Why Do We Sing in Choirs?

Canterbury Women's Choir in performance
International research of motivations to participate in choirs and singing groups.

A new study on choirs from the UK has quickly gone international, with responses from choirs in 33 countries. The study, originating from Canterbury Christ Church University, asks why people sing in choirs in normal circumstances and what the experience of singing has been during the Covid-19 pandemic. If choirs have not rehearsed during this period, the study asks what aspects have been missed most by participants and we are also interested in exploring the experience of online rehearsals. The aim of the project is to develop an understanding of the most important aspects of singing in choirs and groups for participants of all ages in a wide range of cultures. 

The Question of Choirs

I am a freelance singing teacher and choral director and I work as a lecturer and associate researcher at Canterbury Christ Church University. I am involved with various choirs and singing groups in institutional and community settings and I also manage and direct three female choirs in Canterbury. These choirs perform on a regular basis and were scheduled to participate in various events and tours in 2020. Throughout the pandemic, the majority of choir members continued to attend weekly rehearsals online (using Zoom), despite the loss of all events, tours and dates in the diary and for me, this made me question why they were participating in the choirs – I started to suspect that the various concerts and trips might not be as important to members as they were perhaps to me….

My co-researcher, Lynn and I were increasingly intrigued by the question of motivation for choir members as groups continued to meet online throughout the pandemic, and decided to explore why people sing in choirs generally. We wanted to represent the experience of all kinds of choirs and singing groups in an attempt to develop some sense of understanding of the experience from the perspective of those involved.  We also felt that it would be very important to examine the impact of the pandemic on choirs around the world and the experience of participants in various contexts and cultures. We wanted to explore what aspects of activities they most missed and what role online rehearsals and recordings have played for choirs during this period. 

Online Survey for Choirs

We have devised an online survey for choir members which also features an invitation for case study volunteers to contact us and share their ‘choir stories’. Any choir or singing group can participate in the study by sharing the link to the online survey with choir members. The survey should take no more than 12 minutes to complete and all responses are anonymous. The survey can be accessed using this link: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/QBQLWVS

The survey was originally sent out to various UK and international choir contacts. These contacts then shared the study with their networks and various national and international organisations also became involved in sharing the project, including the IFCM, ACDA, Choral Canada, Chorus America, ChoirPlace and the RSCM. We realised that something quite special was happening and decided to create French and Portuguese versions of the survey to reach more participants. We are also looking for case study volunteers who will be interviewed to further explore the questions covered in the survey and share individual choir stories. If you require more details about the study, or would like to participate in the study as an anonymous case study volunteer, please contact: [email protected] 

The Response So Far

So far, we have more than 1250 survey responses from choir members in 33 countries – as far flung as Hungary, Argentina, Iceland, Kenya, Poland, Oman, Israel and Hong Kong. We also have 67 case study volunteers from 16 different countries. We recently extended the survey for a further 3 months as we are continuing to hear from choirs around the world.

The case study interview and survey responses so far reveal a truly global community of choirs with shared understandings of practice, repertoire, rituals and goals. From community choirs to choral societies, college and youth choirs, church choirs, rock choirs, jazz choirs, workplace choirs and even tuneless choirs, there is a real sense of these activities bringing enjoyment, fulfilment and meaning in people’s lives. The most common word used to express the experience of singing with others in this study so far is JOY and case study accounts identify the sharing of one’s singing voice with others along with the need to listen to each other as contributory factors in creating this uniquely moving shared activity. 

The Next Stage

We now feel that we have a responsibility to represent and share the experience of participants in the study and while we will be publishing the study findings in due course in relevant journals, we also aim to develop an online platform where we will share the choir stories. In addition, participants from Kenya, France, Portugal, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Croatia and Argentina have so far agreed to provide authentic guides to traditional songs from each country including explanations, translations, dances and pronunciations which we will compile and share as a resource for choirs. We also plan to establish a podcast on the theme of ‘choir stories’ which will feature the experience of choir members, directors, managers, organisations, composers and others involved in the wonderful world of choirs.

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