV1. Rock Choir offers stable career opportunities for musicians, with a skilled team of over 130 individuals working behind the scenes. It raises money for charities, notably the Rock Choir partner charity, Nordoff Robbins, the largest music therapy charity in the UK.
Music must be the food of love at Mosaic Chamber Choir - there have been five new babies born to members in the last two years! As well as producing their own new generation of musicians, this vibrant choir based near Woking has been on tour to Lithuania, performed in London’s St-Martin-in-the-Fields and received a glowing mention by TV presenter Bill Turnbull on his Classic FM radio show. The choir brings its exceptionally high standards to a wide range of music, with its last two concerts featuring everything from Mozart and Elgar to beatboxing!
The more unusual
Surrey Harmony is a women’s barbershop group. As they say: “Mention ‘barbershop’ to most people and the first image that comes to mind is four chaps in straw boaters and natty, candy-striped blazer … it’s come a long way in the past 100 years! Barbershop is a style of close harmony singing, sung in four parts: tenor, lead, baritone and bass.”
The Guildford Barbershop Harmony Club (a.k.a. Surrey Fringe) was one of the first male Barbershop Clubs to be formed in the UK and has been running for almost 40 years.
The Downsmen are also an a cappella male voice barbershop chorus, and draw most of their members from the north-eastern reaches of Surrey.