The Choir With No Name is a charity that runs choirs with people affected by homelessness. I have been the musical director of for its London choir for 9 years and we also have choirs in Brighton, Birmingham, Liverpool and one just started in Cardiff.
Community choir singing is a movement that has spread across the UK over the last 20 years. The TV work of Gareth Malone has had a big impact in raising the profile of choirs.
It is an incredibly positive movement which brings community and well-being to so many. The vision behind The Choir With No Name was to take all these benefits to help those who it need them most.
We have a cup of tea and a biscuit, then sing together for 90 mins. During this time we have a team of volunteers cooking a hot meal, so when we finish our rehearsal we are greeted by long tables with hot food. We sit down together, eat and chat.
It’s SO SIMPLE!! But so effective in bringing about positive change in people’s lives.
The causes of homelessness are complex. The answer is not as simple as just ‘give someone a flat’. There are always deeper issues that need attention and choir is a great place to do that.
Here are four key ways that choirs help address homelessness:
Homelessness often involves a severing of connection with family and friends. The choir is a weekly check-in point which connects people to others.
Many programmes that help those affected by homelessness are about survival and ‘fighting fires’ in people’s lives. With the choir we move beyond that into creating quality of life. From surviving to thriving.
A few years ago, we took part in a singing and well-being symposium at the Royal College of Music. They put heart rate monitors on all the choir members and as we sang and breathed together we watched on a screen as our heart rates started to sync up. It’s not just the tea and food but the actual act of singing creates a connection, a oneness with others.
People often say the opposite of addiction is sobriety. I think the opposite is connection to others.
I remember one of choir members, who joined many years ago, would sit outside the choir circle and watch – week in, week out. It took a long time for him to feel comfortable or confident enough to sing with us.
Our warm ups are specifically designed to lead people slowly out of their inhibitions. We all know that singing is such a vulnerable act – bringing forth something unique about yourself (your voice) from deep within you and setting it before others. It takes incredible bravery to do this. And when those steps are taken – and applauded – the fruit that grows is ‘confidence’.
We found that this choir member has a very naturally ‘Bowie’ sounding voice. When we were invited to sing as part of the Victoria and Albert Museum Bowie exhibition, he sang solo and received a standing ovation.
Choir members have spoken of how this has impacted their confidence in other parts of their lives. When you’ve sung solo in front of others it’s not as hard to walk into a job interview and deliver confidently.
Lack of confidence can be crippling and can stop people even leaving their accommodation. Singing in choirs can renew confidence.
Some of the people I meet in the choir have very rarely been told those two powerful words: ‘well done’.
Performing music gives an amazing opportunity to receive instant feedback, instant praise. It’s built into the system: you perform – the audience applaud.
I have never heard applause like the applause at a Choir With No Name gig. Often mid-song after someone has sung a solo – the audience erupt and the soloist can’t help but feel a smile burst out over their face. Then the piece ends or the show ends, and the audience are up on their feet whooping, stamping, clapping.
If any of you have experienced this kind of standing ovation you’ll know that it can impact you at a deep level. Doing choir with vulnerable adults gives them the opportunity to receive congratulations and experience a deep approval into their core self.
After several weeks of leading the Choir With No Name I was intrigued about the sheer passion with which the choir sing week in, week out. I didn’t have to do any of the usual choir leader cajoling.
And then it dawned on me that something was happening as we sang. People were bringing their stresses, pain and addictions and singing them out of their systems. Those who walked into the room carrying ‘loads’ left the room dancing, laughing, skipping. There was a catharsis going on in the singing.
Every choir leader calls their choir to ‘sing it out’. This means ‘project your voice’ or ‘sing louder’. I discovered a new meaning to ‘sing it out’ – it’s cathartic. It’s about singing something ‘out’ of your system.
‘Sing it out of your system, sing it out of your memory
O Sing it Out!
Sing it out of your body, sing it out of your history
O Sing it Out!
Sing it out of your bloodstream, sing it out of your yesterday
O Sing it Out!
Sing it out when you can’t sing, sing it out sing it anyway
Just Sing it Out!’
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Learn more about The Choir With No Name
Listen to ‘Sing It Out’ from Sam Chaplin’s album ‘Back Into Life’