At inChoir, singers of all abilities are invited to come along and join in with some truly inspiring and uplifting music. Musical director Mark Heppell tells us how the Tunbridge Wells branch is getting local members involved, and why singing can help enhance their wellbeing, confidence and health
Tell us how inChoir began
We originally started in East Grinstead seven years ago. We had some success there, so launched another branch in Haywards Heath, and thought it would be nice to try it in Tunbridge Wells. We launched there about five years ago and found ourselves a venue to see whether it would work. We had a couple of people who used to come over from Tunbridge Wells to East Grinstead, so it seemed like a sensible place to try for another branch. We’ve got a dozen branches altogether.
How many members do you have in the Tunbridge Wells branch?
It’s gone from strength to strength over those few years, and we get up to 80 people on a weekly basis now. Not everybody comes every week, as life gets in the way sometimes, but generally speaking, 75 to 80 is what we get on a weekly basis. We have a very wide age range; we’ve got a few teenagers and people in their 20s across some of the choirs we run, right through to people in their 80s and everything in between, so it’s a very wide range.
Are there similar trends in the audiences you attract?
It’s open to absolutely everybody, and very often the choir members themselves are the ones who are attracting the audience, because they invite people to come and see them.
Very often, people will come because they’ve seen something advertised in a programme somewhere and go along and watch. We get a very wide range in the audience, the same as we do in the choir.
Whereabouts are you based?
We rehearse in Christ Church on the High Street. We meet there on a Wednesday evening from
8pm until 9.30pm, and we’re there pretty much every week during the school term time. In terms of performances, we get asked for a wide range of things, some of which are bigger than others. Last year, for instance, we sang at the Assembly Hall a couple of times, and on one occasion we were supporting Russell Watson, which was very exciting. On a smaller local basis, we’ve sung on the bandstand in The Pantiles and at Hoopers department store.
Do you tend to perform further afield?
Sometimes the Tunbridge Wells choir will combine with other choirs and we’ll sing in other places, such as the Brighton Dome, where we had a big concert in July last year with about 500 choir members altogether. We’ve sung at Abbey Road Studios and recorded a couple of songs, which we’ve been selling to donate the proceeds to Children in Need.
We sang at the Edinburgh Festival during the summer, and a few of us went over to America, where we sang in Boston and at the Hard Rock Café in Niagara Falls. We sing in all sorts of places; it might be anything from a school fete or a private wedding, up to the Assembly Hall or the Edinburgh Festival, or anything in between.
What was it like recording at Abbey Road?
It was absolutely amazing. It’s the biggest recording studio in Europe, and possibly the world, so we were able to get 170 people into the studio in the morning, and then another 170 in the afternoon, so getting on for 350 people on our two recordings that we made. Studio Two, which was the studio The Beatles used for the majority of their recordings, we used as a cloakroom! But Studio One, which is where we were, is an absolutely cavernous, amazing studio where The Beatles recorded All You Need Is Love, and where the theme tunes for the Harry Potter and Star Wars films were recorded. It was absolutely amazing just to be there and see all the photographs on the walls.
Is your repertoire quite varied?
It’s fairly contemporary. For instance, we’ve done songs that have been in the charts in the last couple of years, like Adele, Olly Murs and Jason Mraz, and we’ll go back probably as far as songs by Frank Sinatra and anything in between.
So, we do uplifting, popular, modern songs, but it depends on your age as to how modern you think Frank Sinatra is! We do songs from modern musicals as well, but we don’t really do much by way of classical music.
Your slogan is, ‘Modern choirs for people who love to sing’ – where did this come from?
The reason for the slogan is that we like to be open to absolutely anybody, so it doesn’t matter if you’ve had no experience, or if you’ve never sung before; you might have sung in the shower or in the car, but you’ll still be ever so welcome to join, so it’s a real opportunity for people to get to perform at some of these places, which you could never do in other circumstances. People can’t go and sing at the Assembly Hall on their own, but they can come and do it with inChoir, which is a nice opportunity that we’re able to give people.
And how is it paid for?
People have two options: they can pay for a term up front and get a couple of free sessions, or on a pay-as-you-go basis if life gets in the way. It’s £7 a week on a pay-as-you-go basis, and we’re a limited company, so we’re paid and it’s our living.
Why is singing such a popular pastime in and around Tunbridge Wells?
I think people have maybe seen choirs. For instance, when we performed in Hoopers and The Pantiles just before Christmas last year, we had a lot of people stopping, looking and asking for information, because they can see it’s a lot of fun.
Would you say there’s an element to it of singing being a health benefit?
I’m not a doctor and make no scientific claims for what we do, but I think that when people try it, there’s no question that it’s very good for you. If you come and sing for an hour and a half, you do
go home feeling uplifted and you can definitely feel the difference in your personal wellbeing. It makes you feel very good.
It must be very rewarding for members, particularly if they have limited experience in singing…
The thing about a choir is that, if you get 20, 30 or 40 people together, the sound that comes out is really, really lovely. When you get a group of singers, it’s a sound like nothing else, and it really is a very uplifting, fun thing to be a part of, so I think that’s why people do it, because they get such a lot of pleasure out of it.
Big names like Gareth Malone must help boost your numbers…
Every time he’s on television, it definitely does have an impact on us, because people see how much fun it is, and they look for a choir in their local area. He’s done an awful lot to help bring singing to the masses, and that’s exactly what we’re looking to do in a smaller, more local way. But he tends to be much more interested in auditioning and getting the highest possible quality he can, whereas we’re trying to be open to absolutely anybody who’d like to have a go, so there’s a difference in that respect.
Any plans for the coming year?
We’ll carry on in much the same vein as we have. We’re always looking for new places to sing, and we’ve got one or two things up our sleeves for this year. We have some very interesting and exciting places coming up to sing, and some trips during the course of 2016 as well. We do quite a lot of trips, some local and some further afield. For instance, we’re going to sing at Disneyland Paris in May, then later in May we’re going to join forces with a local choir in Tuscany for a week, so we’ve got those sorts of trips coming up, as well as a few performances.
Sounds like you’ll be keeping busy!
What tends to happen with the choir is that it gets very popular in December, and we’re also very popular in the summer, so this time of year is generally when we’re starting out on the year’s adventures, but it takes a bit longer, before we have things coming up. We’re hoping to be singing at Lingfield Park Racecourse in March, and one or two other things as the year progresses.
Here are some of inChoir’s upcoming events to look forward to
March 5 2016 – 11.30am Burgess Hill Library
inChoir members will be performing twice in Burgess Hill library today. First at 11.30am and then again at 12.30pm.
March 12 2016 – 11am Crawley Library
We’ll be completing our mini tour of West Sussex libraries today with a performance at Crawley library.
March 25 2016 – 12pm Lingfield Park Racecourse
On Good Friday, around 200 inChoir members will be singing at Lingfield Park Racecourse on All Weather Championship Finals Day. We believe we are right in saying that this is the only racing in the country on Good Friday, and Channel 4 will be televising the event, so you never know!
April 1 2016 – 7.30pm Blake
inChoir members will today be supporting the fabulous classical boy band Blake in a show at The Capitol Theatre in Horsham. More details from The Capitol Theatre on 01403 750 220.