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Did you know that the heart rates of singers in a choir synchronise with each other? It's at the core of our basal instinct to communally vocalise together no matter the culture, faith or belief. Plus, individually, music is a form of expressive meditation with expression. I truly can't think of anything else when I sing.
In 1965 two St. Bartholomew's Hospital nurses started a choir. A small one with whom patients and staff were invited to sing. There isn't much detailed history as to the infancy of what they created, but I am sure if they knew how we've grown since their choral seed was planted, they'd be proud of where we are today with over 300 regular members from all walks of life, choral experience and ability.
I am an audiologist in Barts Health NHS Trust, and I've also been in the choir for eight years. I've always been fascinated by sound, the perception of it and the vital role it plays in communication and in developing relationships with others. Mental health is at the heart of a need to be heard and being able to engage with and inspire others. This applies to the artistic endeavour of music too, whether we move ourselves or our voices to it or are moved by it. I think we all take this for granted but I hope to always help others realise the importance of our hearing/perception of sound.
"Our conductors expect singing of a very high standard, despite us being a bunch of amateurs"
I joined Barts Choir having received an email from within Barts Health NHS Trust in 2015. I hadn't sung since my school choir but something made me want to try a rehearsal and so I did. Thankfully there was no audition because at my level of historical choral experience, I think I might have flunked, big time! It was a learning curve. Breathing, technique, reading notes, following the conductor… But I felt elated after that first rehearsal. Singing is so cathartic. Being surrounded by others whilst doing it, is a real sense of community.
I now help to run the choir as secretary and trustee. I've taken singing lessons, joined our smaller auditioned chamber choir and had the privilege of singing at Cadogan Hall, Royal Festival Hall, St Paul's Cathedral and other equally beautifully acoustic venues multiple times with the Philharmonia Orchestra and brilliant independent professionals such as Trafalgar Sinfonia. I've been on stage with professional soloists and been guided — throughout our terms of learning in rehearsals as well as performances — by fantastic conductors such as our musical director, Ivor Setterfield. His passion for music is infectious and full of energy, with the desire to expect singing of a very high standard, despite being a bunch of amateurs. I've sung music I know well and music I would never have known were it not for Barts Choir. And I've made friends, real friends. I feel very lucky.
"I'm not quite sure how I'll hold myself together"
On 9 July, over 400 of us will be on stage at the Royal Albert Hall alongside the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This all dovetails with my professional role quite neatly in that that we're celebrating 900 years of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, the oldest working hospital in the UK, not to mention the cutting edge and world class research and treatment of conditions in the specialisms of cardiology and cancer. Plus we're raising awareness and funds for Barts Charity in support of their aims in improving the health of east London, at the heart of where I reside.
To sit in a prime position on stage in appreciation of a world class orchestra performing Elgar's Enigma Variations… I'm not quite sure how I'll hold myself together in sheer pride and emotion of what we are all achieving.
A Celebration of Barts 900, Royal Albert Hall, 9 July 2023