Posted In: Blog
If you were already a member of ChoirCommunity in May last year, you probably received an e-shot from us with news about a project we were working on to investigate the true provenance of the many of the unattributed songs which we have arranged and published from the African continent.
We have continued to work on this with Umoya Creations, a South-African charity set up to bring healing, education and reconciliation to people affected by Apartheid, set up and run by the International Percussionist, Composer and Workshop Leader, Eugene Skeef.
It has been a fascinating journey of discovery and we are very excited to announce the partnership with Umoya Creations which has come out of the work. Firstly though, a little bit of background…
As people involved with music for their livelihoods it surely follows that we should also value the music we use at the highest level – and by extension all those involved in writing it.
It is therefore somewhat disappointing when we hear about events and music leaders trying to get away with obtaining the music they use without paying the proper price for it.
ChoirCommunity is a digital download music site so we rely on trust more than most places to ensure that our rights owners, composers and arrangers get the appropriate recognition and reward for the work they do when our music is sold.
We are sure (and are extremely grateful) that the vast majority of our customers recognise this and buy the correct number of ‘copies’ (really licences) of our music to cover the number of singers using our arrangements, but it has been brought to our attention that a recent event ignored this and clearly tried to get away without paying for the appropriate licences, even after having been alerted once.
The system which we have for music licencing in this country which by nature must rely on trust – and is therefore in reality easy to cheat – can only work if the consequences of abusing that trust are serious. For too long an attitude of ‘laissez-faire’, allowing this to take place without any consequences has enabled this to continue.
We believe that only by calling this out and not looking the other way when it happens can change this and enable the choral music scene to thrive.
So this is something of a call to action (and a request for a discussion) about a matter we feel strongly about. We would like to point out that ChoirCommunity is not itself a ‘money-making’ venture. In the five years since we started, we have not paid salaries to anyone involved in setting up or running the site – only royalties to the musicians who submit the arrangements which are available to purchase and download.
We should also state that the issue which was brought to our attention has been put right and the proper licences paid for, but we feel it is still a sign that we, as a community, are not doing enough to ensure that music, the lifeblood of our livelihoods, is not valued as it should be.
Hi ChoirCommunity, Gitika here!
Last week I got a little ping in my inbox to say someone in our Choir Community had bought one of my Christmas titles, and for some reason I had a little sneaky look to see who it was and found Kari!
I got in touch and found out that Kari Olsen-Porthouse and I did the same Performing Arts degree at the same college…. and possibly slept in the same room in the same hall of residence! I am (a little!) older and was there a few years before but was completing my Secondary Music PGCE at the same time Kari did her degree.
Piers, Craig and I have been thinking about doing some sort of special series of blogs where we introduced some of the other wonderous choir leaders who have signed up and joined the website. This felt like the ideal opportunity to let you know two things – not only is it never too early to think about Christmas Repertoire and to publish the first of our MEET OUR CHOIRCOMMUNITY MEMBERS blogs .
I am going to let Kari introduce herself and also say a big belated happy birthday to her! I am particularly excited by her Liberty Belles who rehearse in Kari’s friend’s Hair Salon
Take it away Kari!
It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no denying any big royal event here in the UK is a great excuse to do some singing, preferably loudly and in public. Many choirs are making plans of one sort or another to mark the day by taking part in street parties, singing festivals and concerts. Even the BBC has got in on the act with an ‘X-Factor’ style hunt to find a choir to sing at a royal concert at Windsor castle on 7 May.
Well, it’s been quite a year hasn’t it? Despite all the challenges for so many people in 2022, there was still plenty to be thankful for at ChoirCommunity so we thought we’d look back on a few highlights of the year. We hope you enjoy looking through them and sparking some positive memories of the last 12 months!
2022 Was The Year We……
We have noticed a lot of discussion recently about the complexities and difficulties around music licensing and copyright. Many choir leaders find this a very confusing and frustrating subject area, which is not surprising given the amount of seemingly conflicting information which is out there and how prone that information is to interpretation.
At ChoirCommunity, helping to solve this problem is one of the most important objectives we have sought to achieve since starting up in 2018. We wanted to make it easier for talented choir leaders and musicians to legitimately share the arrangements they have written with other choirs, while also making the proper purchasing of great choral music easier and more affordable for as many singing groups as possible around the world.
In order to do this, we have taken on many of the complexities and costs involved in ensuring the music available on our website is fully licenced and that all the artists and rights-owners get properly rewarded for their work. We have also tried to explain as clearly as possible how the licencing of music works and how we have set things up at ChoirCommunity (for example in our FAQ page), but I’m aware that we have never actually explained everything all in one place, so here goes!
If you have the patience to read to the bottom, you should end up knowing everything you need to know about music licensing!
Despite the latest boom in Sea Shanty interest they have been a regular feature of the folk session that our resident soprano, Laura Featherstone has taken part in for many years. The annual Sea Shanty festival in Falmouth is also a very popular event every year, so they have always been big business down in Cornwall. However it’s fair to say that the same favourites are sung often, so Laura thought she would try and create something new!
This is worth a complete blog in its own right as it is such a lovely story with one of our own at the centre of it. Sam Burns is currently taking a sabbatical / on semi-retirement building a school in Portugal, but still managed to find time to help a little girl in Pennsylvania, with the help of his Bristol MAN Chorus, some sea shanties and a special lullaby….
Photograph is of the Bristol Gasworks Choir by James Barke
The first time I learned songs in unaccompanied harmony by ear was at a “Sweet Soul Sisters” Bristol workshop in the early 1990s. I remember feeling my musical brain being challenged in a new and exciting way – trying to remember intervals by feel rather than counting the lines on a stave, noticing how the five parts of the song fitted together and letting the notes slowly seep into my brain – without the help of a musical score. And I was moved to tears by the sensation of singing in harmony with a large group of people. Two members of the Sweet Soul Sisters (Dee Jarlett and Ali Orbaum) later started the now legendary Gasworks Choir teaching large numbers of people in this same way, by ear.
Community Choirs come in all sizes and shapes and the diversity across these variations is wonderful. When my own choir started out around 12 years ago we majored on singing quite straightforward songs with repeated verses, things we could grasp fairly quickly yet were very effective and fun to do. Songs from the African continent, Folk songs and Spirituals fitted that category. And we still love singing those sorts of songs, it’s really the core of what we’re about.
The wealth of classical choral repertoire has a reputation for being beyond the reach of most Community Choirs but we have over the years found this not to be the case, and if chosen carefully and taught in the same way we learn all our pieces, there is much pleasure to be had in dipping some toes in the waters of this great rich ocean.
Or, “How an Ageing Choirleader Briefly Sullied His Hands and Became a Spokesman for All The World’s Downtrodden Workers”
Day to Day
Overall, it’s actually not bad. A lot of the men comment that this is one of the best warehouse gigs in the west. Nightshift (10pm-6am) pays just over £300/week after tax, which is top whack apparently. (Yay….. 😉
Plus, there’s many fewer Orange Jackets on the night shift – the line managers. Us green jackets distrust ’em, though they’re mainly ok really. Here, as everywhere, the odd person who was clearly bullied at school & now finds themselves in a position of power is easy to spot, but happily there are few.
Most importantly, though we work hard non-stop. There is no-one constantly pushing us to work even faster, & there’s time to do the job properly. That’s a game-changer in any crap job. Our manager paused as he passed last night, cast a critical eye & said. ‘Nice pallet that’. I swelled with pride… -”Nice? – Moana Pallet Lisa mate!” He laughed & moved on. A good moment.
Or, ‘How an Ageing Choirleader Briefly Sullied His Hands, & Became a Spokesman for All the Worlds Downtrodden Workers.”
You clock in/out at the door. A second late equals 15 mins docked pay & a bollocking. Ant-like & vaguely 2m apart, our feisty platter of misfits files down to the evening briefing.
Good news! Last night we were (again) the most productive shift of the 24hrs …and the lowest sickness rate. We scoff of course, but are secretly proud. Night shift represents. Bays assigned, the teams head out.
Or, “How an Ageing Choirleader Briefly Sullied His Hands and Became a Spokesman for All The World’s Downtrodden Workers”
Monday March 16, approx 4.30pm, the PM proclaimed, ‘No More Non-Essential Gatherings’.
Like so may others, my wife & I spent a few minutes in shock, carefully weighing & re-weighing his words before realising that, yes, this was indeed the end of all choral activity for the foreseeable, & thus also of our income. I sent a mail cancelling that evening’s rehearsal, then went down there anyway, just in case anyone didn’t get the message in time. Once back home, we immediately began job hunting.
By 1am I had applied for every available delivery/warehouse job within 20 miles of our house. (Coz we figured that parcels & nursing would be the only sectors working in the coming months). Adel chased up social care.
By Weds 18th, we both had several offers, which was just as well, coz that was the day that the school I worked in shut down. We chose the 2 options with hours that allowed us to both to work full time & perhaps cope with home schooling too.
On my first Sunday at university back in 1982 I attended an evening service at St Michael Le Belfry in York – it was specially for students to welcome them to the town and there was lots of singing. I noticed some particularly good harmonies emanating from the row behind (I’m not impartial to departing from the tune myself occasionally). At one point in the service we were encouraged to turn to the person behind or in front and welcome them, so I turned and was surprised to find that the source of these extra tenor lines was in fact the well known hymn writer Graham Kendrick, who was already a household name in contemporary church music circles even back then.
Move this on 38 years.… As part of my musical life I have the privilege of being musical director of Young Voices and I am always looking out for suitable songs for all the children’s choirs each year. It so happened that two totally unrelated friends wanted to introduce me to Graham and emailed me within days of each other encouraging us to meet, because my friends thought he had a song we should look at.
A message for Choir Leaders from Gitika @Choircommunity.net
Hi everyone. I wanted to say a bit about value, well-being and connection relating to us as choir leaders. In October 2019 just before the beginning of my Autumn Choir term my mum died very suddenly. I was in terrible shock and had really not appreciated the connection I had with my mum, who was old-school northern, but also very spiritual and ‘out of the box’ – she told me she loved me a tiny handful of times during my life and was ‘true to her tastes’ throughout hers (didn’t care for my voice, my original songs, but seemed quietly to like the choir work I did). But we were connected in music. When we were children the whole family sung close harmony together to a very high level and I found it impossible to contemplate standing in from of my beloved choirs when it felt like my spiritual umbilical chord had been ripped from me. Every song reminded me of my mum. I wailed every day for 95 days, had a day off and then wailed some more.
I contacted some of my community choir leaders and asked them for guidance. The feeling that struck me the most was that when grief is so deep, standing in front of a group being ‘inspirational’ is a tough and challenging call to make. A few colleagues said they had carried on through a loss because of financial concerns and in the end, just got so drained or ill they had to stop anyway. I had a wonderful head teacher colleague who told me unless my ‘well of well-being was full’ I would not be able to nurture others. This was my livelihood, but also I was aware that I could not do it if I had nothing to give. I had to trust the universe would provide; so I let all my choirs know and refunded all the fees (as I did not want to put a time limit on my grief). A few lovely souls told me to keep the term’s money and buy cake or do some composing. I had lots of support and messages from them too.
I was just beginning to feel a bit ok when another younger family member died very suddenly and then we were hit by this crazy virus which has been nagging at us all since the New Year. There has naturally been a lot of panic and anxiety from many choir leaders due to fear of no income and mixed feeling about letting so may people down, and because we are in the job of connecting people – that is what we do. It is natural that our first thoughts would be to how we are going to get our online choirs on board. We at Choir Community offered a free session to sing-along on Friday evening (Saturday morning down-under). To be honest, I was a little cynical that there was some ‘jumping on the band wagon’ going on but Craig and Piers moved forward with such love and passion that it has become (for want of a better word at this time) infectious. When we piloted it earlier in the week and I watched Craig conducting on my computer screen, as I sang along I shed a little tear, it was unexpectedly moving. Already choir leaders are feeding back that the online sessions they have had with their choirs have been really uplifting.
But you don’t have to start right now! My feeling is, even though there is panic about how the bills will be paid, we all have to make sure we are ready to inspire, and after all the shock, you might need some time to get your ‘well of well-being’ topped up. You might yourself need a couple of weeks of self-isolation, self-meditation, time with your nearest and dearest, cooking, singing along to your favourite song on the cd (what I have been doing) before you start the baby steps, or humungous strides forward into the next part of our singing adventure in whatever form it takes. I am off to my first on-line ‘stitch and bitch’. Crocheting anyone? Take care
Love Gitika x
Since launching ChoirCommunity at the start of 2018, one of the things we’ve continued to ask ourselves is “what kind of website are we?”, or perhaps more specifically, “what kind of website are we striving to be?”. On a superficial level, we are simply another digital marketplace for choir music, bringing choirs on one side and arrangers and composers on the other side together. From the start however, we wanted to ensure we were more than just a ‘Wanna-Be Ebay’ for choirs. As choir leaders and singers ourselves, we wanted to project something of the experience and enjoyment of what being part of a choir means to people and ensure that all our members shared that experience as well. In order to do that, we knew that we had to maintain the highest standards of quality and variety with every piece of music we offered and present it in a way which is accessible and enjoyable to browse for.
That is the primary reason why we have retained a relatively small and ‘curated’ library of music and group of submitting artists. We will continue to grow both, but always with a view to ensuring that what you can find on ChoirCommunity will always be interesting, satisfying, enjoyable and above all, great to sing!
Jane Edwardson approached us last year with a song called ‘Dark Water’ with a view to seeing if it was something we might be able to publish. We immediately recognised that the song was all of the things described above, as well as carrying a important message about hope and friendship. As an experienced choir leader and arranger of 30 years, it also helped that Jane had a large portfolio of other great arrangements which we could also have a look at (Watch this space!).
Jane has written some more detail about the song and why she arranged it for her choir below. We hope you enjoy it and give the arrangement a try!
We have had another busy year at ChoirCommunity and like last year, thought it was worth taking a break to have a look back over the last 12 months and appreciate how far we’ve come – with the help of all our fantastic community of choirs of course!
In last year’s blog, we did this month by month but this year I thought I’d group our highlights into different themes, so here goes……
As a choir leader or committee member, what percentage of your overall costs do you budget for the music you use and perform? This is a question that I’ve been able to ask quite a number of times over the last couple of years (we also ran a survey asking this very question before we launched ChoirCommunity) and the answer has often been quite interesting, if sometimes a little questionable.
…Because the answer is quite often a variation of either “I don’t know”, or “as little as possible” or even “we don’t really have a budget for music”.
Even though I grew up in the late 60s and early 70s the Goon show formed an important part of my childhood. The original shows had long been recorded and were definitely of the previous generation (I was more of a Goodies fan and later Monty Python of course), but they were still played regularly on Radio 4 and we had a Goon Show script book in the library at choir school which my friend David Fisk and I would avidly read through trying all the voices.
One of my very earliest memories is my Dad putting on his 78 record of the Ying Tong Song and singing along syllable perfect, there was also “Bluebottle Blues” and “I’m Walking Backwards for Christmas”, played endlessly till the groove was worn out.
I was reading “Silly Verse for Kids” from a very early age, which I loved. Then my uncle gave me the “Book of Milliganimals” for my 7th birthday, and that sealed the deal. I was officially a lifelong Spike fan, memorising most of the poems and re-reading the Bald Twit Lion more times than I could say. When something you read makes you laugh out loud when you are on your own until it hurts you remember those times fondly. The concept of monkeys hanging in the sky waiting years for the trees to reach them resonated with me like nothing else, and it has been wonderful to discover as I grew that many other people feel the same about this unique imagination. Spike Milligan has been and probably will be the single most influential comic mind of our time and possibly any other, and it would be a brave person who could argue otherwise given the weight of evidence that supports this claim.
They say you should never meet your heroes but I very nearly did. In the late 80s I was starting out as a professional musician and often sang around London churches building up a list of contacts and deputy lists – one of these places was in Knightsbridge where they often hosted celebrity weddings. So I found myself as one of the quartet booked to be the choir at the wedding of Bill Wyman and Mandy Smith, complete with TV news cameras and more paparazzi than could fit in the churchyard. Normally you just turn up at these occasions, sing the hymns and a Rutter anthem, no one says anything and you are ushered out of the vestry door unceremoniously. This was a little different as apparently they were so taken by the “singing” of the choir that we were invited to the reception at the Grosvenor House Hotel Park Lane. Well we weren’t going to turn an offer like that down and found ourselves in a melee of celebrity. Literally everyone you ever heard of was there, and we had to explain ourselves quite a lot. I was sat next to Jimmy Perry and David Croft (writers of Dad’s Army) and across the table from Jeff Banks the fashion designer, who was very friendly as I recall.
Suddenly there was a commotion and everyone looked over to where the fuss was – Spike had arrived bringing with him his wedding present for Bill – a zimmer frame. Of course it brought the house down in the same way that his infamous outburst about Prince Charles at the award ceremony would in later years. All this time later I’m not sure why I hadn’t plucked up courage to say hello. I think I started offering peanuts around awkwardly and Kim Wilde took one, but that was as close as I got.
In 1998 “On The Ning Nang Nong” was voted the Uk’s most popular comic poem of all time. There are musical versions, including one for an Australian kids TV show, but recently I thought this really deserves a proper choral treatment, so here it is; along with settings of “There Are Holes In The Sky” and “I’ve Never Felt Finer”, both among my personal favourites. We are so very honoured that Spike’s family have agreed to an exclusive publishing deal with us here at ChoirCommunity so this is the only place you will find these settings. They have also never been performed as a set so you have the chance to present a World Premiere if you act fast! Click here to preview the arrangements.
…and if they go down well you might be getting news of possible additions to the set – as the great man once said – “And there’s more my friends where that came from!”
Craig McLeish – September 16th 2019
A bold claim, I hear you cry, and you would be right. But my boldness is based on experience and some tangible facts. We have heard many positive things recently about the individual health benefits from singing in a choir. Lung capacity increases, endorphins and feel-good chemicals flood the bloodstream. The shared experience and fellowship derived from choir membership has incalculable power to fight loneliness, stress, anxiety and depression. The list goes on. but I’m certain that many of you have been surprised at how much we can raise for charities, both local and abroad, simply by doing what we love and asking a tiny bit from those who hear us?
Milton Keynes Community Choir are a wonderful bunch of people. In 2008 they didn’t know each other at all. Since then they have raised money on a regular basis through raffles and concerts, and pop up “Sing” events, either in the Shopping Centre or wherever they will have us! There are many local charities who have benefitted from us simply performing what we were going to do anyway, and at a concert they get the proceeds from the raffle, the programme and refreshment sales, which often amounts to around £1000 a time.
Often disastrous world events take hold of the media and you can’t avoid the feeling that we are very lucky to live where we are, so the focus is on the relief aid that is going on and the little we can do to put something towards that massive need. In our city there are a number of places that let you turn up and shake a bucket or two but you need to ask first, and if they know you already it’s a bit easier. Last week the devastation of Cyclone Idai in Mozambique Malawi and Zimbabwe dominated the airwaves and we felt we had to get out there and do something. We had an hour and a half at the station from 5.30 to 7pm – when a lot of commuter trains come in, and some people (not all!) react very positively towards others who have gone out of their way to ‘brighten’ the end of their journey! The station has the added bonus for us of having a rather good acoustic, even in the corridor where we were hustled!
Then what to sing? Something related to the area we are collecting for would seem to be a place to start. During our time as a Community Choir we have learnt versions of one or two simpler African songs where the parts repeat fairly often and new verses can be created with only a few word changes and sometimes a translation. Bambalela, Mambo Sawa Sawa, Homeless, Freedom is Coming, A Keelie Makolay, Ipharadisi, Maliswe are all good examples of this type of song and can all be found on our ChoirCommunity site. When we were singing the words “Strong winds destroy our homes – many dead tonight it could be you” from ‘Homeless’ there was certainly a real intensity about the moment!
There are other songs which aren’t African but are just as easy to pick up – Down In The River, Bring Me Little Water Sylvie, I’m Gonna Lift My Brother Up etc.
The following day after our little sing, our amazing chairperson who had taken all the cash home and counted it revealed it amounted to £850! One of our basses couldn’t make it but was clever enough to start a JustGiving page for others like himself that couldn’t be there in person – this too raised another £800 in a few days. A drop in the ocean compared to how much need there is out there, but a wonderful way to spend the early evening and some useful practice into the bargain! It struck me that if every choir in the country sang at their local centre or station once a week – how much could be raised? Write to us with your fund raising stories and if you want to be part of a BIG SING fundraiser one day let us know!
By the way, if you want to see a video of the MKCC giving it their all last week, find the Facebook ‘ChoirCommunity Supporters Group’ (Search for us on Facebook) and join our growing group!
One of the organisations we have teamed up with in 2018 is Young Voices. This made a lot of sense, mainly because Craig has been Musical Director of Young Voices since the year 2000, and his arrangements for school choirs have gone a long way towards the astonishing growth of the phenomenon that is YV.
Young Voices is the brainchild of one David Lewis, a former Glamorgan cricketer and entrepreneur who was appalled at the lack of singing at a Wales rugby match in 1992. He phoned 8 choirs before the next match, they all said yes, sang their hearts out and it was a huge hit. Soon after the first World Choir concert took place in Cardiff Arms Park with 10,000 singers accompanying Tom Jones, and a second event was led by the indomitable Shirley Bassey.
Lewis was spurred on to try a similar thing in America but for all sorts of reasons it flopped and he lost everything. Luckily a conversation with his friend Donald Woods, the South African journalist and anti-apartheid campaigner, pushed him back on course, and his tenacity resulted in a 6,500 strong children’s concert at Lansdowne Road in Ireland in 1996. The first UK series of 4 concerts was held the following year. Today the series is 24 nights long and will feature 160, 000 children from nearly 4000 schools.
At a time when school music seems to be on the decline Young Voices is providing a much needed service of quality music participation and education, culminating in a world class arena event where the children are the stars of the show. Those of you who have either taken your choir to be part of one of these events or if you are a proud parent of a performing child will know how special these nights can be.
We are proud that some of the YV back catalogue is exclusively available as a series of resource packs on ChoirCommunity and we plan to feature much more in the coming year. Just like the concerts these arrangements always seek to provide a memorable musical experience for those taking part. Backing tracks are high quality and medleys are skilfully designed to flow like a single piece. Find out for yourself by browsing the Young Voices page and watch out for more releases soon.
The 2019 season is now in full swing with concerts in the Sheffield Arena, Birmingham Arena, Manchester Arena and finishing up at the O2 in London for 7 dates! You can follow along with the excitement as it unfolds on facebook, twitter and other social media channels.
We’re all going to see a lot of retrospectives over the next few weeks, looking at 2018 from every perspective and point of view. Many of them I expect will have an element of negativity, given what we’ve been experiencing in politics, environmental issues and troubles of various sorts around the world.
So this is going to be an unrepentantly positive one! We’ve had a great first year at ChoirCommunity thanks to all of you who have supported us, signed up and given our arrangements a try. It’s not been without its challenges, but the experience of setting up a new digital service for choirs in 2018 has been a constantly joyous and rewarding one. As an occasionally grumpy businessman and IT professional, I have learned that choir leaders are some of the most positive, energetic and beguilingly lovely people on the planet – I guess you have to be to get the results you do out of your many choirs – and that has been an enormous factor in making our first year so enjoyable.
We have got some very exciting plans in the pipeline for 2019, but we’ll wait until the New Year to reveal them. For now, I thought I’d look back briefly on each month to show how far we’ve come in such a short space of time. I hope you enjoy the most positive review of 2018 out there!
Craig has written a personal piece for this week’s blog, providing an insight into his own musical journey. It is also published as a guest blog at Making Music here. We hope you enjoy it!
When I was trying to justify my existence as a music student I often suffered from crises of confidence. In talking to colleagues years later it is some comfort to learn that I wasn’t alone in thinking that everyone else was far more talented and that sooner or later I would be “found out”, apparently we all, (apart from a very few confidence ridden individuals) have thoughts about not really belonging where we find ourselves.
As a new start-up business trying something a bit different, much of our effort and thinking goes into finding ways of building our audience and generating awareness of our existence. In the modern world of connected devices and social media, this is in many ways easier than it used to be, but in some ways it is also more challenging, given the bewildering number of options available and the fact that we are now just one of millions of individuals and companies vying for your attention.
We left the first part of the story with some of the key ideas for ChoirCommunity in place, but plenty of challenges which still needed to be resolved.
How were we going to build a website which would attract choirs to visit and also be a full commercial platform for purchasing and downloading music? How were we going to attract other arrangers to join Craig so that we had a reasonable catalogue of titles to launch with? How were we actually going to get a high volume of rights-owned titles cleared for publishing without spending a fortune?
In the second part of a short series about our story so far, we explain how we answered these three questions and took the business from a basic idea to a tangible offering.