Learn how to sing with Norwich choir

Mary HamiltonA community choir which is open to all comers is preparing for a prestigious concert in Norwich cathedral.Mary Hamilton

A community choir which is open to all comers is preparing for a prestigious concert in Norwich cathedral.

The Voice Project is an open-access choir which brings people of all ages and abilities together to perform pieces written by renowned musicians.

Organisers Sian Croose and Jonathan Baker work each year with Norfolk singers from first-timers who cannot read music to keen regulars with long histories of singing together.

The pair use repetition and learning by rote to help people who have never sung before to learn the often complex pieces, aiming to take people on a journey from singing occasionally or not at all through to a professional performance.

Their choirs have performed at the London Jazz Festival and the International Jazz Festival in Gateshead, singing pieces commissioned specifically for the project.

Mr Baker said: 'We're community musicians who believe in the idea that music is not exclusive and that it should be shared around.

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'The voice is something that nearly everybody can use, and everyone has something to say - the choir gets everyone working towards a shared goal.

'It's wonderful to take someone on that journey and help them to be part of the process and part of their community in a really positive way.'

The organisers also voiced their support for Norwich's bid to be UK City of Culture in 2013, saying musical performance and education was a vital part of the city's creative community.

'The City of Culture bid will build on the relationships that already exist,' said Ms Croose. 'Norwich is already changing - there's something very exciting happening in the cultural world.

'Young musicians who come here to study are staying here instead of moving away again - it's more viable to be a musician here now.

'For the city to be a haven for culture you have to have artists, musicians and writers wanting to live and work here, and there is a growing sense that Norwich is a creative community.'

This year's concert will take place on May 21 in Norwich Cathedral as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

For more information and to book tickets, visit www.nnf10.org.uk or www.thevoiceproject.co.uk, or call 01603 766400.

For years my singing experience has consisted of belting out Bon Jovi songs in the car and testing out the acoustics in the shower with the Spice Girls.

It's been fun, joyful and intensely private - carried out behind closed doors, where it doesn't matter if I sing a few bum notes and no one is close enough to care if I breathe in the wrong place or mess up the words.

So walking into the hall at the Friends Meeting House in Norwich, I was quietly terrified that I would be an amateur among professionals, surrounded by worthy ladies whose vocal skills would far outstrip my own.

After a warm welcome I slipped quietly to a place among the altos, hoping that being right in the middle of the women's section would help camouflage any massive mistakes I made.

But rather than the formal rehearsal style I recalled from choirs at school, the session began with a range of increasingly daft looking and sounding exercises to get us all loosened up.

Singing while yawning, stretching our arms up to the ceiling while making 'zzzzz' noises, and massaging our ears were all part of the warm-up session, which left me feeling much more relaxed and at ease - not least because everyone else looked as silly as I did.

The teaching style was tailored perfectly for the participants, with a simple call and response style helping everyone to learn the pieces by ear without needing to read music.

John and Sian handed out encouragement easily, explaining why mistakes were happening and reassuring the choir that problems we were having with difficult notes and harmonies were normal and part of the process.

When the whole choir came together to produce a soaring, gorgeous harmony, there was a real sense of achievement and a great community spirit as we all lent our efforts to a shared goal.

But it was the friendly babble of voices that filled the room between pieces that I found most exciting, the ease and happiness with which people fell into conversations and connections with each other, brought together by music and the shared endeavour.

That was why I was singing in the streets on the way home - and that could well see me taking the stage on May 21 and belting out beautiful harmonies in the cathedral instead of the car.