Popular groups now have years-long waiting lists. Forget angelic choirboys in ruffs and dodgy Kumbaya recitals, choirs are now cool – and very much for adults.
“I really appreciate having a social activity that doesn’t revolve around alcohol – although we do go to the pub afterwards!” says Emily Doncaster, a clinical psychologist from East London who joined London group Some Voices earlier this year.
The 700-strong choir, who rehearse all over London, have performed everywhere from the Copper Box Arena in Stratford to Brockley’s Rivoli Ballroom. “It helps me to forget the worries of the day,” says Emily, “and I always leave in a good mood.”
The science backs this up. Numerous studies have shown that singing in a choir can boost our physical and mental health. Choristers’ heartbeats have even been known to synchronise, generating a calming effect that’s as beneficial as yoga.
“The breathing, and the solid focus, is a great way to reset at the end of a day,” says choral leader and composer Naomi Hammerton, who works with Kings Place Choir. “It’s meditative.”
It’s natural to feel nervous about singing in public, but most of these groups don’t require their members to possess Beyonce-esque vocal chords. Choirs offer strength in numbers, with collectives such as Some Voices and Kings Place Choir making every effort to cultivate a fun, all-inclusive energy at rehearsals. Joining a choir can be a great way to boost your self-esteem, while feeling a part of something much bigger than yourself.
“I get a buzz out of building people’s confidence,” says Naomi. “The great thing about a choir is the team work. I love the combined effort, the total trust, when people are totally in the moment together.”
Adult choirs also offer the chance to perform, something most of us don’t get the chance to do in our day-to-day lives. And we’re not just talking about serenading shoppers in your local supermarket foyer – often these performances take place in iconic venues and are attended by supportive friends and family. For many choir members, these are experiences they will never forget.
“I remember sound-checking at KOKO and mildly losing my shit, because I’d been to so many brilliant gigs there!” says Laurel Waldron, a PR professional from South London who has sung with Some Voices for over five years.
In the era of Tinder and round-the-clock work emails, many Londoners feel hyper-connected – but at the same time, oddly lonely. Choirs, Naomi argues, can be a brilliant way to combat this.
“With modern technology and social media, people ‘think’ they’re in constant contact,” she says, “But often, it’s faceless. Choir is such a real and palpable way of connecting with people.”
For millennial Londoners, choirs can offer a rare but important chance to feel part of a community – and to make valuable cross-generational friendships.
“Kings Place Choir has members ranging from 25 to 70, which is brilliant,” says Naomi. “The choir sang at one of our singer’s 70th birthday party! We have members who work in the area, some who live there, and some who travel in to sing with us – but there is a definite choir community.”
London’s choirs also increasingly provide space for like-minded thinkers or political agitators to band together and make their voices heard. Lips, for example, a trans-inclusive women’s choir which performed at the anti-Trump demo in London this summer, now have a 400-person waiting list.
“Joy is a great act of resistance, and the feminist aspect of Lips is something I love,” says member Sally Connor, an analyst from South London who joined the choir four years ago (following a two year wait) after being blown away by their mash-up of Kate Bush and Katy On A Mission at a Coronet performance.
Sally is one of many singers who believe that, with their choir, they’ve truly found their tribe.
“We have an absolute blast together, go on holiday together, and support each other through all the shitty and amazing stuff life can throw at you.
“We’re a group of women making awesome music, putting on our own gigs, teaching each other new skills and using our voices to make change in the world.”