Meet Our ChoirCommunity Members (Ep. 2) – Vanessa Young

June 9, 2024 - By 

Welcome to a rather belated second entry in our series of blogs focusing on some of the fantastic choir leaders who have signed up to ChoirCommunity (the first was very nearly a year ago with Kari Olsen-Porthouse).

For this second edition we are shining a light on Vanessa Young, who I met online at a Zoom conference hosted by Making Music. Vanessa put some lovely words about ChoirCommunity on the chat during the Zoom so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to ask if she’s be interested in contributing to our blog.

Here is the brilliant result, so take it away Vanessa!

My name is Vanessa and I have been passionate about singing since I was a child. I came from a musical background with a drummer father (he was in a concert party during the war) a pianist mother and aunt and a grandfather who was a song-writer. My mother adored classical music, especially Handel, but it was my father’s music that I was particularly drawn to – jazz standards – from Oscar Peterson to Gershwin.

In my early 20s after training to be a teacher with a specialism in music, friends and I formed a folk/rock acoustic band called Sky (yes – we got there first!). Then classical music drew me back via a range of choral societies and chamber choirs. (I still sing in two chamber choirs today).  In the late 90s, my partner and I took over the village Christmas choir. There was demand from some of the singers for something more regular during the year so the ‘Adisham Occasional Singers’ was born! We were a group of about 12 and rehearsed in our sitting room which we eventually outgrew! At that point in 1999, ‘The Eclectics’ was formed. It was very informal and we only met about once a month, doing occasional concerts in the church.

We later became The Eclectics Community Choir, our name reflecting our repertoire which includes a wide range of genres – gospel, folk, jazz standards and music from around the world, mostly acapella and ethnic songs often sung without music. Although based in Adisham which is a small village, we now attract singers from all over east Kent.

I’ve always been committed to the notion of an ‘all-comers’ choir – meaning that there are no auditions, and anyone who is prepared to join in with enthusiasm and commitment is welcome (no one is ever turned away!). Some members read music, but many do not. We pride ourselves on achieving a surprisingly good standard!

We’ve been through some difficult times. My partner sadly died in 2015, but I was determined to carry on, and the love and support from members and audience alike carried me through. Lockdown was also a challenge of course but the discovery of ChoirCommunity at the beginning of 2021 changed things for good! Having struggled, like many choirs, with trying to run rehearsals through Zoom (me trying to bash out parts and never hearing the singers mouthing silently back at me), I suddenly realized how potentially useful learning tracks would be. Sending them out electronically along with the scores meant that singers could prepare for our rehearsals and learn at home. This was transformative – especially for those who did not read music! When at last we were allowed to come together in a friend’s garden for the first time in June 2021, we reaped the reward. Hurray! They could pretty much sing all the pieces we’d silently rehearsed to date! What joy there was in coming together and singing for the first time in 18 months!

I feel I have Choir Community and the strategy it allowed to thank for only losing one member during lockdown, and actually recruiting 10 new members! There are some fabulous arrangements, and the learning tracks are high quality. (What’s more, members are now responsible for their own music, so no unwieldy folders for someone to manage and store!). My summer holiday treat is browsing all the Choir Community arrangements for new repertoire for the coming season!
The choir is thriving at the moment. We now have a new and very good management team which has spread the load, and we have registered for Making Music’s Platform which means our new website is about to go live!

Questions For Vanessa

PIERS – How do you choose your repertoire each term? Do you do a mixture of old and new songs, contrasting styles and feels?

VANESSA – As our name suggests we aim to cover a wide range of repertoire – anything apart from classical in fact (there are many excellent classical choirs locally – I sing in two of them – so we wanted to do something different!). The different genres and therefore styles we have to adopt when singing provide a particular challenge for the group. I also aim to do many of the songs acapella (we only have an accompanist for concerts).

PIERS – Do you have a committee or are you organising everything yourself? Who organises and make the tea / refreshments??

VANESSA – When we started humbly in 1999, it was just me and my partner (who sadly died in 2015). Sometime after we started, we included someone to manage the money, a librarian, and someone to deal with members, but have always resisted having a formal committee. More recently however, I’ve added some management roles to spread the load. As most of our repertoire is electronic now (thanks to Choir Community), our librarian now oversees the electronic files and provides occasional hard copies if needed. The membership secretary role has expanded to include gathering and maintaining data as well as communicating with members. We also now have a concert organiser and someone who is developing our social media and marketing. They are an excellent group of people (we call ourselves a ‘management group’ rather than a committee!) and have helped me to feel very supported.

PIERS – What is the best piece of advice you would give to new choir leaders that you wish you had when you started?

VANESSA – Take the endeavour (rather than yourself!) seriously and aim for high standards, but always be positive and encouraging. For many years, as a member myself of a number of choirs, I got accustomed to being regularly berated – especially as a soprano as I was then. The impression was that while the tenors, for example, were ‘precious’ and had to be nurtured, sopranos were ten a penny! I deplore this. There is absolutely no benefit to getting cross during rehearsals, it simply makes people nervous and sours the atmosphere.
Allow people to have a go and make mistakes without fear of sanction, then repeat! Pick out some memorable riffs. Apart from giving singers a sense of the whole, it allows people to self-correct, builds confidence and avoids too much note-bashing.

PIERS – What are your favourite arrangements from ChoirCommunity and why?

VANESSA – I love many of the arrangements from ChoirCommunity which is why I keep coming back! Arrangers who have become favourites are Craig McLeish and Fiona Lander.

I’ve particularly liked Craig’s Spike Milligan songs which are so quirky and inventive (quite challenging – but worth it!), also Pokarare Ana, Mambo Sawa Sawa and Bambalela, (catchy, attractive and easy to sing) and this year we’re also doing his Wade in the Water (great harmonies) and the beautiful Crossing the Bar.

Fiona’s The Simple Things became a firm favourite and her Amazing Grace is genius! This year we’re also doing The Water of Tyne and I’ve got Peace Like a River.




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