Joint Force Singers, the twelve-month choral collaboration between Westminster Music Library and Westminster Armed Forces, started on a high note last Saturday morning, as 30-or-so determined choir members braved the rain to attend its inaugural rehearsal. Young and old alike were joined in the Guards Chapel (the Royal Military Chapel) of Wellington Barracks, united by a love of music, to commence the year-long project. Since the project’s inception almost a year ago, a generous grant from the Community Covenant Grant Scheme and a lot of hard work have turned the dream into a reality. After much planning, publicity and recruitment, it was a joyous moment when our choir met for the first time and the music-making began.
Our singers come from all walks of life, although many joined the choir having already attended one of Westminster Music Library’s many concerts or sing-alongs which happen regularly on weekday evenings. Others were recruited after reading a press release, or even seeing a poster whilst walking around London! The multiplicity of backgrounds encompassed in our choir shows most clearly that music, and in particular, singing, has great power to unite. As choir member Rowena Heale told West End Extra,
“It’s all about singing great songs and meeting new people in Westminster.”
There are still a few spaces to fill in the choir and anyone is welcome to join for free who would be interested in this exciting project.
The morning began with Tim Heale, London Garrison Welfare Officer and member of the Joint Force Singers Steering Group, introducing the choir to some of those who would be leading the project: Ruairi (Musical Director), Felicity (Project Officer) and Helene (Accompanist). Ruth Walters, choir founder and Westminster’s Music Services Co-ordinator, was unfortunately unable to attend but Jon from Westminster Music Library was present to document the morning.
After Tim’s welcome, the choir launched straight into rehearsal with great vigour. Despite the blustery rain coming down outside, Ruairi’s enthusiasm was infectious and his wide range of singing exercises soon got us all warmed up both vocally and physically! With Ruairi at the helm, this is sure to be no “stuffy” choir, as many choir members commented during the tea break.
“Ruairi isn’t like other conductors,” noted one experienced singer, “he really has a way of making rehearsal fun.”
We are indeed fortunate to have such talented musicians leading the rehearsals. Accompanist Helene has studied piano accompaniment at one of London’s most prestigious conservatoires, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, while Project Officer Felicity Hayward is herself an experienced singer and project leader. With such an accomplished team to steer the choir, we anticipate high-quality music-making to be associated with the Joint Force Singers’ from the very beginning.
Ruairi continued rehearsal with the familiar ‘My bonnie lies over the ocean’, but if anyone in the choir thought they knew it already, they’d certainly never done it like this before! Ruairi had the choir sitting and standing every time a word began with “B”, and clapping on every “M”. I can’t imagine what a casual observer may have thought, had they happened to see this group of singers standing and clapping at seemingly random moments, giggling away the whole time! While the game may have appeared silly, its fruit was evident as soon as we moved on to the next song, ‘Nanuma’, a Ghanaian round. By getting us to move together in ‘My bonnie…’, Ruairi had instilled a sense of togetherness in the newly-assembled choir, and as a result they learned the new song in no time, with beautiful results. It was clear that Ruairi’s directing technique produced incredible results in no time – and the choir had fun, too.
We are privileged and grateful to meet in the beautiful Guards Chapel, and if anyone, regardless of singing experience or ability, would like to join us, our next couple of rehearsals are as follows:
- 12 September, 10.30am-12.00pm, Guards Chapel
- 19 September, 10.30am-12.00pm, Westminster Music Library
An interactive rehearsal and workshop will also be happening on Saturday 3 October at 10.30am at Westminster Music Library: a perfect opportunity to drop in and see what the Joint Force Singers are all about. A number of high-profile concerts are planned over the course of the year, the first being on Tuesday 15 December at 6.00pm at Westminster Music Library.