How we discovered why people should “Just Join A Choir” - with the help of seven community choirs from across South East London.

September 4, 2023

In March this year we commenced a filming project for a launch campaign for Choirslist called “Just Join A Choir”.

The project resulted in a 2 min short film and 5 accompanying voxpop interviews which will feature on upon its launch. The overall aim was to drive interest and excitement about singing generally, and to explore the benefits of singing together and joining a local choir.

To complete the project we contracted and collaborated with several fantastic choirs in South East London who each opened their rehearsals to our film crew. We’d like to say a huge thank you to Brockley Voices, the London African Gospel Choir, London City Voices, Nunhead Community Choir, The Pop- Up Choir, Soul Choirs, Tongue and Groove and Vocallective in helping us put this together. The Choirfarm team included Matty Swan and Jason Read behind the camera, Lily in front of camera, and Jason completing all video post production. 

Over the course of several weeks, our team captured some great footage of singing, laughing, chatting, drinking, dancing and everything else that being part of a choir encompasses. Showing some insights from both the choir leaders and their members to explain why choirs are such a brilliant thing to be a part of.  

The result includes the Just Join a Choir video below  - read on to learn more about the choirs and what we learned about the wider choir community when visiting each of them.

Where to start?

Our focus was on filming non-audition community choirs in South East London. This location was practical due to most of the Choirfarm team being resident in the region, and we were confident we could approach a good spread of choir sizes and types to ask if they would like to feature in our project.  

We began contacting choirs that we had worked with before and approached a few new ones too, we stumbled upon one after seeing them perform at the Barbican. Our hope was we'd be able to film and interview a range of people, and expose the widest range of community choirs that the London choir scene has to offer.

Large Multi-chapter choirs. 

Multi-chapter choirs are organisations that have branches in different locations, or on different nights through the week.  As Choirfarm had successfully completed membership websites for two such organisations, Soul Choirs and London City Voices (LCV), it made sense to start by visiting some rehearsals of both of these client organisations. For transparency's sake, part of the Choirfarm film crew had either sung in or currently sings in LCV, and our photographer Matty Swan is the son of the choir director so we started with a degree of familiarity.

Led by dynamic father/son duo Richard and Ben Swan, London City Voices is technically a large single choir, but it runs central London rehearsals on different nights of the week. It hosts 3 rehearsal nights across London one in the City, in Soho and in Waterloo plus LCV offers an online rehearsal on a Tuesday too. This choice makes it easy for members to get to at least one rehearsal each week.  The rehearsals are very social occasions and we wanted to capture that. Our film crew started in St Mary’s church, the rehearsal venue for Wednesday's rehearsal, but many of the member interviews were filmed in the pub. No wonder then that this choir brands itself as “London’s friendliest choir”, and it can back this up with the 500+ strong, socially active community it supports.

Soul Choirs is an 11 branch multi-chapter choir based in London and the South East, run by professional musicians Abi Gilchrist and Ross Power. 

Soul Choirs members don’t need auditions, and simply learn soul and pop arrangements from mp3 tracks and lyric sheets, and of course from following the instructions of the choir leaders.  With 3 London branches (including London Bridge, Greenwich and Hither Green) we were invited to visit their Tuesday evening rehearsal in London Bridge in The Guy’s Chapel, led by Greg Davidson. Greg currently works as Principle Vocal Tutor alongside Soul Choirs founder, Abi, at London School of Musical Theatre.  We then followed up by attending a rehearsal led by Abi at the Hither Green branch, which happens on Mondays.  Soul Choirs pride themselves on the fact that the choir is led by professional musicians but they support a wide range of singing experience in their membership, and the enthusiasm of its members shows. 

Cooperative choirs.

In contrast to the large multi-chapter choirs, there are many thousands of smaller organisations who are run as charities, associations or cooperatives. 

In South East London, which has a strong cooperative tradition, we found a few choirs where governance and decision making is carried out by members themselves.  

We approached The Pop-Up Choir, a friendly medium sized cooperative choir based in Lambeth. Formed in 2009 The Pop-Up Choir describe themselves as “a contemporary co-operative 25-piece a cappella rabble singing in 5-part harmony (SAATB)” .  We were invited to film a Tuesday night rehearsal where we were able to speak to a few of the high-spirited members who offered their thoughts about their community choir. Our crew took part in their gentle physical warm-up, led by their musical director Josh Barr. A fun yet key part of freeing up the voice, shaking off the stresses of the day before getting down to singing. 

The word “community” came up several times while we interviewed them and you could tell that they were a tight knit group. One of the organisers shared his story about how he met his wife through the choir, welling up as he mentioned that the group had sung at their wedding. It was lovely to see how much the choir means to the people there.

Choir collaborations.

Collaborations between different choir organisations are more frequent than we had realised, and offer a great way for smaller choirs to team up to build a sufficient audience to run a meaningful event together.  South East London’s thriving community choir scene results in frequent collaborations between local choirs.  In fact one of the bits of feedback we’ve had for Choirslist from the wider choir community is whether our listings would help facilitate more of these types of collaborations as we grow the listings.

ChoirFest 2023 was held in March, in Dulwich,  several choirs from south east London performed and raised money for charity.

The event was run by Tongue and Groove, a Tuesday night choir rehearsing in Lordship Lane SE22. 

They are a playful bunch who perform in a bold orange hue. The cheeky and energetic leadership of Robin and Simon always makes for an enjoyable atmosphere, and ChoirsFest was no exception. 

The event brought together four local choirs, one of which was Brockley Voices who rehearse on Tuesday evenings, near St. John’s Station. Their musical director George  said hat a sense of community is at the very heart f the choir. 

Another of the featured choirs was Vocallective, a pop choir who sing everything from World music to Blur. Christina Carty shared with us that she has a lifelong love of music, and once she discovered that she could arrange harmonies, it quickly led her to becoming a choir director. 

Nunhead Community Choir is another choir family who were involved in the event. They have been running for almost 15 years, and encompass a mixture of ages and abilities. They are led by Ben Swan who also is assistant director of London City Voices.

By the end of the evening, once the raffle had been won and the cakes had all been sold and eaten, over £1000 had been raised for charity. This goes to show how much support and commitment there is within the choir community. 

Special interest choirs.

The Just Join a Choir campaign is all about encouraging everyone to join the choir that’s right for them. This means we also need to highlight different kinds of choirs, including those niche choirs that are formed based on something that connects the membership together  - this could be a musical genre, religious faith or other demographic or identity characteristic. We term this a ‘special interest’ choir where there are qualifying criteria for membership.

One such special interest choir is The London African Gospel Choir.  

This is a relatively small choir, of high standard singers and dancers, and unlike with the other choirs featured in the film, there are auditions to join this one. You also need to be resident in London, but be born in or with family members from an African nation, the choir is always open to enthusiastic new joiners who qualify and meet this criteria and experience in singing.

The visit came about after Michael Kohn watched them perform their interpretation of Paul Simon’s Graceland to a standing ovation at the Barbican. Michael asked them if they’d like to feature in the project.  We were subsequently invited to attend a regular weekly home-based rehearsal with fewer than 10 members. In such an intimate setting, the energy coming off the group was electric.

Their charismatic leader Crystal founded the choir more than 20 years ago. Crystal shared her own experience of becoming a choir leader and it was inspiring to hear some of the group speak about what being part of the choir means to them, it was both heartfelt and thought provoking. 

LAGC creates a lot of improvised harmonies, as an extremely talented bunch of singers, by  the end of the rehearsal the group had come up with a catchy jingle for the Just Join A Choir video, just join join join, join a choir! 

And through this little jingle which we included in our films, the experience was immortalised  for ever more.

What we learned from the project.

A main takeaway from visiting, observing, filming and interviewing members from 7 different choirs was that there is a wide range of people who sing together each week. People come from different backgrounds and have different interests and reasons to join a choir but we found that each of them would encourage more people to join a choir.  

We’ve found approximately 450 choirs operating in London so far and they are choirs of all types and sizes. Over half are non- audition, and although we focused on choirs from South East London for this project we found that the geographical location wasn’t any kind of limitation as the area has such a breadth to choose from.  We could have perhaps visited some more formal high performance choirs, or special interest choirs but perhaps that is for a future project. We also wondered whether we could make some films based solely on music type, but for this project, the South East London choirs captured the sense of community, fun and friendship that we were looking for. A perfect way to promote  the Just Join a Choir campaign.

A big thank you!

We’d like to thank all the choirs again who let us come along to rehearsals, who gave up their time for interviews and shared their stories with us. If you’d like to learn more about these choirs, all of whom are open to new members, you can follow the link to their websites below.

Soul Choirs

London City Voices

The London African Gospel Choir

Tongue and Groove

The Pop-Up Choir

Brockley Voices

Nunhead Community Choir

We obviously couldn’t have made the Just Join A Choir videos without their participation and we are extremely grateful to each of these organisations. It was a privilege to be given access to rehearsals for each of these choirs, to witness how the different choir leaders have cultivated their singing families. Many choir members opened up about their own journeys of how they found their choirs and what a lifeline  being part of a choir is for them. It made it clear how useful a service such as Choirslist will be to help more people find their way to a choir and enjoy the many benefits of singing together. 

Register for your free Choirslist listing!

There’s still time to register for the launch of London’s Choirslist that goes live this Autumn. If you run a London based choir and haven’t signed-up for your free Choirslist listing yet, you can do so here.

And if you run a choir outside London, you can express interest for a Choirslist in your region here.

And if you agree with the reasons why people love their choirs and think that more people should Just Join a Choir, please do share the video with your friends and choir community.

Why should we all Just Join a Choir?

There are many reasons people should consider ioining a choir? We're collected a few of the reasons we were told by existig choir members and published on
Read on

Talk to us about your choir or singing project