A few years ago many of the members of Portsmouth Rock Choir hadn’t gone beyond singing into hairbrushes in their bedrooms.
But last month they and thousands of other singers filled Wembley Arena with the sound of joyful, triumphant voices.
It was a moving occasion for the singers of the UK’s Rock Choirs, who belt out pop, Motown and gospel tunes.
They had piled on to coaches and come from all over England and Scotland to give a performance for friends, family and for new ITV1 show The Choir That Rocks.
‘There were 7,500 singers and 2,500 friends and family watching,’ says Jan Moll, leader of Portsmouth, Winchester, Chandler’s Ford and Meon Valley Rock Choirs.
‘It was incredible and a lot of people found it quite emotional, especially when we did Something Inside So Strong. It’s one of the choir’s favourite songs, I know it really means something to them.’
As the choirs sang in harmony the cameras were rolling as the event was the culmination of the ITV three-part series.
The Choir That Rocks, screened tonight and for the next two Thursdays, follows members of what has been called the ‘people’s choir’. In the show founder Caroline Redman Lusher pulls off the amazing feat of gathering the country’s 140-odd Rock Choirs for a performance in one venue.
It tells the story of the choir which was launched in 2005. Rock Choir offers the general public an opportunity to sing pop, gospel, Motown and chart songs without the need for previous singing experience. It provides up beat and feel-good weekly singing sessions nationwide.
Many people who join have never sung in public before and are given the opportunity to perform at local venues and events including shopping centres, store openings, theatres, football stadiums and music festivals, raising money for charity.
Jan, a music teacher and semi professional performer, set up the Portsmouth and Winchester choirs almost two years ago after reading about Rock Choir in a national newspaper.
She says: ‘It was the whole ethos of encouraging people to sing and have fun that impressed me. People can just come along, there’s no audition.’
Rock Choir is about inclusion and feeling good. Jan insists almost everybody can sing and those with weaker voices are fine when they’re belting our their favourite tracks surrounded by friends.
‘We have some great singers, but your voice doesn’t need to be strong when you’re in a group of people.’
Another aspect of Rock Choir is that the singers perform popular tunes from several eras, including hits by Aretha Franklin, Robbie Williams and Amy Winehouse.
But the inclusive and informal nature of the choir doesn’t mean members don’t work hard to give good performances.
‘We rehearse and give lots of tips and techniques, what to do to find certain notes and that kind of thing. There is movement too so we work hard to get it all looking great,’ says Jan.
‘But the singers learn by rote. We don’t give out any music because not everyone can read music. We don’t want to put people off.’
Thanks to Rock Choir and programmes like The Choir and Last Choir Standing, there has been a surge in the popularity of organised singing.
‘I think people have realised that it’s fun and makes you feel really good,’ says Jan. ‘A lot of people say that they don’t feel like coming after a day at work, but when they get here and start singing, they immediately feel so much better. It really lifts your mood.’
And she adds: ‘The social side is important too. You meet a lot of new people, it’s really friendly.’
Members of Jan’s choirs cover most age groups, from late teens to pensioners. She would love a few more male singers to join but apart from that, there is a good mix of people, including mums, doctors, a pilot and a mayoress.
Hazel Smith, whose husband is mayor of Havant, juggles Rock Choir with barbershop singing, a part-time job and civic functions.
But she says it’s worth it. ‘It’s fabulous. We have great fun and even when I’m really busy I love to go singing. It helps me relax. You just forget about everything else.’
The mums, the doctors and everyone else are planning a get-together for the screening of The Choir That Rocks but as it clashes with their rehearsals they’ll be watching a recorded version.
And the same goes for the final part of the series which will show the choirs gathered at Wembley.
Portsmouth Rock Choir will be pulling off the feat of being in several places at once. Not only will they be part of the performance screened in our living rooms, they’ll also be on stage at Fareham’s Ferneham Hall.
n The Choir The Rocks is screened on ITV1 at 9pm tonight and on June 23 and 30.