As UK Soul Choirs celebrate their tenth anniversary, Lorna Harris shares why the vocal troupe is more than just melody making and how joining a new group this autumn could be just as groundbreaking for you.
I’ve never been one for "hobbies". Even as a child, my mum would try and get me to find things I loved to do, but I was simply happy just hanging out at home. I've always been a girl who just likes to "be". I like to go with the flow. I've always had extreme reactions to what me and my best friend coin "organised fun" - can't abide it. So nobody was more surprised than me when, in my forties, following a move to Whitstable, I found a hobby that has now become a passion. The praises I am (excuse the pun) singing are those of the brilliant Kent Soul Choir, part of UK Soul Choirs founded by Whitstable resident singer Abi Gilchrist and composer Ross Power. What started as a flicker of an idea by Abi over ten years ago has become something so important to many, nurtured by the most brilliant choir directors. It doesn't just run here in Whitstable, but across different parts of Kent, and in London too. But I am part of the Whitstable choir. We all know there is lots going on in our wonderful town - so much so that during peak season I lovingly refer to it as "posh Butlins". But when I moved here in 2019 the story was quite different. I was reeling from the impact of losing both my parents in very quick succession. I wanted a fresh start and hoped this would be the place to find it.
In Grain & Hearth one afternoon I heard about the Kent Soul Choir. It was running that night, at St John's Church. A little bit of digging led me to find out more about it. I messaged Abi, who explained that the first taster session is free and encouraged me to go along. I was nervous, but also a little bit excited. It couldn't have been more different to what I was expecting: such an array of characters, just lovely people, taking two hours out of their busy lives once a week to sing soul songs. We work hard to give people fabulous entertainment too. Being part of this choir has seen me perform with them across Kent, in London and, believe it or not, in a town square in beautiful Croatia. There's been many nights out, celebrations and hard times. In lockdown, we took the choir to Zoom and it was still the highlight of my week.
Joining the choir has been instrumental to finding my way through the hardest days of my grief. It gave me something to focus on. Choir jaunts to the pub after singing means I have made friends who now, three years on, I hope I will always have in my life. There've been a lot of parties as well. What can I say? We love parties. At the tenth anniversary performance, some of the members shared what choir means to them. It is so much more than singing, and it seems it's not just me who has found it to be an amazing experience.
There is no audition, and you don't even need to be able to sing. I could just about hold a tune in an unknown key before I started with the choir, but now, three years in, I at least sort of know what I am doing. Although some may disagree, especially those who have the misfortune of sitting next to me!
In all seriousness though, grief is a tricky emotion to navigate, isn't it? Because it's a universal experience, but nobody really knows what you are feeling. My grief, I admit, has been complicated. Losing my parents so close together when they were so sprightly and so colourful in my life has been hard. I felt very lost and alone in those early days of grief. I truly feel like I have sung my way back to happiness. Being part of the choir brightened my life up again. It's brilliant fun, with brilliant people. It helped in ways I could never have anticipated. It makes me so happy, and it could make you happy too.
Why not come and give it a try? Who knows where the music may take you... You could also end up singing in a town square in Croatia.
Find out more about UK Soul Choirs at soulchoirs.com
Written by Lorna Harris
© Whitstable Whistler 2022