Together as a family of choirs the three ensembles in Canterbury (UK) share a sense of community with combined purpose and identity.
Tell us about this scholarship fund!
We’ve worked with other choirs to establish a music scholarship fund to provide financial support for young female musicians aged up to 18 years from the Canterbury area. You can find more about the fund here!
How did you make this happen?
Last year, we held an event called a ‘Celebration of Women and Music’ to establish the fund. We invited other female groups along to join us and in total there were more than 200 female performers on stage at the end. Each group performed separately and then together. It was a completely positive collaborative event with a clear shared goal and was utterly inspirational because of this. The event successfully launched the scholarship fund and we are now approaching this year’s concert!
Choir Name: Canterbury Girls’ Choir (CGC), Canterbury Ladies Choir (CLC), The Canterbury Voices (CV)
Location: Canterbury, Kent, UK
Style: Community / extra curricular and various styles and genres
Number of singers: CGC – 30, CLC – 45, CV -12
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How did you approach getting other choirs involved?
I work in various institutions and have lots of contacts in the local area so I simply reached out to groups I thought might like to be involved. It was a fantastic atmosphere and I think we are all more likely to consider collaborating further as a result. The key thing was to frame the whole thing as a celebration – coming together for a shared goal and really celebrating each other without any sense of competition or judgement.
I think sometimes in music we can be a little too protective of what we do – when actually we are all involved in something which should be shared and can be used to develop and strengthen communities.
How do your groups work together to build the fund?
We have always given concerts in aid of local causes and organisations. Increasingly now, we give concerts with shared fund raising goals to include our scholarship fund.
How do your choirs approach a new piece of music?
In each choir (all sing in either SSA or SSAA), I select the repertoire based on the needs of the concert diary and the tastes of the choir members which I conclude based on the songs they already enjoy and perform well. In rehearsals, we run through each part in sections before putting parts together. We take this approach as many members don’t read music.
What is something you do in rehearsals that surprises new members?
I do a lot of technical work with each group including extensive vocal warm ups and breathing exercises. These can surprise new members who are not used to breathing and singing exercises in rehearsals.
Can you provide a couple examples of your favorite technical exercises and include their effect?
We have many – mostly ascending and descending patterns, either legato or staccato and in crotchet or quaver patterns moving around the vocal range. One favourite is ascending and then thirds which we combine with some movement in the arms. Singers start with hands together (as if in prayer) in front of the chest and gradually extend the arms out hands away from each other as the thirds ascend, pausing with the arms fully outstretched before bringing the hands back together gradually as the thirds descend. This helps to even tone across the vocal range. See an example of this exercise in this Art of Teaching YouTube video.
An emotional moment you had in a performance?
There are many emotional moments – mine largely occur when I look across the choirs and each member is entirely connected to the music and the moment and a specific kind of energy radiates from them. For choir members there are certain pieces which the groups connect to and we are also involved in events such as remembrance concerts which bring their own emotional connections for all involved.
A turning point in the life of your choir?
Every year brings turning points. We are always looking forward to new horizons, new challenges and with each one we grow as a family and as individual choirs. Each group is involved in international partnership projects and these represent important development opportunities.
Lightheartedness is at the center of everything we do – how can you sing if it’s not fun?
A challenging performance and how you faced it.
One of the ladies husband’s passed away and we performed at his funeral. This was very challenging for everyone, but as ever, we relied on each other as a team and together we made it through. We also performed a programme of songs from the First World War in various events we did in 2018, including performances for dementia patients. These were very emotional and challenging for everyone but the goal and the music gave the focus we all needed to get through.
A favorite inspirational quote
If you’re not singing your own part you are singing someone else’s – don’t worry, just sing.
Can you tell us more about what this quote means to you? How and when do you use it with your choirs?
Well, I think it originated in the early days of the ladies choir when some of the members (many don’t read music) were intimidated by the prospect of singing something wrong and so were quite insecure about really singing out with confidence, waiting for other to sing first – this led to some lack of real commitment in the tone, especially in the middle and lower voice parts. So, at some point I simply suggested that if they were singing something and it sounded ‘okay’ then they were either singing their part (which they usually were) or one of the other parts.
I suppose it was just a way of encouraging them to simply have a go and not be worried about being wrong. There were some raised eyebrows because I think some more experienced members thought I was suggesting they could sing anything – this is not the case, and I have very high standards with all of the choirs, but I find the idea of individuals being worried to sing out in any of my rehearsals in case they are wrong very depressing. Needless to say, on the whole, members are singing the correct notes, at the right time and in full voice – they just need to know that its okay to have a go really.
A favorite pieces for each choir & why
Canterbury Ladies’ Choir – ‘You’ll Never Walk’ Alone – Rogers and Hammerstein, arr. Mann
Something very powerful takes over as we sing this and individuals appear to grow.
Canterbury Girls’ Choir – ‘The Water of Tyne’ – Michael Neaum
This is beautifully written and interesting for each part. Every generation of the choir prefers this to any other piece.
The Canterbury Voices – ‘Overture to the Marriage of Figaro’ – Mozart arr. Howard Cable
This one is a concert favourite and is great fun!
Something you do with your choirs that others might find bizarre or strange!
We chant the words and vocalise the notes on lip trills.
Any annual traditions with your choirs?
We have a range of fixed annual events – the Girls’ Choir always have their own event in the Spring term which involves lots of them performing instrumental or vocal solos; the Ladies’ Choir always performs at the local hospital and a care home at Christmas and we join the local Salvation Army to sing carols in the street in aid of the local Christmas appeal each year. In addition, we have an annual end of year concert in the same village church every July which is always wonderful with standing room only! Of course, the scholarship fund is also now an annual event and each of the choirs has trips or partnership events every year.
Dr Kerry Boyle is a singing teacher, choral director, lecturer, researcher and author. She works with singers and choirs in various institutional and community settings and manages partnership and collaborative projects with choirs and ensembles in the UK, France and Holland.