Shared goals and wellbeing
Unlike the other choir doctors who visited choirs that they had never met, I worked with the Mind & Soul Choir who I already knew. The choir was founded off the back of a World Mental Health Day event almost ten years ago, and I’ve worked with them since then. Longstanding members of the choir like to reflect on the days when there were “four of us and a dog”, whereas nowadays we often have around thirty or forty singers at each weekly session. There really was a dog, incidentally, though he didn’t tend to sing much!
Mind & Soul Choir is completely open access; there are no auditions and there is no requirement to read music. How often people attend is entirely up to each individual. My aim as leader is to do three main things:
1. To give the singers the musical tools they need to express themselves as a choir.
2. To encourage an ethos as unpressured and non-judgemental as possible.
3. To make sure that each rehearsal is a fun, social occasion.
The singers in this particular choir are made up of people who have accessed or are accessing mental health services, or have suffered poor mental health, as well as staff, friends, carers and people from the local community. The biggest challenge is often getting the right balance between working towards a performance and accommodating people who join midway through the process and may never have sung before. I aim to make each session stand on its own as well as gradually building repertoire, since people may only be able to come to one session and I want them to go away having had a good experience.
On the whole, my methods are very similar to the other choir doctors, and many of their useful top tips and insights into the rehearsal process are relevant.
Structure of the session is important so that the singers know what to expect.
1. We always start with a warm-up, both physical and vocal, to get us into the frame of mind for singing.
2. We then sing a short warm-up song that’s usually new to all or most people (such as the one in the film).
3. After that, we’ll carry on with whatever we’re working on, learning by ear.
I try to keep in mind that how the group feels is as important as how it sounds, and I work from that principal. Sometimes something that feels good doesn’t sound as great as it could, but that’s the trade-off. Often though, a good ‘feel’ will translate into a good sound.