Gathering together

Really interesting report been written by the Community Music organisation, SOUND SENSE on some community choir pilots in various areas across the country – I suspect many of their outcomes may reflect what we find – who knows …… makes for fascinating reading nonetheless

All going well – only 2 more rehearsals for the evening sessions – we will have learnt 6 songs and will be ready to perform them at the Roehampton Festival on August 4th along with whoever comes and joins us at Heathmere school – I am conscious that I am going on holiday tomorrow (WHAT a luxury) and so am going to be limited as to how much I can send reminders. I can only hope that we get double figures at least. We shall see.

The evening group is gathering together nicely and I look forward to sharing some audio with you soon



Approval from the House of Commons

Rt Hon Justine Greening MP
Putney, Roehampton & Southfields

House of Commons

Dear Phoene

Thank you for your email about Alton Sings. It was great to meet you the other week and see the first choir practise in full flow – fantastic.

I think Alton Sings is a really positive community project for Roehampton and I hope lots of local residents get involved. Please do let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

Best wishes

Rt Hon Justine Greening MP

Songs for all?

Week 2 – good to know that numbers are the same as week 1 – we started with 18 and had 24 by the end. That number 24 I seem to remember was also what we had when we sang outside the library!

There is a boxercise class in the room next to us – there is only a dividing wall between us so the noise leaks through – thankfully they did turn it down when I went and asked while we were doing our warm ups and they finish long before us.

So, diversity is a wonderful thing – diversity when it comes to choosing songs that everyone feels comfortable and confident singing can be a challenge. I always try and choose a variety of songs in english, from old well known songs (Drunken Sailor) or modern pop songs (Only You) mixed with a variety of call and response songs in different languages, from different African dialects (Senua de Dende), Asian, European as well as nonsense songs such as (Kumula Vista).

The group were SO confident last week in their singing I wanted to see how well they could cope with three parts – we tried (Yonana) and it worked well with the melody in the middle voices and simple harmonies of two or three pitches in the high and low voices. We moved onto (Only You) – there were two children there tonight who helped me think of some actions to help everyone remember the words (although I did have them written up). It was challenging when the bass and middle parts entered as I had forgotten how SYNCOPATED they are. All very well to have not too many pitches but if there are lots of rest and dotted notes which cross and criss cross again with the other parts it can be a real challenge and it was. The chorus though sounded great in 3 parallel parts. Interesting how for some groups parallel harmony is more challenging than three separate lines, and of course it changes from every hour to every day.

SO much assessment going on from all of us – watching to each other, to me, listening to ourselves, to neighbours, to the group as a whole, finding our feet. Complex and fascinating stuff.

The room is good because of where it is situated geographically – the windows are good and wide and view reminds us firmly where we are – the air conditioning is challenging and I hadn’t noticed it when I booked it, we must hope we don’t get too many more hot nights.

Everyone is already supporting one another, getting chairs out, chatting with neighbours, tidying up afterwards.

It is going to feel a little strange to only have four more sessions and then start a new group in a new setting, but I must remember that this is a pilot to find out what is wanted and how we make that work, in terms of song choices, venues, times of day etc

Two people tonight told me as they were leaving that they usually sing (respectively) Dean Martin songs or Country and Western. Another lady requested we sing the theme from Titanic and another the Lion sleeps tonight or the Andrews Sisters – SO much varied choice which raise so many questions – Andrews Sisters in close harmony would challenge the best of us, I have not been brave enough to try ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ with another choir I run at Nordoff Robbins Music therapy centre, and they have been going for 16 months. ‘My heart will go on’ is fine as a solo song but SO hard to sing en masse. Dean Martin and Country and Western? Hmmm how about – “Memories are made of this” with the second line “sweet sweet the memories you gave to me, you can’t beat the memories you gave me” or you HAVE to watch Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette singing “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” JUST to see the frocks!!

Also two people are hearing impaired and although I have worked a lot with participants with visual impairment and so have to use my voice rather than my hands, I must remember that I need to face everyone as much as possible so all can see and hear. Then there were two children there too who needed to remain engaged so they don’t give mum a hard time when she wants to come next week!

Ah differentiation – so so so important

I have to remember I am gathering gathering gathering and making sure I try to introduce different ways of teaching and learning over the weeks, both with instrumentation, lyric sheets, notation, call and response (or not) etc

This summer project is to find out what is needed and what works and what is possible in terms of songs for all or whether needs are SO diverse that recommendations are made for different groups with different singing leaders to meet those needs

No answers yet but fascinating and rewarding watching, listening , learning and collating all the questions that are coming up …….

Hope we get a chance to sing at the Roehampton festival in August and bring the two groups together

We’re off!

AS first session 0

I am delighted to report that 24 people attended the first session of the Alton Sings Roehampton Community Choir project. This was how they heard about it:

Meeting me 6 people
SW15 website 4 people
Word of mouth 4 people
Leaflet 3 people
Supporting a friend or partner 3 people
Seeing the Saturday
session outside library 2 people
Referred by physio 1 person
Referred by social worker 1 person

AS first session 7

There was a good representation geographically across the local area with nearly everyone being within walking distance of the venue at the ‘library end’ of Danebury Avenue. There were residents there from the Alton, Danebury, Ashburton and Dover House estates as well Clarence Lane and as a resident from the new build opposite 166 Roehampton Lane. We also had 3 come from the Kairos centre.

AS first session 4

As to be expected there were a lot more women than men (we had 4 men, all with good strong voices) and the majority of people were over 40 but with a good broad demographic from teenagers to those in their 80’s. There were people who knew one another but many complete strangers.

AS first session 6

Some of the reasons for attending included:

“I am new to the area and would like to meet other people from the community – it would be so great to see a face in the street that I know and can say ‘hello’ to”

“I have wanted to join a choir all my life”

“I want to be part of the best choir in the world” (no pressure …….)

“I want to be part of the community and get to know more people”

“I came because I know singing can help improve my poor breathing, due to lung disease”

“I wanted to come because I don’t think I can sing”

AS first session 5

There was a strong feeling of gentle warmth and good will in the room. It is rare to find a group of strangers so willing to talk to their neighbours and share stories at a first session. It felt like this was the start of something really very important and over the weeks this group will develop into what they want to be and represent and will contribute strongly as to where we head after the pilot.

AS first session 3

We sang “Drunken Sailor”, “Cockles and Mussels”, “Yonana”, “Kumula Vista”, and “Senua de Dende”

AS first session1

The voices were strong and confident and were able to sing together in unison, in rounds and in three parts. Also everyone moved very quickly into three voice parts (low, middle and high) once I demonstrated which areas of the voice that may be.

AS first session 2

I chose this first week to work without lyric sheets (all call and response) and without instruments and am likely to repeat this next week so that people learn to really embed the learning in an embodied way – I have found that lyric sheets and pianos tend to detach participants from themselves and one another. There is something deeply simple and powerful about a cappella group singing

To my delight, the partner of one participant is a cahon player and she has said she will ask him to join us.

This feels like a gentle and steady beginning and I hope very much it will build from this.

The setting is OK, it is good and central with good bright windows – the air conditioning not great for singing voices and the loo’s are two floors down but thankfully there is a lift and it is clearly the first time the Sport and Fitness Centre has played host to such an activity and it feels a safe and bright space for people to attend in the evenings and the staff were relaxed and supportive.

Delighted, especially as comments afterwards included:

“It helped with my confidence – I really enjoyed it”

“GREAT time – thanks so much”

“A FANTASTIC first session, I feel so good – a great start”

“A really good evening, I loved it”

“The best community project that has ever been in Roehampton”

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

“A great opportunity to ‘meet the neighbours’ and do things together”

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

“I thought I couldn’t sing ……. but maybe I can”

Alton really does sing – look see ……

I finished off the paperwork this week (monitoring & evaluation forms), which will be of vital importance in capturing data, not just about numbers but most importantly, comments and feedback from the 12 week pilot sessions in order for me to write a cohesive report to see if Roehampton wants their community choir and if so, how we can take it forward.


alton sings promo 1


We started with 8 singers today, turning up to sing in the street for an audio advertisement! I am delighted to report however, that numbers swelled, just as I had hoped, as the street singing and workshop continued and by the end we had over 20 people singing together.




There were children dancing in the street (well at least one!), a few toots from cars, a small gathering of curious folk outside the bakers and coming to the window and balconies of flats as well as top windows of buses. A few guys who usually settle down on the steps near the library for a nice quiet drink, settled themselves as if for a concert, had a lovely time joining in with the singing and finished each song with a round of applause! People singing with us called out to friends across the street to join us, and a couple did. Christine did an amazing job with the flyers stopping people as they went past.




Bizarrely, both the leader of Wandsworth Council AND the local MP walked past us singing at one point and both will be getting an email from me over the next few weeks telling them all about what we were up to and why and how potentially positive a project this is.



Enjoy the selection of pictures – I will put a short video up as soon as I can as the sound everyone made was very impressive

We sang LOTS of songs (too many – I always get overexcited at these things) including Swing low, When the Saints, The Bare Necessities, Tipperary, Pack up your troubles, Summertime, Senua de Dende, Great Day, Olay Loy Loyla, Kumula Vista, John Kanaka, All will be well, Coming round the mountain and the Lion Sleeps tonight! Everyone will sleep well tonight that’s for sure and no, no lyric sheets and no accompaniment, just good old fashioned call and response a cappella!




Seeing everyone gathered at Cafe Joy afterwards chatting and smiling and making new friends was an absolute delight – a disparate group of people, the majority of whom had arrived alone, were talking away with an entirely new bunch of potential friends having shared something special and unusual. Lots of hugs and waves as people headed off, promising to be back for more.


Wednesday June 5th is the start of the 6 week “evening sessions” – quite frankly I wonder if we should run them in the summer on Saturday mornings outside every week! I didn’t even hear the traffic!




Facts & Figures

So, in my original proposal I estimated 8 days of research and development to try and get this choir off the ground. Well, surprise surprise, I have now just completed 7 days of R&D and still have to write up my safeguarding documentation, all monitoring and evaluation documentation, choose initial repertoire for at least the first couple of sessions until I see who comes and what they want to do, get all lyrics typed up and of course everything photocopied. I also have offered three more taster sessions – two for the elders in the community, one at the 60 plus lunch club at Minstead Gardens and one for Regenerate Rise in Putney – add to this the free taster for all outside on the green and you can see that 8 days is going to be more like 10

It would be easy to pour myself into this project like a bottomless pit, what is great to remember is the ‘p’ word ie pilot – this is only the start, to find out if there is an appetite for a community choir in Roehampton and I am using this blog as part of the process – this whole project is about journey as much, if not more, than about outcomes

For those interested I have posted my original proposal and looking through it I have ticked everything thus far I said I would but it has taken longer, so much longer than anticipated

I was very much left to get on with it and had to hit the ground running very quickly. It became apparent that the area is desperately lacking a central hub, a community space to make connections, the likes of which you see all the time on “the secret millionaire” – Roehampton is full of a mixture of people in small groups – Church groups, University Groups, Residents Association Groups, Student Groups, Street drinking groups, Refugee family groups, Primary school groups ……. I could go on and on – of course this is usual in any community but here the sections of a large proportion of older people who have lived on the estates since they were built, with newer residents who have brought flats once the council starting selling them to council tenants, who have now sold them on, to many new groups of people who have moved in over the past 15 years is marked and fascinating, along with the juxtapostion and divide of the main road and the social housing on one side the very expensive houses on the other

At the end of the day, people are people and if you like singing you will respond to this kind of project whatever your background, but it has made making inroads and connections quite complex for me. I have built up an email contact list of over 60 in those 7 days

900 flyers were produced and delivered to all the GP’s surgeries in the area (80 leaflets delivered to 4 surgeries), primary schools (100 leaflets delivered to 5 schools), then emails send with e flyers to as many local community organisations and contacts I could find

I randomly approached strangers in the street and offered and delivered taster sessions, both of which were the most positive way of doing things – however walking around Roehampton and talking takes up as much, if not more time, than emailing and felt as though even if I moved onto the estate for a month I would only begin to scratch the service of who I might find to talk to

All I can hope now is that the few who have found this blog locally are spreading the word and I hope that June 1st will be enormous fun and encourage a few passers by to tell others – thanks to Christine, Penny, Elaine, Meloney and Mary Rose who are all on the ground and saying good things, plus the staff at the library and the receptionists at the schools and GP’s surgeries, not to mention the various clergy, and Regenerate – my biggest hope is that some of you wonderful mum’s who attended the taster session at Heathmere are going to come back for more

Radio silence from me next week while I get the paperwork done but I promise to report back with photos and quotes after our open air workshop on June 1st


PROPOSAL FROM PHOENE CAVE : Creative Connections for Music & Wellbeing


• Free tasters and meeting as many potential participants as possible.
• Community partners and Arts team to support the choir facilitator to make positive connections.
• Singing more important than talking and ‘pop-up’ impromptu tasters will be a vital component to attract attention and interest.
• Familiarity in working this way, especially encouraging teenagers to sing in schools and also persuading very sick patients to sing whilst in hospital. The experience has always been very positive and people respond well.

Participation & Wellbeing 2 INCLUSIVITY (ABILITY)

• I run singing groups and choirs to develop confidence, building personal resources and competencies of the participants. Commencing with simple fun warm up games, body percussion and physical relaxation, followed by unison singing (all taught by ear, call and response so no words or music needed). As a qualified music therapist I watch, listen and respond in a particular way allowing for spontaneity and improvisation as well as set structure. I set boundaries so that everyone feels safe and encourage creativity, working in small groups within the choir, allowing those who can and want to sing harmonies and solos, or to play instruments or conduct, encouraging differentiation within the teaching.
• I run an inclusive community choir in North London at Nordoff Robbins which attracts those from ages 16 – 86yrs with people from a myriad of backgrounds & culture, with mental health and learning disabilities, physical ailments, or simply friends, neighbours, staff and teachers.
• I recommend one choir initially to encourage this inclusivity.

Identity & Placemaking 1 INCLUSIVITY (REPERTOIRE)

• All repertoire will be chosen to reflect any diversity (or even to promote diversity and different genres amongst a similar demographic)
• Song choices will cover a wide range of repertoire all taught in an accessible call and response fashion. I will offer songs in English as well in other languages. I am happy to teach new material introduced to me by group members.
• Genre will include pop, folk, jazz, world music and will be accessible to all.
• In 12 sessions I would not expect to build up a vast repertoire but choice will be given in week one for which songs the choir want to work on.

Identity & Placemaking 2 NEIGHBOURHOOD COHESION

• As a music therapist and experienced community choir leader, I am only too aware of the importance of song choice in supporting a ‘mood’ and reflecting the particular ‘spirit’ the choir members want to convey.
• Choir members will be asked week 1 what it is they feel they represent and what they want to say so we can work together on picking songs that best demonstrate this, such as “Something Inside So Strong” by Labi Siffre if they feel this is appropriate.

STAGE ONE (Set up & research and development)
8 days

• Meet with the Arts team to gather as much information as possible on aims & objectives, as well as community contact details such as schools, community centres, community groups encompassing the entire spectrum of demographic
• Research on the ground and on the internet the estates and surrounding support networks for the project (such as Universities of Kingston and Roehampton for music and music therapy students, Queen Mary’s hospital for potential performance space and for patients and Eastwood Childrens’ centre for any isolated families who could join the choir – or an ‘offshoot’ and bring their children)
• Set up meetings with as many local community groups as is feasible
• Find a suitable venue available to all and decide on a time, place and cost. I would recommend that a small donation is suggested as there is, in my experience, more engagement., plus if the choir then starts to charge after the pilot we will lose members.
• Produce a leaflet, arrange for printing and phone as many volunteers as possible to distribute far and wide within the locale. In my experience word of mouth and flyers in libraries, pubs and corner shops the best way of advertising.
• Arrange for interviews with local press, media (radio) and use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to promote.
• Write and produce evaluation forms.
• Decide on repertoire for the 12 week pilot and on how best to share lyrics (laptop and projector, or printed lyric sheets – the latter will need to be supported by the Arts office due to the time & cost of photocopying)
• Offer some free taster sessions when out and about meeting potential partners

STAGE TWO (Delivery)
12 half days

• Prepare, deliver and evaluate 12 x 90 min sessions
• This delivery stage could also potentially include x 6 mother and baby sessions at Eastwood Childrens Centre, or taster sessions at various settings in the area that are accessible on the same day including linking in to the community mental health team or Arts in Healthcare team at Queen Mary’s hospital. This could not be clarified until community needs are assessed during initial set up period

STAGE THREE (Final report including Monitoring & Evaluation)
2 days
• Producing a report with recommendations for next steps and sustainability including results from the monitoring and evaluation questionnaires produced.

I pr

Open Air Singing

Saturday June 1st 2013 11am

Danebury Avenue

Green outside libary

Come and join singers from community choirs in nearby Kingston to meet the singing leader and enjoy singing with others

Free workshop

Sunshine after the rain

So I arrive at Heathmere school today feeling a little despondent and wishing i could clone myself after 5 hours of phone calls and emails promoting the new community choir yesterday, there i found six lovely smiley ladies and a boy in a buggy arriving for singing – even though a number of them thought they were coming for a singing event for the children, they stayed to sing themselves, joined by two teachers then another lady came with her two children, and another two women with a child

We all sang “senua de dende” and “kumula vista” having laughed a LOT as we did some body percussion & introduced ourselves

More tomorrow but the title of this post says it all & has got me researching some new material (my deepest wish now is each week once choir starts we get to learn a song brought by someone in the choir and really stretch our cultural, musical, linguistic & melodic selves) – what better way than to create gentle connections through song – voice & rhythm

It has been a strange day – too much rushing about – I am still managing to run but today it was hard, no doubt for the simple reason I am tired and my head is full – I was thinking about what is it that compels a person to be drawn to express themselves through song and for others what is it that makes it feel like the scariest or most horrible or simply boring thing in the world (I am not convinced by the last, suspecting it may cover up the first two) – what was it that I was picking up in the Roehampton residents I bumped into and talked to that made me decide by appearance alone (regardless of race, gender or age) whether I thought they may like to sing?!

I am beginning to think about songs and wait to hear what those who gather want to sing – I will just make sure I have a lot ‘ready to go’ and an open mind and ear

I had fun beginning to arrange “Mammamia” tonight although about as up to speed with garageband as I am with blogging! Found such a beautiful song too on you tube called “Bright Morning Stars” by the Wailin’ Jennys, not in the style or sentiment I was thinking about immediately for ALTON SINGS, as I am thinking more uptempo and energetic, but this song is one to share with those of you who like beautiful singing and songs

My thanks in advance to Rev McKinney for the next piece of info which makes for interesting reading about Roehampton taken from a document about the area written by the parish of Holy Trinity church in 2011 – really interesting reading and shows how challenging, interesting & exciting and tough trying to gather a community in song may be in such a short time ………….

Roehampton was originally an ordinary Surrey village until the Sixteenth Century when Henry VIII cleared the farmsteads to the west of the village, across from Beverly Brook, and evicted their tenants. This was to make way for the enclosure which became Richmond Park. From then until the post Second World War era, Roehampton was an immensely wealthy and very exclusive outer London retreat for the political elite of the country. Four Prime Ministers and one future King made their homes here.

After the Second World War, the Roehampton council estates were put up in the grounds of the great mansions to house those made homeless or in temporary accommodation as a result of enemy bombing or slum clearance. The estates account for about 10,000 people.

The rest of the parish is very similar to neighbouring parishes consisting pre-dominantly of middle class semi-detached or detached houses and flat conversions. There is a great deal of building taking place at the moment with developments at the old Queen Mary’s Hospital site, the old nurses home at Arton Wilson House, and a number of other brown field sites for smaller-scale housing. These make up another 6,000 of the population.

In terms of population there is the university to consider as well. About 3,000 students live on campus, with another 6,000 living around the local area. About half of these live in Roehampton in the old council accommodation, but refitted by private landlords who now pack in six to eight individuals in flats that were designed for three to five people. Many migrant labourers live in this accommodation also. Thus it is very difficult to give a precise figure for our population, but around 20,000 would not be far off the mark.

The post war estates were a very successful piece of social engineering. Community spirit flourished: Scouts, Guides, the Boys Brigade, all had long waiting lists. Amateur dramatics and all sorts of associations thrived. However, a decline began to emerge in the early 1990s which has accelerated since. Tenants’ right to buy, and the obligation of local authorities to house the homeless, meant that there was a significant shift in the way in which housing was allocated. The flats bought by their tenants were eventually sold off to the private landlords mentioned above. Those flats still under local Authority control were allocated on the ‘points system’. The families with most points tended to be lone parent, two or more children, unemployed and usually a health problem with one or more members of the family. Over time this has had a devastating effect on the estates. We now have a highly atomised community with no role models, high unemployment and low expectations. The other group which scores high points are the families of asylum seekers. We now have a large Somali community and Sudanese community.

Roehampton has the highest child deprivation, unemployment and ill health indices in Wandsworth Borough, and the lowest economic activity index. The only mass employer is ASDA, although Queen Mary’s Hospital does employ a few locals in service roles.

• Total and ethnic breakdown
White British 70%, African 25%, Others 5%
• Approximate age break-down
Over 60yrs: 50%, 40yrs – 60yrs: 30%, 0-40yrs: 20%

Time flies

Over 5 days of research & prep gone, venues found, 500 flyers designed (I use the word loosely as I did it myself), printed and distributed. All gp’s surgeries and schools in the area covered with many thanks to all of those lovely positive receptionists out there.alton sings

The most positive conversations were those I struck with random strangers in the street. Not for the faint hearted and not every day you ask someone you’ve never met if the like to sing, but good responses. Very tiring, but without a central multi purpose community space and noticeboards, the best way. It is a deeply instinctual thing as you see someone coming towards you and decide whether to ask them if they like singing or not – wonder what the positive signs are? Maybe a rhythm in the way someone walks, or a smile on their face -who knows! We all of course respond to music from when we were in the womb and heard and felt the sound and vibrations of our mother’s heartbeat and words, and we all have a response to musical elements in our everyday noticing how fast we walk, how high (or low) we talk etc. I didn’t quite have enough time to go into the midst of fantastically loud and lairy guys in “The Angel” pub when I dropped some flyers in there, but actually a bit of that energy wouldn’t go amiss in Alton Sings, at least in terms of feeling ok about making vocal sound …………

roehampton forum may 2013

Walking the walk & not just talking the talk!

The Roehampton forum focus group on community matters were even brave enough to sing (not that they had much choice and some enjoyed it more than others, as would be expected). I was incredibly grateful at being able to tell them about what Alton Sings is all about. I really need people to understand this is not a parachute drop from an outsider but a catalyst for someone within the community to run with this, to take ownership and slowly build this into something magnificent.

Slowly build is of course the operative phrase – nothing good was ever rushed and the lead in time is feeling painfully small but am powering ahead and just hoping enough people nearby read this and are sufficiently inspired to contact me about the free tasters being offered on May 21st at 166 Roehampton Lane, Heathmere School and Cafe Joy.

I have decided to charge £1.50 for each choir session (although the first one is free, and I will make sure that everyone knows that no-one will be turned away for lack of funds) – I met a girl yesterday who said “£1.50!!! It should be free!!!” Maybe she has a point, but maybe also my experience suggests that you give something for nothing then the engagement and ownership and commitment smaller?

Have also decided to run 6 sessions during the day and 6 in the evening, therefore hopefully meeting a larger demographic – school summer holidays never the best time to offer things to parents during the day but sometimes you simply have to use the cards you have been dealt and make the best hand you can – plus, it may be that the school sessions end up being fantastically intergenerational with older residents happier to be out and about in the afternoons, joining in with parents and their children – I have no issues with children coming, as long as the under 14’s are accompanied by an adult.

‘P’ is a wonderful word – it stand for ‘pilot’ and it means lots of ideas can be tried, monitored and evaluated and then with objective detachment a report written to see what worked, what didn’t and why

I am printing yet more flyers today (850 in total) and delivering some to the big supermarket on the A3 (Asda), in the hope their community support contact will let staff and customers know. As an aside, music therapy services at the childrens’ hospital in Melbourne, Australia is paid for by the big grocery store……

Before then I have paperwork to complete, namely evaluation forms, safeguarding documentation and lots of promotional emails to send, not to mention repertoire to learn.

Moving forward though – who knows if anyone will come! Exciting to see – more anon…….