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Thursday, 10 January 2013

Joined Up Singing

Like most people, I first encountered the Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf and Hearing Children when they performed the National Anthem at the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony.

The Kaos Signing Choir at the Opening Ceremony
(Photo courtesy of Alex Hedley)

At first I was taken aback by the idea of a 'signing choir'. But as I heard and watched them perform I realised that they are a perfect embodiment of the inclusiveness of singing. Singing really is something that everyone and anyone can do.

I was in the choir at school and absolutely loved it. But although I knew how to read music, I could never see any of the music or words I was supposed to be singing. I learnt surreptitiously by ear, secretly copying those around me and mouthing along when I couldn't remember the words. This was fine at Christmas time, when we did the same carols year after year, but it wasn't ideal when we moved onto more complicated music. Even if I wore my reading glasses, I would have to hold the music so close to my face that any sound I made would be immediately swallowed up again.  

About four years ago I discovered that singing can be just as inclusive as the Kaos Choir demonstrates. 'Joined Up Singing' is a community choir based in Headington, Oxford. We sing music from around the world and every song is taught by ear. This means the tutor sings a line and we listen and then sing it back. This is repeated over and over until everyone can sing the whole song. We learn three or four songs a week and have built up a repertoire which we perform at local community events.

Joined Up Singing has taught me to listen better both to others and to myself. It has taught me that singing by ear can help ease stress, improve concentration and promote health and wellbeing. But most of all it has taught me not to hide my blindness. At school I pretended I could see much more than I can. Now I no longer need to pretend because sight is no longer a pre-requisite to singing. I can sing just as well with my eyes closed. And I often do. My favourite part of the session is the final fifteen minutes where we sing in the dark, with only a candle shining in the middle of the circle. I always close my eyes as soon as the lights go out (sometimes before) and revel in the freedoom darkness brings me. When I know that no-one can see me I forget about sight altogether and focus instead on making and hearing sounds.

There is no better time to start singing. The Kaos Children's Choir showed the world that singing can be inclusive. The wonderful Gareth Malone made choirs out of a whole range of unwilling or unlikely singers. And community choirs like Joined Up Singing put inclusivity into action by being open to everyone.

If this post has inspired you to join a community choir, the Natural Voice Network has information on choirs and events running throughout the UK


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