‘There is nothing like human voices harmonising’

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Boffins at the University of Oxford dedicated many months of research into group singing and discovered being part of a choir is good for you.  Not only does it exercise the brain and release happy neuro chemicals, it improves posture and breathing.

Most importantly, the 2015 research found that singing in a group helps form close social bonds – and who doesn’t enjoy making friends? 

Solent City Chorus

Solent City Chorus

 You don’t need to tell the members of Solent City Chorus how beneficial being in a choir is.

For nearly 50 years, the men-only barbershop chorus has been harmonising across Portsmouth. 

The group, which meets at Christ Church Hall, Widley, on Wednesday evenings, puts on rousing performances all over the city – many for charity. 

David Wilson has been a part of Solent City Chorus for the past 18 months after moving from Nottingham. The 65-year-old says: ‘I was part of a barbershop chorus when I was back in Nottingham after joining up with a group of friends, so when I retired and moved down here it was quite important for me to find another group.

‘I really enjoyed singing previously but had never done anything serious with it, and then I went along to a learn-to-sing course.

‘I have enjoyed it ever since.’

The chorus currently has 20 members and they perform at events around the city. They recently did a tour of pubs on Albert Road, in Southsea.

David adds: ‘I absolutely love singing out and it is great to do that with a really great bunch of guys.

‘We have a large repertoire of songs and everyone has to know their part, whether that be lead, which sings the melody, tenors who harmonise, bass, who sing the low notes, and baritone, who sing the chords.

‘Baritone is definitely the hardest as they sing the chords which, on their own, sound really strange. But everyone’s part is just as important and we all rely on each other to keep tone and rhythm and pitch.’

Movies like the Pitch Perfect trilogy and hit TV show Glee, have brought choir singing to the younger generation.

Choirs have now firmly shaken off their fuddy-duddy image. 

And Solent City Chorus is determined to attract younger blood to its ranks.

Daren Stratton, the youngest and newest member, joined in October 2017.

The 29-year-old says: ‘I sang in the choir for my church at a pageant that is held every four years and I had some good comments back from it so I thought I wanted to do it more regularly.

‘I Googled local choirs and Solent City Chorus came up so I thought I would give it a go.’

Daren is now a tenor in the group and desperate for more young people to sign up.

He says: ‘I absolutely love being a part of the group and I would say to other young people to just give it a go because you will never know your ability at something unless you try.

‘It’s really important to keep the chorus going and keep the whole world singing.’

The group has also given Daren, who has a neurological disorder, confidence in his everyday life.

He says: ‘I have come such a long way as a barbershopper since I started and I have gained so much confidence.

‘What is great about the chorus is how accessible it is.

‘I have made so many new friends, I am so glad I just went for it. I am now a part of it and find singing so enjoyable.’

Despite what young people may think about barbershop music, hits from Ed Sheeran, Adele and Disney all make it to the list of songs sung by groups across the UK.

Chorus musical director Steve Morris says: ‘The older style of music like The Beatles really lends itself to being arranged in a barbershop style because there were lots of ballads back then.

‘Songs from the 80s, 90s or noughties were not easy to fit in with the barbershop style as there is quite a lot of criteria a song has to fit in order to be arranged correctly.

‘But now we seem to be coming back to the ballads and Ed Sheeran and Adele’s music lend themselves extremely well.

‘I don’t personally arrange at the moment as it is definitely a difficult skill, but one I want to learn in the future.’

Steve currently lives on the Isle of Wight and is also a part of the Wight Harmony group.

The 56-year-old was invited to coach the Solent City Chorus back in March and has been leading the direction of the group since June.

He says: ‘After doing some coaching with them, they invited me back and now I am their musical director, which is a really great challenge.

‘We recently went up to Harmony College in Nottingham which was really fun. It gave us a chance to improve our voices, learn new skills and meet people from different groups.

‘Myself and another chorus member went along to a session and learnt to sing Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmations which shows you that songs the younger generation would know are songs we sing in the barbershop style.’

Steve got into barbershop after going along to a learn-to-sing course nine years ago.

He adds: ‘I think the modern songs can bring the youngsters in but it is also about having an appreciation of the style.

‘There really is nothing like human voices harmonising and it makes my hair stand up on end.’

The group are hosting a free Learn To Sing Harmony course starting on September 12.

To register call 07469712340 or email LTS@singinportsmouth.org.uk