Watch this space – over but not out

And so the final session of the Roehampton Community choir project took place this week

We started with 24

We ended with 8

I am not downhearted about this

Life has thrown some curve balls at many participants, for many – the school summer holidays, for others a more complicated balance of illness and relationship and life issues

The final report is in – I have meetings over the next few weeks to think about where next

I am not sure where or how but for certain Alton Sings will continue in some shape or form

In the meantime, here is a link to some audio recordings of rehearsals


The elephant in the room


Thank you thank you to Cerys Matthews and her book “Hook, Line and Singer” – a wonderful resource

We had a lot of fun with “Nelly the Elephant” this week, that toe tapper from the 1950’s – this may sound like a rabble down the pub to some of you but to my ears it is music indeed, as it is a small group making a BIG noise and that for a community choir leader is a fabulous thing as it means that inhibitions are leaving the room. “Nelly the Elephant” is actually a pretty tough song, lots of notes and very rangy and even those who are not sure of all of it are singing strongly the bits they know which is brilliant. It may all sound a bit chaotic but listen to the joy, to the laughter and to the freedom. This is so important and from here we can tidy it up a bit as needed but it is FAR harder to move from ‘tight and tidy’ to expressive and joyful so I am very happy indeed

`Here also is another pic, reminding me to work on my posture ……


Giving new singers a chance to play around with lots of different types of material and lots of different ways of learning songs is vital (ie call and response, notation, not notation, no words, words on the wall, words on sheets etc) – my favourite way to teach is certainly no words, no notation and call and response but my favourite way as a participant is notation and words, so different strokes for different folks

It is also really necessary to let people have a good old sing with no concern of making mistakes and really giving themselves permission to sing out – I also make mistakes on the piano, apologise but with laughter, not because I am not taking the session seriously, quite the opposite – what I am saying is, it is not the end of the world to make mistakes

In fact this session inspired me so much it is going to inform the way forward for the project

More on that soon

Final session next week and then final report

Musings …………

When I was first asked to set up this project, to see if there was an appetite for a community choir in Roehampton, I wanted very much to set up an inclusive group where everyone could come and sing together

I am now wondering in an estate as large as Roehampton (13,000 so says the t’internet and that of course must be right – hmmm) whether in fact there does need to be different strokes for different folks, ie different groups so a sense of core identity can build within the group

I have felt unsettled since the last session, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. I do remember how fantastic the taster was for the mums at the school – all had english as a second language, all lived on the estate, all had children at the school, many had come to Roehampton from similar areas in the world, mainly southern europe,the middle east and northern Africa – it was wonderful because there was enough similarity but enough difference, enough curiosity and enough connection to make the group ‘gel’

We have a very disparate group presently. Three new participants, all of whom started in different weeksand each week there is a different combination of people with four or five coming every week. We have two men. Ten is an odd number. It is more than your average singing together group and yet certainly not big enough to call a choir

We sang “Wild Rover” this week and Ellie and I offered up whether it should be sung in unison or in harmony and gave examples. The group as a whole chose to sing it in three part harmony but that is tall order when you only have three or four people on each part if you are not used to singing in harmony. Everyone worked really hard and “Banana Boat Song” with various volunteers taking the ‘call’ sounded fabulous but my sadness is whether we do really have a ‘core’ and whether that ‘core’ can spread the word sufficiently in order to build from that centre

I did what I do to set the ball rolling through my energy & enthusiasm and was followed by some members of the group – one of whom I realise was missing this week and THAT may be why I felt unsettled as she is really a very positive, warm and galvanising force – but lots of people simply and quite reasonably want to come for a sing each week and do not feel able for lots of valid reasons to promote a group, especially if they themselves live outside the area

I will most certainly be writing in my report that the lead up time to all such projects in future must be DOUBLE in order to really get to know the community and to make the kind of headway that Shelly has made in Glasgow at

It has taken Shelly over three years and she now runs 6 singing groups, including the original community choir, employs other singing leaders and there are also guitar and drum groups running – amazing, but Shelly lives in the area and spent months and months and more months walking and talking plus it is her only job! (A HUGE one at that)

Her project inspires me but needs to inspire others too so they can help the current members spread the word

I really do want to be able to write a report that says that there is absolutely a desire not only for a community singing group in Roehampton but a community choir but as I lay my head down to sleep tonight I ask for inspiration as to how to let people know about it without busting my gut – we got a full page on the back of the Roehampton Voice, the local newsletter delivered to thousands of homes but that is clearly not making a dent

The only thing I can think of is to cancel the last session and instead deliver three 30 min ‘promo’ sessions at Cafe Joy, the pub, ASDA, Minstead Gardens in the street, Community Clubrooms in the evening etc and then will we get enough of the choir able to give up their time to make an impact

Next post will be the video of Alton Sings performing at the Roehampton Festival which should boost my unusually flagging spirits along with a phone call to Regenerate, the local community organisation to see if they have any bright ideas

Roehampton Festival 2013

Alton Sings make their first public appearance after only 8 rehearsals! (Some only have between 2 and 5 rehearsals making it doubly impressive)

More pictures, video and comments to follow soon

Beth at Regenerate who organised the festival and invited us sent a lovely email saying,


Just wanted to say a huge thank you for coming down on Sunday you guys were fantastic it was a pleasure to have you there.

Kind regards,


They did themselves PROUD and made me especially smiley

Onwards ………..

alton sings at Roe Fest 2013

Stats ‘n’ stuff


Week 1 24
Week 2 19
Week 3 16
Week 4 17
Week 5 13
Week 6 12

24 participants (asked week 1)

1 Southfields
5 Putney
18 Local & within walking distance e.g Clarence lane, Tatchbury, Arnwood, Dover House Road, Roehampton Lane, Danebury Avenue, Ashburton, Kingslade, Foxcombe Road

Where they heard about the project
24 participants (asked week 1)

0 Leaflet anywhere other than library (including ASDA, GP surgeries or schools)
0 Roehampton Voice newsletter
1 Physiotherapist
1 Social worker
2 Leaflet in Library
2 Queen Mary’s hospital
4 SW15 website
7 Phoene (meeting, taster session, street workshop)
7 Word of mouth

13 participants (asked week 6)

2 Male
11 Female

(3 other men attended the first 4 sessions and 3 other men attended one session each)

0 0-14
0 14-21
2 21-35
2 35-50
3 50-65
6 65 plus

As half the group did not attend all six sessions and did not complete evaluation forms I cannot give you accurate data for the remaining but would suggest that of those 11 people

2 0-14
1 14-21
2 35-50
2 50-65
4 65 plus

1 White Irish
1 Other mixed background
1 Chinese
10 White British

Of the remaining group who did not complete evaluations

1 Indian
3 Black African
7 White & British, Irish or European


“Have you ever sung in a choir or singing group before?”

5 No
8 Yes


The general feeling was that the location was good geographically. Air conditioning not great for singing voices. No piano. Would have been good if water could have been provided so that the cost of it did not have to come from limited budget or carried by Phoene and Ellie. The first half of the sessions were noisy due to sound leakage of music from room next door. It was reasonable but not ideal.

Cost (£1.50)

8 OK
4 Too cheap
1 Means tested

“What is a reasonable fee that you could afford to pay each week?”

1 £6
2 £5
1 £4
6 £3
3 £2


“How enjoyable did you find the Alton Sings community choir project?”

0 0 (not enjoyable)
0 1
0 2
0 3
4 4
9 5 (extremely enjoyable)

“I feel so good – a great start”

“A really good evening – I loved it”

“The best community project that’s ever been in Roehampton!”

“Thank you for a wonderful evening full of music, song, fun and friendship”

“ A wonderful evening and a great opportunity to meet the neighbours and do things together”

“A very good opportunity to meet different people in the community and learn”

“I thought I couldn’t sing, but maybe I can!”


“Do you feel different after the choir sessions?”

0 0 (no different)
0 1
0 2
3 3
4 4
6 5 (completely different)

“I’m singing because it’s good for my lung disease”

“It’s helping with my confidence and making me feel better about myself”

“A fantastic first session – I feel so good”

“I look forward to my time away from my boring home to sing and feel alive and free”


“I have a busy job and feel drained prior to the choir. After the sessions I feel rejuvenated, energized”

“All the issues of the day are gone and are forgotten”

“I always sleep well after the sessions”

“It’s uplifting to raise your voice and sing. A change”

“Brighter and happier”

“Gives me an energy boost”

“Relaxing and enjoyable”

“Feel funky, free, refreshed and happy”

“Feel happy as I enjoy it so much – every time”

“Uplifted, lighter, brighter, no worries”

“Helped with my confidence”

Moving forward

Alton Sings is now trialling an afternoon slot at Heathmere School in Alton Road
As suspected it was a pretty crazy idea trying to combine choir practice within a working school full of children, crossing lunchtime and school pick up during the last week of term! However we all survived. I am incredibly grateful to the school staff and I hope somewhere in the school the sound of us singing gave a different soundscape to lessons for the children

Interestingly two of the mums who came to the taster session came back and sang with us, which was lovely. There was one other new face who had seen a flyer in the library and he had travelled from Southfields so was not local. EVERYONE else (and there was 14 of us in total) was already part of the evening choir
This is positive in that Alton Sings now has a ‘core’ but saddened me a little that the project couldn’t allow for more time and money for me to really do a further promotional push. More on this later but I am convinced that further promotional push was not going to come from more flyers, the Roehampton Voice newsletter, but from me walking the streets and talking and doing this over a sustained period of time. School pick up time would have been the most useful – to carve out an hour at each school to talk in the playground. Also to visit each and every Community Clubroom in turn as well as to get to talk to the participants at 166 and Eastwood, not just staff. To visit Regenerate when the young people were in. I did well with the older persons’ projects in Putney and Minstead Gardens, but that degree of sitting down and talking to everyone personally in all those settings would have taken the equivalent of a full week ie 35 hours – time that was simply not in the proposal. It would however, I am sure, been time well spent. When I worked at the Royal Brompton hospital leading singing there for those with lung conditions, it was the sitting by the bedside and talking to people that persuaded them to come, not flyers or staff mentioning it but the personal touch and the support of a small group of staff and patients who had attended and felt the benefits

It would have also been preferable to not have the project run across the school summer holidays as it was promoted as an adult choir, many parents will be looking after children, despite my welcome to young people, if accompanied
Today is midway report time. Will post when finished. For now you may be interested to read a larger monitoring and evaluation of a similar projects nationally run by Making Music. Excellent report written by Kathryn Deane, the CEO of SoundSense the community music organisation.

Rain hopefully doesn’t stop play……..

The blog title refers to the fact that so many of our songs seem to be about sunshine – simply because the Nordoff Robbins Community Choir which I also run, told me I chose too many dour and miserable songs for them last year, so I seem to have gone too far in the other direction! Maybe an attempt to keep the optimism bubbling
Tough night tonight – we had half the number we had weeks 1 and 2 and 12 is a difficult number as it means when you are singing in three parts you haven’t got much support around you. Everyone did really well and I am hoping that the fact that Andy Murray was playing tennis may have had something to do with it – also I am off on holiday to the Isle of Skye where I hope for some sunshine

I am hoping that those we haven’t seen for a few weeks do come back for the final session on July 17th, otherwise it is going to be a major job for me to make over a dozen phone calls and then posting out evaluation forms (hopefully some people will be able to do that electronically)

God seems to have become quite an issue. Really interesting, in my other life I am a shiatsu practitioner – this a form of Japanese bodywork based on traditional Chinese medicine, I also do yoga – my point – in Shiatsu if you treat the whole body you can quite easily pad up and down various parts and it is simply part of a body, if you focus on bottom as a bottom it suddenly becomes a no go area, rather than simply gluteus maximus, in yoga, if you focus on the bit that hurts that is all you can feel and are aware of. As I was specifically asked in my brief for this choir to be inclusive and to ensure songs are supported by the choir, I have got very conscious of songs which have religious connotation – in fact when I ran the wonderful impromptu taster session at Heathmere school with a group of mums, all with english as a second language and the majority with their heads covered, one lady asked me quite reasonably before we started “is this religious” and i said it wasn’t. Also so much in Roehampton is organised by the various churches and religious groups it really is the elephant in the room and it is beginning to bubble up a gentle debate. I like it though as in so many choirs those in the group get no choice about what they sing but I have to say I find it tough as a leader when I know there are believers and non believers and some get upset if I change words from religious to secular, viewed as a political correctness too far and others refuse to sing the word God or other worrying non Christians might be offended etc – I happen to know there is a vicar’s wife in the choir and some nuns as well as church goers and agnostics and non believers – it is a true reflection of our diversity as human beings but in all the years I have been doing this work (15) it is not something I have never encountered before & it is interesting

I will put some audio up soon – good unison SO much better than poor harmony and tweaking simply the support (ie singing using good low supported breath and body energy) and vowels turned “I can see clearly now” into something really wonderful – although there was a still a question of “Is this good enough” which prompted a heart felt response from me about who is the judge? For me, singing is always an expression of our true selves, connecting with words and music and singing with truth. Doing that with others as you get to know them better, others with similarly tough life issues (and like any other choir everyone has their life issues, it’s called being a human being) can be a wonderful thing and certainly the process and journey and hour to hour awareness surely so much more that the stress that can come with trying to reach some kind of “good enough” (by whose standards?) which has probably been prompted by our false perceptions fed by tv shows such as The Voice, and X factor, Britain’s got Talent etc – hey I love to watch them but not as a beacon of what singing is

I must remember to be in the process to and not to worry so about evaluation forms and outcomes and concerts and further funding but to remain fully present with who is in the room at the time and to facilitate as best I can – the August 4th performance will give us public face and hopefully pull in more numbers but mustn’t pull the rehearsals down as we strive for “perfection” when all we need is “expression”