For most of the past decade, I have been involved with a number of choirs. This has included choirs where I have been employed as Musical Director, Choirs I have started from scratch, Workplace Choirs and one off Choir Workshops in Corporate environments. I have also formed a couple of choirs at weddings, where I was given around 30 minutes to turn the waiting wedding guests into a choir so they could sing as the Bride entered!
For me I suppose it all started with Gareth Malone. Gareth Malone first came bounding onto our screens in 2006, with an infectious enthusiasm and determination to bring a love of choral singing to us all. There have been four series of The Choir in total, including the series that created The Military Wives and the 2019 special Gareth Malone’s Christmas Concert, where he enlisted the help of staff and patients at Watford General Hospital.
Jumping on this bandwagon, I started to work with a Ladies’ Choir in Wiltshire and a few years later set up my own NHS Choir at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon. Back then was very easy to recruit new choir members. All I did was put together a simple website which could be found at the top of google and waited for Gareth to appear on air with his latest choir. You could then pretty much guarantee that straight after his programme, numerous emails would land in my inbox from people wanting to join a choir.
This went well for a number of years and a thoroughly enjoyable time was had by all. There were concerts almost on a weekly basis. Everyone loved singing, the local radio wanted to hear all about my latest venture and my entire life was turned over to choirs, singing and bringing people together through music. For most people on the outside it looked like I had the perfectly charmed life. Always swanning around with lots of ladies (and sometimes men as well) going to a variety of places and taking all the credit at the end of yet another well received concert.
The thing is, as with most things, nobody ever saw what went on behind the scenes. Firstly, for me, it wasn’t just about a 2 hour rehearsal each week and a concert every couple of months. No, it was a full time job of constant emails and requests from choir members, committees, concert requests not to mention the hours I had to spend finding and arranging music and creating / recording rehearsal tracks. Literally my entire life was consumed, particularly when I was running 5 choirs at once.
Oh and did I mention committees. Therein lies a whole other can of worms which I won’t get into here, but suffice to say these are simply groups of ignorant and inept people who know nothing about choirs, but exist just to make the musical directors life a living hell.
Now look, OK I get it. I realise when you write it down like this, it doesn’t really seem that hard. No matter what I say most people will still think a choirmaster is just someone who swans around pretending to be Gareth Malone with lots of adoring fans all thinking he or she is amazing and some kind of Musical God. And if you want to believe that well great, but sadly it just isn’t true!
More to the point. move forward to 2022, and there are simply too many choirs. Everyone else has turned up at the party and thinks they can run a choir. Because the thing is there is nothing to stop them. Back in 2009, I approached this with a background of choral singing, choral training and 30 years experience as a professional musician with a music degree several diplomas and Grade 8 with distinction on 2 instruments.
But hey, nowadays that means absolutely nothing. If you want to run a choir all you actually need is a backing track and the ability to jump about in front of people like a monkey on speed. No one needs to sing in harmony, there is no requirement for vocal training and certainly you don’t need to read music. God forbid there should be some sort of standard. No. Instead, choirs must not be elitist. Nowadays they must be for everyone. There is no requirement even to be able to sing. As I understand it nowadays the marketing for most choirs is about it being healthy and good for your well being. Personally I thought that’s what the gym was for?
So dear reader, that’s why I have decided to hang up my choirmaster hat and focus on actually making music using the skills I learnt both at school and university. You won’t find me in front of any choirs for now, but you will find me out on the road most days with JAM Duo playing the piano at weddings and events all over the UK. Of course, no doubt I will still be told I am just swanning around. And maybe I am. The thing is, I just don’t care any more. I am making music live, using skills honed over many years. The best thing is, it’s not something which can be done by everyone. It is elitist and it requires skill. And therefore to me it is worthwhile!
Jules Addison has always been involved in music of some sort. This does not necessarily make him any sort of expert, but he does have at least some experience and musical training to call on. Music should be enjoyed by all, but practiced by few! That way, standards might have some chance of being maintained.