Andy Booth at a Wurlitzer

Community choirs ‘on song’ in Sheffield

Sheffield Unchained contributor Jill Theobald meets with the musical director of Chorus to find out how community choirs are striking the right note in the city.

When Andy Booth spotted a Wurlitzer organ during his visit to Blackpool Tower as a child, he knew at that moment that he wanted to be involved in music.

Andy is now a professional musician, playing the organ for national and international orchestras and being part of shows for Opera North, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Sheffield Lyceum.

Andy Booth

Andy Booth

But over the years he has also become conscious that music can sometimes be seen as ‘elitist’ and so, in April 2013, he became musical director of Sheffield’s Chorus, a ‘Choir for Everyone’.

“We just want to encourage people to get involved and experience singing in a large group, where it doesn’t matter if you have a wealth of experience or not. Professional musicians like me may have spent years learning our trade and music can often be perceived as exclusive, but for me it should be for everybody.

“I want Chorus to be about opening up amazing venues and wonderful opportunities for everyone.”

ChorusUK (Sheffield) in rehearsal for their inaugural concert at Sheffield City Hall on July 14th.

ChorusUK (Sheffield) in rehearsal for their inaugural concert at Sheffield City Hall on July 14th 2013

Members of Chorus quite literally learn on the job and are given musical tuition that is not overly complicated. At the end of the training, choir members are able to put on a show singing in four-part harmony, although they can go up to eight, to a professional standard and with no music in front of them.

“There are lots of levels involved with music, including emotional, social and health.

“We have a member who is agoraphobic and she joined us hoping to conquer it and has gone a fair way to doing so. Joining a choir can help people to socialise and combat loneliness by making friends and finding enjoyment. Singing is good exercise, too.”

The average age of members is late thirties, but a lot of youngsters are involved and the oldest is 83. Ability levels vary just as much; there are a handful of professionals and several amateur singers, but roughly 70 per cent of the choir is made up of people whose only experience of music and singing began when they joined Chorus.

The material is diverse; from Cohen’s Hallelujah to Crocodile Rock and the Muppets to Mary Poppins’ medleys. The first concert ‘Steel City Sings’ saw the troupe perform Sheffield-themed songs such as Arctic Monkeys’ singles and tunes from The Full Monty soundtrack. More recently Chorus staged When You Believe, a show filled with Disney classics, at the Octagon.

Some of the singers taking part in Chorus' first come and try workshop.

Some of the singers taking part in Chorus’ first come and try workshop.

Singing workshops are also run at Sheffield City Hall to help encourage people to find their voice’ with many attendees going on to join Chorus and take part in concerts.

Next year looks set to be an eventful one with a Hollywood spectacular in March and ‘Mamma Mia!’, celebrating 40 years of Abba songs, arranged for the summer.

“All of the shows provide big, powerful, lush orchestral music for everyone.”