‘It’s more than a choir’: Inclusive and supportive Hampshire community come together in song

“I know it sounds corny, but it really is more than a choir to a lot of people – and to me,” says Jack White, a Southampton resident who has created a supportive and inclusive community with his Sing Now choir. The group performs everything from ABBA and Fleetwood Mac to Britney Spears and Ed Sheeran – far from the stereotypical classic choir songs.

In March 2015 twelve strangers met for the first Sing Now session and there are now over 250 members in three groups in Basingstoke, Fareham and Southampton. The band performs at various community events including school fairs, marathons and festivals.

What started as a group of strangers is now a supportive community with a mix of all ages from 18 to the late 80s. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, members have looked to each other for support each other during the most difficult times of isolation.

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Jack founded his first choir, Love Soul, in Southampton with his friend Dan Cooper when he was just 16. The couple met in a singing group when they were 10 and are determined to change the perception of choirs.

Speaking to HampshireLive, Jack, now 29, said: “When you tell someone you’re in a choir they either think it’s in a church or it’s of a lot of traditional classical music – it can be quite daunting Everyone sings day to day, music is all around us and it can be quite exclusive to say you need to know what a soprano is or how many beats breathe.”

Leading Love Soul at 16, the choir members were often twice or even three times her age. He said: “It was a bit weird, it was quite intimidating, but it meant I didn’t go to college, so I didn’t go to college either. My parents were a bit worried about that because the entertainment world is a little fickle.”

Jack White has been performing since he was young

Now, almost 14 years later, Jack has made choir conducting his full-time job, becoming Hampshire’s own version of choirmaster Gareth Malone. He continued, “I’ve been doing gigs since I was 13, that’s all I’ve ever known. I’m 30 this year but I couldn’t imagine doing anything else because I love music more than anything.”

After a few years leading Lovel Soul, Jack admitted that he began to feel discouraged by the audition process. He explained: “It was heartbreaking to see people being turned down for doing something so vulnerable, I just thought ‘it’s not fun to say no to people’ and so Sing Now was born.”

Sing Now is a non-audition group and performance is optional, allowing members to get what they want from the community without any pressure. Each rehearsal lasts two hours, with members allowed to decide for themselves which voice they can sing in.

“I completely fell in love with the community aspect of Sing Now”

Although the evening sessions are structured around learning new music and preparing for gigs, Sing Now is a community where singing has almost become secondary. Jack explained: “I completely fell in love with the community aspect of Sing Now, when we started seven years ago our slogan was ‘singing is for everyone’ and that hasn’t changed.

“The buzz of being in a choir, meeting your friends every week, working for a gig and learning new songs is something everyone should experience. I love how we have young people from eighteen and eighty years that create these most unlikely friendships. .

Sing Now attracts people from all walks of life, from stay-at-home parents to people with intense office jobs. Members of three generations of the same family show up at the Southampton session every week. Jack commented: “It’s lovely because I know how much music means to me and my family, they’re not musicians at all – my dad is a taxi driver – but music is a huge part of our lives. lives, she’s on all the time. My dad and I used to play Pop Master on BBC Radio 2 every day.”

Sing Now meets in Basingstoke, Fareham and Southampton
Sing Now meets in Basingstoke, Fareham and Southampton

One of Sing Now’s oldest members was Ray, 82, who joined the Southampton band after the death of his wife. When he died a few years ago, the band raised money for a memorial plaque at the Mayflower Theatre.

Jack said: “When he first arrived he was sitting there with his arms crossed and I wondered if he would hold on, but soon he was there half an hour early, staying late for me. He was an integral part of the band, he was almost part of the furniture, I would joke that he had been to more rehearsals than me because he knew the band so well.

“He passed away a few years ago, and his sister called me to say he wanted to be buried in his Sing Now clothes and that was the biggest compliment – not just for me but for the whole community. I think that shows what Sing Now is pretty much, he was never going to join a classical band or audition.”

A week before the country’s lockdown, Sing Now performed a sold-out show at the Mayflower Theater with other choirs, including Love Soul, as part of the collaborative show ‘One Sound’. Jack said: “In March 2020 there was a whisper of this virus and some people were saying that in London people were closing events that have more than 10 people. We had 600 singers and more than 2,000 people in the public.

“We were watching the news every minute but we just had to go. Then a week later we went into lockdown.”

“Singing has been completely neglected by the government during COVID”

When the coronavirus hit, all three Sing Now groups were moved online, memberships were cut in half, and the future looked bleak. Jack said: “At this point Dan and I have been running choirs for over a decade but to think that we might have to shut down Love Soul, Sing Now and everything else was horrible, but it made me crossed my mind.”

Immediately after the lockdown, members implemented a ‘phone a friend’ system to ensure everyone was safe and healthy, especially when some members were hospitalized with the virus. The choir’s sessions have moved online to Facebook, with 70 to 100 people tuning in each week.

However, as the coronavirus progressed and restrictions were eased, that came as no relief to Jack – or any other choirmaster in the country. Jack said: “Singing has been completely neglected by the government.

“We were watching thousands of people go into a football stadium and sing along, but we could only have six people in a room. With 300 members, it was a bit of a kick in the teeth.”

Sing Now initially returned with outdoor rehearsals and social distancing, Jack said: “I was amazed, people just showed up even when it was raining and the grass was so long we all got bitten It was so British.

“The hardest thing during this time was constantly refreshing the government website and it was telling us professionals can do whatever they want, I’m a professional but it’s a community choir so it wasn’t classified like essential. Celebrities could rehearse without a mask but Sing Now has a community of almost 300 people who really needed that connection, couldn’t sing. It was so awful.”

Towards the end of 2021, the band resumed indoor rehearsals and Sing Now recently celebrated its seventh anniversary. Jack said: “It’s so great to be back, even though COVID is still here, it’s now a calculated risk, isn’t it? We’ve adapted and I really appreciate it. more culture now after the forced break.

“I understand what Sing Now means to people now, and what it means to me, three nights a week I can sing for two hours and have fun and laugh with people. After two hours of singing and dancing at the top of your lungs, it’s hard not to feel better afterwards.”

Sing Now is currently gearing up for its “busiest year ever” with performances scheduled at Southampton Pride, Dogstival and even the Hampshire County Show. You will find information about Sing Now performances and how to join. online here.

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