thu 19/09/2019

h 100 Young Influencers of the Year: James Bingham on community choirs | reviews, news & interviews

h 100 Young Influencers of the Year: James Bingham on community choirs

h 100 Young Influencers of the Year: James Bingham on community choirs

The first of the four finalists in theartsdesk's award in association with The Hospital Club writes provocatively about a choral crisis

James Bingham: 'There is no reason why all open-access choirs can’t be both musically ambitious and fun to sing in'

Forty thousand choirs in the UK! Choral directors of the UK rejoice. Voices Now have finally published the Big Choral Census. They’ve put hard data to something we knew was true: there are loads of choirs and loads of people who love singing in them. Finally we can present government with solid evidence that meaningful investment into the art form will be money well spent. Surely a cause for celebration? Yes... but not entirely.

I’ve lost count of the numbers of choirs I’ve come across that barely survive on their current membership. For non-auditioned choirs, dwindling numbers mean choirs can no longer perform the repertoire they were previously able to. I would argue that we actually have too many choirs in the UK and our amateur choristers are spread too thinly.

In the census, the most popular category choirs chose to define themselves as was "community choir". I still can’t quite figure out exactly what this phrase actually means, but presumably community choirs are in existence as they attempt to fill a niche of prioritising inclusion and having fun at rehearsals. Fine... but did this niche exist in the first place? Surely all open-access choirs aspire to be fun and inclusive?

It looks like the appearance of the community choir has actually come about as an apology for our shortcomings in properly advocating choral music. Had classical music not been chained to its clapped-out elitist stereotype, we might not have seen the arrival of so many so-called community choirs. What this census has shown us is that there is an appetite for choral music, but novices are still too intimidated by the old stereotypes of a typical Messiah-loving (as in the oratorio!) choral society to join.

There is no reason why all open-access choirs can’t be both musically ambitious and fun to sing in. The choral societies (in the traditional sense) that I’ve worked with absolutely have community at their core but are desperate for more singers. What concerns me about the rise of the community choir is that people feel they have to sacrifice challenging themselves in order to have fun. This is not good. We need to do more to advocate quality choral singing as an enjoyable experience in its own right and not just set up new choirs to avoid outdated stereotypes.

Let me be clear in saying I have no issue with people joining a community choir. It can be impossible to tell the difference between community choirs and choral societies today as the phrase is so meaningless. We simply have good practice and bad practice. Let's not let bad practice dilute the pool.

James Bingham is a conductor, producer and blogger. He has worked for companies including Opera North (choral delivery artist) and Glyndebourne (project co-ordinator). In November he will be moving to the new Irish National Opera, managing their studio and building a new outreach program for the company.

@senseofpitch

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature

★★★★★

A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway

 

Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.

 

★★★★★

This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman

 

Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.

 

Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.