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Change-making melodies: The choirs doing things a little differently

Music has the power to turn a bad day into a good one, with studies showing that listening to our favourite tunes can even release dopamine, the happy hormone, in our brains. But what if music could do more than get you through a break up? We spoke to four choirs who are doing just that . From rehabilitating prisoners, getting people into politics and supporting women’s rights, these music makers are giving a new definition to making change. 

Rebel Choir

The idea of getting into politics can be a daunting one. But Rebel Choir aims to get folks into politics and activism in a fun and less daunting way.

Founder of Rebel Choir, Rebecca Morris said “I wanted people who didn’t consider themselves ‘political’ but who enjoyed the community and singing to find a way into politics and revolutionary politics.”

Physically protesting and attending campaigns can be taxing and isn't for everyone. As Morris explains “for many, long campaign meetings and protests can be stressful and full on, particularly if you are suffering the effects of the very issue you are campaigning on.” Rebel Choir is an alternative form of protest but just as important as any other form of activism. It aims to be a safe space that's for all abilities.

Rebel Choir have worked with a number of events and for a number of causes mainly around women’s issues. “We started the choir with Focus E15 Mothers in the East End, so we were originally singing about housing, then a core group of us began to sing for demonstrations and events such as International Women’s Day and for precarious workers Unions such as UVW and IWGB.”

Peregrina EnChantica

Peregrina EnChantica is a vocal ensemble who use their music to support wildlife conservation, with a specific focus on birds. Founded in 2014 by Zory Burner, the choir use unique compositions to support the work of major nature conservation organisations and increase the opportunity for their supporters to experience artistic activities.

Zory sees “music as a universal language,” which makes it the perfect format to spread their message. For her, music has “irrefutable cultural significance and a unique ability to tell stories, ask questions, carry messages and raise awareness.”

For Zory, music is really about community, which is why the ensemble often perform in non traditional music venues: “We bring people together and engage with wider and diverse communities in the locations and environments where supporters of the cause meet - nature reserves.”  

Wildlife conservation is often seen as inaccessible but by using music to aid these important conversations, Peregrina EnChantica are able to bring different audiences to the conservation community.

Zory sums up  “It is the music we present and our progressive collaborations that have turned Peregrina EnChantica into musical ambassadors to this important cause.”

Choir With No Name

The Choir with No Name is raising awareness of the issue surrounding homelessness by using music to help people who are displaced. Through recitals of uplifting pop songs, weekly rehearsals and a sit down meal together, the Choir With No Name makes a big difference to the lives of homeless people across the UK.

Rachel Clare, fundraising and communications manager, explains:  “The reasons a person may become homeless, and the problems they face once they are in that position, are about a lot more than just a lack of housing.”

But, while performing helps to “builds confidence, skills and lasting, genuine friendships,” it also “restores a sense of pride and self-belief that may have been lost.”

For the Choir With No Name, music truly helps to restore a sense of identity and self-worth. Not only does it provide a great way to socialise and have fun, it’s also helping people find homes. They “provide the support members need to get back on their feet and away from homelessness long term, as well as a rare chance to leave their troubles at the door and have fun.”

Changing Tunes

Changing Tunes helps over 500 prisoners and over 50 ex-prisoners each year through their choir. Through music and mentoring, Changing Tunes creates a safe space for people to express themselves and learn to collaborate with others.

The organisation works on five main outcomes that are proven to be essential to reducing reoffending. The team believes their work increases hope, self-esteem, resilience, belonging, and positive identity. And the music is good! In 2016, participants in Changing Tunes sessions won a record 72 Koestler Awards. Listen here.

Lizzie Bond, chief executive of Changing Tunes, explains “music can help transform things. You can be vulnerable through music and process stuff. Music is such a great rehabilitative tool. It helps people to gain some needed confidence back again”.

And while making music has heaps of benefits in prison, the skills prisoners develop, resilience, confidence and a sense of belonging to name a few, are imperative for rehabilitation post-release, helping them to reestablish their lives.

Get involved

If this sounds like music to your ears and you fancy getting involved, find fellow music-makers here.

Peregrina EnChantica will be performing at Lush Studio Soho on Thursday, August 23, 2018. For tickets and information head here.

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