" . . . singing is one of the most singular human pleasures bringing together people in friendship and enjoyment - please join us . . ."
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|Satrurday 1st April - UNLOCKING THE VOICE
This workshop will take place at Tickton Village Hall from 2PM to 4PM under the direction of Sarah Rhodes.
Tickets @ £9
Please note new rehearsal times - Thursdays 19.15 - 21.15.
The benefits of joining a choir . . . read here !
Members please log on and choose Musical Parts to view the latest music support files.
Please note relevant information re the next AGM can be found in the Members Section.
New concert dates added.
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“Listen to that,” says psychotherapist Lee Wallace, with his eyes closed and a smile on his face.
In the adjoining room, fifty men from the Leeds Male Voice Choir are harmonising the chorus of an old Cornish miners’ song, which drifts across the air with a gorgeous, sonorous hum. “There’s something about that sound of all men singing," says Wallace. "It’s mellow. It’s stirring. And I think, as a pastime, it’s coming back around.”
. . . As an art, singing has fallen out of fashion for men. Once the defining sound of both collieries and cathedrals, male choirs have seen a notable decline in the 21st Century; in part because warbling workmen have been replaced by neutered office workers, in part because few kids now want to join the ranks of fresh-faced choristers. Despite recent studies suggesting that the practice has a host of unlikely health benefits – from countering depression and the onset of Parkinson’s to improving the symptoms of lung disease – for a man to have a singsong anywhere but in his shower remains a social faux pas.
Which is why the Yorkshire choir are treating their 100th anniversary this year as an opportunity to show that the male choral singing still has a place in society. They're embarking upon a crusade to serenade the stigma away, and hope that they will be able to celebrate their centenary by bringing male group singing back into the mainstream.
The miners’ song, Take Me Home, is just one of the tunes the choir’s musical director Tim Knight believes can move the group forward whilst still honouring its heritage. It's a tactic that Wallace, who first joined the choir in 1997 at the age of 24, believes will prove fruitful. “I think men singing goes back to something we don’t really have anymore. Unless you’re involved in sports, where else can you go to connect in such an impressive and meaningful way? Singing connects us men, it counters isolation and creates social bonds.”
These bonds, forged through the strength of a shared note, are considered very important by the members of the choir. With a 64-year age gap between the oldest and youngest members, they say their pastime has facilitated many cross-generational friendships that otherwise would not exist. Despite the differences in age, occupation and ethnicity, when the choir comes together, all the men quite literally sing from the same songsheet.
Oscar Archer, a 23-year old mathematics graduate training to be an actuary, remembers being immediately welcomed into the choir when he joined last year. He believes that singing is without comparison when it comes to boosting confidence, and attributes the success of the ensemble to the diversity in both repertoire and membership.
“I hadn’t sung much before,” Archer tells me, “but I wanted to give it a go. The choir has been a really supportive atmosphere in which to learn, irrespective of whether or not you’ve had any musical training.
“When I was at university,” the bass singer continues, “I tended to mix with people of a similar age who were at a similar stage of their life as me. So, after graduation, it can seem as if there are fewer opportunities to socialise than there were at university.
“Everyone goes for a pint after rehearsals, and we do other social activities together such as carol singing at Christmas and getting together for Bonfire Night. Singing in a male voice choir – particularly this one – has a unique sense of camaraderie which you don’t find in other kinds of ensemble or group. It’s very rewarding.”
Archer is very much the new face of male voice choirs. Arriving on the scene at the same time that the group eschewed their traditional uniforms for the sharper slim grey suits and ties, the 23-year old enjoys singing everything from the classic hymns, through choral arrangements of modern rock songs (I Predict a Riot is, indeed, riotous), to show tunes from the Golden Age of musicals.
Another champion of the increasing diversity is 87-year old Bert Mallinson. A veteran of church choirs, glee clubs and male voice ensembles throughout the country, Mallinson has sung with the Leeds Male Voice Choir for the last 38 years. And, despite not being a fan of some of the newer tunes - “The music of the present drives me up the wall” - the octogenarian accepts that, to regain the popularity of its heyday, the choir must get with the times.
“It’s very important,” says Mallinson, recounting that many of the most notable times in his life have had singing at their heart. “In fact, I think it’s probably what’s kept me going as I am. It’s a social experience, and of course it’s exercise for your lungs. Not that my lungs are as good as they once were, of course.”
The benefits of singing have been well-documented in recent years. Swedish research has suggested that a spell of spirited song not only increases oxygen levels in the blood but also triggers the release of “happy” hormones such as oxytocin, which is thought to help lower stress levels and blood pressure.
And a year-long study on people with mental health problems, carried out by the Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health, Canterbury, also revealed that 60 per cent of participants had less mental distress when retested a year after joining a choir, with some people no longer fulfilling the diagnostic criteria for clinical depression.
Human resources manager, Robert Butler, joined the choir in 2012 after attending a taster session for prospective members. He believes that this unique mix of physical, emotional and social benefits is what sets male voice choirs apart from other ensembles and groups. He hopes that celebrations this year, such as the choir’s official centenary concert in September, will help publicise the plus points of signing up.
“Singing in a male voice choir,” says Butler, “offers the chance to be part of a team, learn new skills and it’s a fun social activity as well! It’s good for combatting stress and building confidence, and it’s hard to describe the adrenaline rush you get after a great performance.
“Our choir has brought together a diverse group of men from different backgrounds, of different ages and who have different occupations, and then unites them with the common aim of making a great sound. I think it’s really important that the choir reflects the world today, both in terms of the music we sing and those who sing with us.
“There are very few social activities like singing in a male voice choir, but there are also many benefits, so that’s why we encourage anyone who wants to join to come along. And there are probably as many reasons for joining the Choir as there are men in the room.”