Singing in a choir has become a harmonious pastime for many Norfolk communities. Emma Harrowing talks to members of Norwich Community Choir and discovers a community brought together through one voice.

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Singing makes for entertaining viewing. Why else would television programmes such as The Voice and The X Factor have us hooked.

When BBC2’s The Choir hit our screens in 2006 choirmaster Gareth Malone was tasked with the sometimes inharmonious challenge of teaching choral singing to people who never had the chance or experience to sing before. He is also behind the Military Wives Choir which became a chart-topping success. The programme won a Bafta and spawned a new generation of choirs.

Norfolk has a wide range of choral singing groups. Some, such as church choirs have been around long before choir music became music to the ears of the nation and some have set up after interest in singing in a choir grew.

At Norfolk and Norwich Festival, which took place over the past two weeks, The Voice Choir Project brought singing to the streets and created a harmonious ambience to the medieval spaces in and around Norwich. Choirs are also used to bring sections of the community together such as the Lowestoft Signing Choir which has connections with the deaf community and the Norwich Pride choir which celebrates diversity and challenges inequality. Others bring people together through a love of a particular type of music such as the Norwich Rock Choir.

Then there are the community choirs with the aim of giving people from all walks of life, different ages and abilities a voice – such as Norwich Community Choir.

Meg Turpin, choirmaster for Norwich Community Choir, says: “Many people will remember us from the Flash Mob in Norwich when 60 of us performed at The Forum’s 10th birthday celebrations last November.

“Many people think you have to be good to sing with others in a choir. The truth is you have to sing with others to get good.”

Norwich Community Choir was set up by Meg, a teacher and a member of the Natural Voice Practitioner, in November 2008. Its aim is the same as most community choirs – to promote a sense of wellbeing and a feeling of belonging to a community through singing.

“If you love to sing come to our choir,” she says. “There are no auditions and you don’t have to read music. Many people think they cannot sing but you probably can when surrounded by friends. We are not a stuffy choir nor one that is polished to perfection – we have fun and work together to create a beautiful sound.”

Practising for a host of up-and-coming concerts and singing events in Norfolk, a group of about 30 members of the choir warm up their vocal chords by doing a series of stretches and sounds in the relaxed atmosphere of Park Lane Methodist Church hall. The room is full of laughter, praise and encouragement as members old and young work together. Then, after a clap of support from Meg, the room falls momentarily silent before a melodious sound fills the room as the group starts to sing.

“When we all sing together the strong support the weak and the weak get stronger until they become supporters too, then mutual support is achieved. Everyone works in harmony and we become larger than our individual parts could ever be.

“Of course singing also promotes good physical and emotional health. It unburdens you from the stress of the day and leaves you feeling energised and renewed.”

There is a sense of Britishness about the proceedings at the community choir. Everyone supports each other and the songs which range from gospel to tribal help boost the group’s and individuals’ morale.

Judy Emerson, from Norwich, has been a member of the community choir since it was set up. Now in her 60s she enjoys singing the different genres.

“The choir is not pretentious at all in fact we all encourage each other when we are singing and we learn from each other,” says Judy.

Colin Mortimer, 72, from Norwich says: “This is a great place to come and meet people and make friends. I joined two years ago after I retired and was at a loss as to what to do with my time.

“After working all my life it was strange to suddenly feel that I had nothing to do. The choir makes you still feel like you are doing something worthwhile and that you are part of a community.”

Ellen Fernau, 39 and one of the younger members, was inspired by Gareth Malone on The Choir, She found joining the choir an exciting experience.

“You are immediately put at ease here,” says Ellen. “I never sing at home or on my own but singing as part of a group is different. It feels so exhilarating!”

The choir is far removed from televised singing contests where we secretly relish the attempts by the seemingly tone-deaf. Instead the choir basks in the triumphs of the shy and the glory of achieving those difficult notes and timings. They truly are one voice.

Norwich Community Choir will perform at the jubilee street party in Carnarvon Road on Sunday and Honing Open Gardens on Sunday, June 24. It meets on Mondays at Jessopp Road United Reform church hall at 7.15pm, Tuesdays at St Cuthbert’s Church in Wroxham Road at 7.15pm or Thursdays at St Peter’s Park Lane Methodist Church at 12.30pm. For more information visit www.norwichcommunitychoir.co.uk

1 comment

  • Check out www.michaeldann.co.uk for details on DISCORD, 5 weekly singing workshops for well being across South Norfolk and Mid Suffolk. Run by Musician Michael Dann who is also choir master for Wattisham Military Wives Choir who are featured on the Jubilee single SING

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    Michael Dann

    Friday, June 1, 2012

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