Community choirs in good voice

IF you were to ask the average 20 or 30-something to list the things they got up to in their spare time, chances are going to parties or posting messages on Twitter and Facebook would figure prominently.

IF you were to ask the average 20 or 30-something to list the things they got up to in their spare time, chances are going to parties or posting messages on Twitter and Facebook would figure prominently.

However, perhaps the last place you would expect to see the fashion conscious iPod generation spending an evening is in a village hall singing with a choir, with its fusty connotations of churches and angelic boys and flowing robes.

But as Bob Dylan once sang “times, they are a-changing” and the choir has undergone a renaissance and revolution thanks to the growing numbers of community choirs forming around the UK.

The website British Choirs on the Net lists 2,550 choirs across the UK and this growth in popularity of singing groups has been reflected by TV shows such as The Choir on the BBC in which choirmaster Gareth Malone teaches children how to


And the trend seems to be catching on locally with a number of new community choirs starting up recently in the Yarmouth area.

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Lynn Kerslake, who started Acle Community Choir, has found her group has really struck a chord with residents in Acle and the surrounding communities following a recruitment drive to attract singers through the Mercury's village life pages.

Since holding the first meeting at the Methodist Hall in Acle on December 5, when 23 people turned up, the numbers had risen to 30 at the second meeting at the hall last Tuesday.

But the faces on show at the

meeting, led by choirmaster Felicity Derbyshire, bore witness to the changing demographic now attending choir meetings, particularly in the 20-30 age bracket.

It was the first time for mum-of-two Rachel Finnie, from Blofield, spurred on to give singing a try by the publicity in the press.

The 33-year-old has had acting experience and is principal of the Greasepaint Performance Academy in Norwich, which teaches drama skills to young children. However, she decided she wanted to develop her vocal range as well.

She said: “It has been something I wanted to do for ages and I thought singing is something that I wanted to develop. I saw the piece in the paper and I thought it was nice there was something locally.”

She believed the growth in choirs stemmed from a growing desire for a sense of community as society has become increasingly fragmented.

“I think that sense of community has been lost for such a long time and people now don't know their neighbours so it brings people together. It is about getting to know other people, enjoying yourself really and having fun with it, getting away from normal things like watching the telly,” said Mrs Finnie.

Roger Hayes, 57, from Acle, became interested in the choir through his singing at services at the village's St Edmund's Church.

He said: “It is about enjoying the community environment. Everyone has their own voice and individual voice. It enables people to bring their own voice to the community environment.”

Retired Wendy Reader, 60, from Stokesby, used to play classical guitar and sing when she was a schoolteacher in Devon, but said the singing side had waned, prompting her to seek a choir locally.

She said: “I think music generally is relaxing and fun and you get to meet new people by joining a choir.”

Aussie Mrs Kerslake decided to start Acle Community Choir, which meets at the hall on the first and third Tuesday of the month, after seeing The Choir TV show, but was surprised at how quickly membership had grown.

And the choir's members are clearly dedicated, travelling from as far afield as Ormesby, Filby, Rackheath and Salhouse despite the recent wintry weather.

The choir does not have religious affiliation and will sing anything from classical to contemporary pop tunes, such as Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water. Members can come from any faith, or none.

Although no concerts are planned, Mrs Kerslake did not rule out the possibility of them singing at music festivals in the Norwich and Yarmouth.

She added: “I am so delighted to see people's responses at the meetings. Everybody looks really happy at each one of the sessions we have had and say they have enjoyed it. I think it gives people the chance to meet other people and gives them more confidence and an outlet for singing locally.”

Meetings start at 7.30pm. Anyone interested in joining can contact Mrs Kerslake on 01493 751132.