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Blog: Soul food - the power of high-quality shared singing

Blog: Soul food - the power of high-quality shared singing

9th November 2016

by Joanna Ridout, MID trustee

I’ve been a member of a local community choir for over a decade. I drive along Hampshire lanes in all weathers, often reluctantly on winters’ nights, to go and sing with others – and never regret making the effort. It feeds my soul – nourishes me, lifts my spirit, more than singing on my own ever could.  If you want more pragmatic evidence of the benefits, just google ‘choir singing is good for your mental health’ and you’ll find articles like this and more.

Ten years ago, a Hampshire community choir leader got married in a lovely farm barn and thought how lovely it would be to bring together local community choirs for a weekend of camping, ceilidh and singing together with expert tutors. This idea became SingFest and the first event saw around 40 people come together to sing, with a bring and share supper. This September, the 10th year, saw a sell-out (still a modest, friendly 120 people working in 2 groups) with people coming from all over the South and London for SingFest 2016. The principle is to share the joy of singing together, learning by ear, whatever your experience. We are given expert, professional tutors who enjoy bringing out the best in a group – most of whom have never met or sang together before - and having fun while learning new songs together.

SingFest. Photo by Anna Tabbush

SingFest. Photo by Anna Tabbush

The choir I sing in each week is Alton Community Choir and was set up by Traditional Arts Projects (TAPs), along with several others around Hampshire - and several of us go to SingFest each year. We’re led by Carolyn Robson, singer (originally trained in opera) and expert choir leader. TAPs was one of the founding delivery partners of Music In Detention (MID).

When I joined the Board of MID, it was a joy to know that tutors such as Lucky Moyo , with whom we had a hilarious time trying to get Zulu rhythms at SingFest – as well as making lovely harmonies – was also bringing his years of expertise and musicality to MID’s work with detainees from all over the world. It is his energy and skill in gauging what will work in different settings, including and encouraging everyone as a professional musician that ensures much more than a sing-song. Lucky and others like him offer a vital combination of intrinsic artistic quality and remarkable facilitative skills that can bring out the best in people with whom they work.

For example, MID’s Yarl’s Wood choir offers ‘soul food’ to women who can come together, and, for a while, as with all MID’s work, concentrate on creativity with expert artist-facilitators.  Making music together, lifts the women’s spirits and enables them to face another day in detention. SingFest and Alton Community Choir give me a personal, first-hand taste of what this can mean – and reinforces my belief that at MID we offer a very special kind of nourishment to people who are in real need of it.