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Sarah Cowen-Strong: Singing in a choir makes me smile and I feel great

What a wonderful start to the week. It’s a Monday night, I’m at choir and I can’t stop smiling. The piano player – a tiny blue-rinsed octogenarian – has just let slip that she never heard of I Wanna Hold Your Hand by the Beatles while the conductor has almost been swept off his podium by the force of our oooohs in the chorus. On the table is sheet music for Cabaret, which we will tackle next.

On song – join a choir and have fun
On song – join a choir and have fun

My friend Amanda and I wonder if we should sit on our chairs like Sally Bowles and fashion cigarette holders out of the lyrics for Bridge Over Troubled Waters. This choir session is the equivalent of a rainy-day play at school. Our first practice for our summer ‘Music from the 60s and 70s’ comes on the back of months of trying to perfect Mozart’s Mass in C minor, which we performed just two days before in front of an audience who actually clapped – although that could have been down to the wine on sale at the beginning.

The contrast of the two occasions is what lifted my spirits. One was so formal and stately, and the other, a shoes-off let-your-hair-down dose of merriment.

More people are singing than ever before, our television schedules are crammed with vocal competitions and T-shirted rock and community choirs are springing up everywhere. Where once there was just a national anthem or club song at some major sporting event, now there are legions of groups stepping up to knock out everything from Puff the Magic Dragon to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

Such is their zest I find it impossible not to join in and have been shushed by my embarrassed children more than once. But what I find quite saddening is that the nation’s enthusiastic singers are now shunning the more old-fashioned choral society in favour of the more hip and happening ensembles. The lure of singing familiar songs and having a little sway in unison has robbed the more traditional groups of essential numbers – and it’s such a shame.

Choral societies aren’t elitist and most don’t require auditions. They are formal, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun, and it is so rewarding to beat the challenge of learning a new piece. Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t even have to be an expert at reading music. Just follow the notes going up or down and keep an ear on your neighbour. It’s not rocket science.

Some people don’t like the fact that it’s reminiscent of school – having to pay attention, listen and repeat difficult tasks, while enjoying a chat behind our music books. I love it. If anything, it makes me feel young again – and I look better in a blouse than a T-shirt.

Joining a choir has been found to improve feelings of wellbeing and aid physical and mental health, so what’s not to love? So, don’t be limited, join a choir, don’t baulk at formality and sing out.

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