Thank you Linking Voices for a musical treat and a smile which lasted me long after the enthusiastic applause died away- from now on I will always think of you as "the Choir of a Hundred Hugs".
Going along to the Exeter Phoenix on a dank and chilly Saturday in early December 2010, I wondered if there would be much of a turn out. Surely most people would be heavily involved in preparations for Christmas and far too busy to make time for a concert by a choir of potentially frail old folks run by something unglamorously entitled "Age Concern"?
How mistaken could I have been. By the time I managed to make it into the auditorium, more seating was being brought out and mutterings of "it'll be standing room only soon" could be heard. As I settled into my seat, notebook at the ready, I heard a voice behind me - "What's this, a Simply Red tribute band?!" Looking up I understood - a stage full of women wearing every shade of red, and even some in purple, jostled for space under the bright lights, joined by the smaller but always crucial male section, the men being slightly more soberly clad. The relaxed approach of the choir's leader, Vicky, allowed a friendly atmosphere to develop as seating problems were resolved and she prepared the singers for their first song; a tender rendition of "California Dreaming" which put a smile on my face lasting the rest of the afternoon and set the tone for a varied and most enjoyable concert, including plenty opportunity for audience participation. It didn't take much urging from Vicky before the Phoenix was humming with exciting vocal harmonies, not to mention Maori hand gestures.
Chatting with the singers afterwards, I experienced a full confirmation of my own experience of the multiple benefits to be had by anyone joining a community choir. Perhaps due to the particular "fifty plus" age range of the members of the Linking Voices choir, I heard several poignant stories of how the restorative experience of joining the choir had not only brought them safely through periods of serious sickness or bereavement, but also enriched their lives with a sense of belonging to a new "family". One member graphically described how her friend had seemed "small and shrunken and fearful"when she first came along. The best description I can offer today is "sparkling with fun and confidence" as she tells me of the difference the Linking Voices choir has made to life and how she now sings in three different choirs.
When asked if she could say what she gets out of the choir, their smiling leader Vicky told me:
"I can’t stop singing, I’ve always been singing and it keeps me healthy and happy and connected to people - I see people who've been looking at the ground, singing very quietly - if they're daring to sing at all - having been told since childhood they couldn’t sing - and suddenly they're standing on a stage dressed in bright red, singing out, with no piano accompaniment, feeling powerful with their voices and really enjoying themselves. I just love to see people grow in confidence, to see them coming out of their shells and just growing - and just having a really good time. And it's a two way street for me - I’ve made lots of new friends and as for the hugs, with hugs on the way in and hugs on the way out, I get a hundred hugs a day!"
Thanks to Meg Compton for her review