By James Olley
Regardless of the final result, there was much to cheer about at the recent European Championship – not least one thing in particular: singing. Of course, musicians and performing arts professionals were despondent – why could stadiums, pubs, and public squares be filled with voices raised but not the concert halls, churches, and arts venues across the UK? It was deeply unfair; however, continued anger about that unfairness will not resolve anything. It certainly won’t do anything to help shape a post-pandemic recovery. But singing will.
‘What nonsense!’ you cry. No. Not at all. Pause for a moment to consider what that singing in the stadiums and pubs was doing. One can question whether the music of Messrs Broudie, Baddiel, and Skinner is high art (Mr Neil Diamond is surely beyond reproach), but it joined thousands of people together in unison. Yes, football was the convener, but singing was the great expression of togetherness. This enormous joyful sound was to be heard everywhere one went – people of all ages and backgrounds, people who aren’t really interested in football – people who had never met before brought together in song.
This is what singing does. In the depths of locked-down Britain there emerged superb innovations from choirs. The Huddersfield Choral Society had global online workshops of Mozart; up sprang the Self Isolation choir; there were virtual evensongs; and the National Youth Choir even managed to make some virtual recordings. Singing kept people connected. And it must keep doing so.
Choral societies, choirs, and vocal ensembles all over the UK have a vital role to play in communities. These organisations bring people together with a common purpose: to make music. A choir is for anyone, perhaps admittedly with a level of ability, but everyone can sing, and at some level there is always a choir for you. Once a week, twice a month, whatever the schedule is, there is a network of organisations across the UK which bring people together to create that extraordinary feeling of community, of making something together for the enrichment of each other and, possibly, those listening. The benefits, physical and mental, of singing are well documented. Put simply, however, it makes you feel better.
Coming out of this restricted life of the past 18 months, what could be better than meeting with others – old friends and new – to feel better by making an enormous joyful sound? So be it in the stadium, the pub, a church or concert hall, singing has a really important role to play in shaping communities post-pandemic. Singing will connect us and singing will make us feel better about life again.