David Phelops; Lisa Hanna; Janet Bell; Jo Sarkany; Emma Baines
I asked the choir if everyone would like to attend a day of ideas....
The aims of a day like this are varied.
- Bringing members together socially
- Eating and drinking together, of course!
- Spending time together in a different way from regular Tuesday night rehearsals
- Getting to know each other
- Cementing friendships
- New ways of working together
- Inviting friends of the choir to help facilitate
- Telling the choir’s story to new members
- Finding out what members want to sing and to do, both in the rehearsals and outside.
- Planning for the short and long term future of the choir
- Developing, between us all, a clear vision of the Purpose and Values of the Choir
I am happy to say that we achieved a great deal during the day and, speaking for myself, at least, had some fun and discovered new things along the way.
The day started as all choir events do; with food, drink and informal chat. Today was tea and biscuits. As people wandered in, the pile of food, to share, in the common room grew. Sandwiches, salads, Indian snacks and more.
Janet Bell and I had prepared an ice-breaker, to get things going. Twenty two of us wandered around the room, with our Musical Genre Bingo sheets. The aim of the ice-breaker was to spend two to three minutes talking to each person in the room and discover what musical genres were popular. It was quite an eye opener for me. I discovered that someone not only, knew what “Trance” music is, but actually listened to it, too. (Don’t ask me to explain; I have forgotten, now).
That was quite a successful start – there was plenty of talking. Everybody spoke to everybody else, which doesn’t always happen on a Tuesday evening. We all tend to stick with what and who we know.
History and Ethos
I then spent a while talking about the history of the choir. From the earliest days at Marlborough Hill, through the Tuesday evenings we spent in the Members’ lounge at the Civic Centre, moving on to Harrow Arts Centre for three years. We have now been at The Bridge for nearly three years and have thoroughly made it the home of More Than Just A Choir.
Margaret Carruthers, who inspired and co-founded the choir, came to Harrow in 2007 to bring some “Confidence for Life” to Harrow Mental Health service-users. I was one of the few fortunate participants on the course; Margaret & I became friends afterwards. She returned to Harrow in 2009 to run a second course. One of the participants on that course said that it would be nice to be able to sing. Margaret immediately thought of starting a local community choir. At that time Gareth Malone had just made his first TV programme about community choirs; set locally, in Carpenters Park, The Choir was an instant hit and that inspired Margaret. Having been involved in running and conducting a choir, some twenty years previously, I agreed to help, BUT, was only prepared to be involved for a month or so; “Just till you find someone to take in on full time”, I said. Oh, well... The best laid plans of mice and men... Here I am, seven years later, inseparable from the group.
The same ethos and principles of confidence for life course through the veins of the choir.
Based on mutual respect, treating fellow members with respect – each member as important as another – providing a free service, certainly as far as our Tuesday nights meetings and rehearsals go. Continuity – we meet fifty-two weeks a year at The Bridge. Food, delivered every week from local bakery from Wenzel’s is a treat. Long term choir member Toby Gray collects the food unfailingly, every week. That is also important; not only treating people with respect, but respecting people by providing treats. Listening to members is vital – a lifeline to confidence building. We recognize that everybody who comes to the choir has had a different experience of life. Including members in every aspect is important, so from being on the committee, to being asked for ideas; today’s Day of Ideas is a good example.
Everyone entered into the spirit and worked well together. Of course there were a few grumbles and groans while people adjusted to new ideas and events – I say this, not to bring us down, but would you believe me if I said everyone was smiling all the time? We are human beings, after all!
Working in groups, facilitated by Lisa Hanna, Jo Sarkany, Emma Baines (Find Your Voice) and Janet Bell we came up with approximately eighty... Yes, eighty! new songs to introduce to choir over time... We aim to do this: at least one or two new songs every week to build up a solid new repertoire.
My idea and Lisa’s of a good balanced Tuesday night is this:
“Something old, something new, some hard work, but nothing blue!”
Talking of facilitators, it was a joy to have old and new friends working with us. Janet Bell, who was co-director with me back in the days of Harrow Arts Centre has returned recently part-time to teach and conduct.
Jo Sarkany, who I have known for $%^& years is now qualified and working as a Music Therapist. Jo started off by visiting the choir three or four years ago, over the summer to get used to facilitating in a mental health setting and it’s wonderful to be able to continue that association.
Emma Baines runs Find Your Voice in Harrow – two music groups at The Arc. One a solo-singer oriented class and a small choir, too. We work together – Emma and her assistants ran a 16-week course last year, at More Than Just A Choir and we took part in Harrow Arts week, which she was running. The week culminated in a coming together of the choirs in an outdoor performance at The Arc playing to capacity crowds – I know it was absolutely packed out – Donald Trump told me... A flawless day, bright sunshine beating down on us, OMG, I got such a tan (ahem, sunburnt).
Back to the Day of Ideas...
As well as eighty new songs, we came up with a whole future plan, together with a Purpose and Values declaration. Emma set us a challenge of BHAG! Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals! We did them too.... More Ideas always welcome from everyone involved... Development doesn’t stop just because the day ended.
Why have Purpose and Values?
- Discussed and agreed by choir members, not just imposed.
- Very useful statement of intent that can be used in fund-raising applications
- Something to keep us on track.
- Something from which we can develop and grow
- A great way of telling the world who we are
So, to finish, here is the Purpose and Values and future plans:
Oh and there’s just one other thing – really important, how we are funded at present. Also here are a guide to our funds over the last ten months. Ten months, because our year ends at the beginning of April. We have figures from April 2016 to the end of January 2017. That should give you an idea...
We are a singing and social group that provides opportunities for friendship, support and healing
How do we achieve the purpose?
- Hold weekly choir rehearsals
- Provide outside professional tuition
- Provide opportunities and forums for social activities
- Organize outings for members to musical and other artistic performances
- Organize performances for the choir
- Provide transport for members, as necessary.
- Organise creative collaborations with other organisations
- Organise Confidence Building courses and workshops
- Promoting the group and recruiting new members from the wider community
- Organize other events to promote the aims of the organisation
- Work in cooperation with other organisations to achieve the above aim
- Everyone listens and hears one another
- We meet one another with acceptance and respect
- We work together in a collaborative and inclusive way
- We embrace all opportunities to learn, both individually and as a group
Where are we going?
By 2025 More Than Just a Choir will be a national movement, comprising of multiple choirs existing within the mental health sector. We will have obtained multiple sustainable funding routes which allow us to be independent of individual organisations and political groups. We will promote and explain the work we do via a work sharing sing-a-long CD.