Sing to be Free

Hello, and welcome to our February Blog, written by one of our much loved and long standing choir members, Anne.

It’s always wonderful to hear just how much being part of the choir means to our singers. 

Sing to be free, By Anne Bren ~ Choir member, Prima Voce Choir (Tuesday evening).

Recently [today in fact] I was asked to explain why I joined a choir, and what it meant to me… on video… It proved quite tricky to sum this up in a few pithy and coherent phrases, so I decided to give it a further bash on the keyboard.


In 2011 I emerged from an intense two years spent combining a full-time job with part-time study for a Master’s degree, with an unaccustomed amount of free time on my hands. Having tested to the limits the adage that however busy you think you are, you can always make time for something you really want to do, I was keen not to lose that special extra dimension… but I wanted to do something that was perhaps a bit less taxing, unrelated to work, and could simply be enjoyed for its own sake.


I’d always enjoyed being in the choir at school. I went to a C of E primary, where hymn singing was a daily part of the routine, and I still remember, and love (despite being an ungodly soul) all that traditional church music. But being in a school choir in the 70s, in a secondary modern in the Midlands, just wasn’t cool. Leaving the choir didn’t make me cool, but it was one less thing to be tormented about. Decades on, and with the rise of Gareth Malone and the emergence of Rock Choirs, and looking into what was available at adult ed, I discovered that a local woman, whose house I’d walked past on the school run every day for years, ran a community choir that met weekly at that very same school I’d delivered my daughter to since the late 90s.

Mary: with no auditions, no requirement to read music, and a strongly held belief that [almost] everyone can sing with the ‘singing it back’ method. Reader, I joined the choir.


Immediately, I found warmth, fun, laughter, encouragement, challenge – and music! The choir is a community, and over the years I have met some lovely people, and made some wonderful friends. Whilst I would say we don’t take it too seriously (perhaps not as seriously as Mary would like, at times!) I think most of us want to make a good sound, do well, and feel a sense of achievement

Several years on, with increasing demands from my work role, and a natural tendency towards hibernation in the darker months, it can be hard to motivate myself to leave the house on a cold winter evening. But I’m always glad that I’ve made the effort. Choir practice requires concentration, participation, exertion. This means that we quickly feel free of the stresses and strains of the day – there’s no time to dwell on them.

Many of the choir members have gone through, or are going through, difficult times – ill-health of themselves, or a loved one; bereavement; stress and transition. I don’t think Mary set up the choir as a therapeutic group, but it clearly serves that function.


The choir is truly more than the sum of its parts (either individuals, or sopranos, altos, tenors and basses). The sound we make together is surprising, uplifting, occasionally hilarious, but can at times feel transcendent! Singing together genuinely makes people feel part of something special, connected with each other – and happy. The buzz when we make a harmonious sound is palpable – and that buzz lasts beyond the practice. I really believe all that stuff about community singing contributing to community cohesion

In case this all sounds a bit too worthy, or preachy, or simply too good to be true, practice sessions include plenty of banter, a good deal of irreverence, and a certain amount of healthy rivalry between sections. There is a very noisy tea break, with cake if it’s someone’s birthday. The choir is not made up of a huge number of folk who really wanted to do X Factor, and are disappointed at finding themselves in a suburban school hall on a Tuesday evening. Most people actually don’t want to be the centre of attention. Male voices are in short supply, so men are warmly welcomed, but not feted and must prove their worth.

Mary has become a more demanding choir leader. She won’t allow us to rest on our laurels, but will push us to work harder, do more, take ourselves out of our comfort zones. She has made the choir a real part of the community, with our participation in concerts at the Rose Theatre, local churches and the streets of Kingston. I think most choir members are in it for the participation, the camaraderie, the huge sense of wellbeing we get from making music – but the performances certainly galvanise us in a desire to do ourselves, and our lovely leader, proud.

As Mary gives us the opportunity to take our experiences, and our message about the unifying and joyful benefits of community singing to a wider audience, I would like to thank her, our mischievous and hugely gifted pianist Greg, and (all too) occasional, brilliantly talented soloist, Patsy – and all my lovely fellow choir members (especially the Lady Tenors!) for truly enhancing my life.

Anne Bren

29th October 2017