One of the most enjoyable ways to participate in the community is to sing in the company of others. Even if you cannot sing solo, when you are in a social choir you can follow the lead and sing along and really enjoy yourself. We are fortunate enough to have just such a choir locally in Lismore, aptly named Northern Rivers Community Choir 'Voices on Fire', hosted by Chris and Jenny James.
As I have never sung solo, fortunately anyone wanting to sing with the Voices on Fire community choir need not worry about auditions. Choir conductor, internationally renowned musician Chris James, says a central tenet of the choir is that ‘everyone is born with abeautiful voice’.
"The voice with which we were born is naturally in tune, free-flowing and clear of emotional restrictions," Chris said. "Only when our bodies are relaxed, will our natural voices flow.”
The choir is accompanied by a group of dedicated and highly accomplished musicians. This adds immensely to the fun and the amazing sound produced and each time we meet it is anadventure and exploration into the use of voice.
Being part of a community choir such as Voices on Fire is one of the most enjoyable ways to participate in the local community. As every member of the choir supports all the other members, you naturally connect with everyone when you are in the joy of singing and moving together.
The choir's repertoire is wide, with an Elvis number, Amazing Grace, country songs, bluesy jazz and songs written especially for the choir. The choir sings songs that are positive and uplifting including some of the songs from Jenny James’s first CD, Shining On - for which Jenny wrote all the lyrics.
We are also encouraged to move our bodies in time with the music in whatever way we feel to express so that we are more relaxed and more in tune with our bodies. The result is nothing short of amazing. From a seemingly rag-tag group of individuals explodes music of range, power and warmth.
As we sing and move together we are no longer individuals but part of a greater whole, a one unified group – this is true community.
I am not alone in loving the community involvement that comes with being part of Voices on Fire. I asked a couple of friends about their experience with the choir and they were more than willing to share how it had been for them.
Carmel replied as follows: “‘I have always loved singing but never had the confidence to sing on my own because I was anxious about singing out of tune. Singing in a community group is great fun because of the way we support each other. I find that I can easily tune into those around me and sing with confidence. The feeling of us all singing together makes my whole body feel energised, especially as harmonies come through.’
Carmel’s experience of feeling energised when she is singing with the choir is explained by research from Sweden. Conducting a study into why group singing promotes wellbeing, researchers from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg measured the heart rates of choir members and found that when a group sings together long enough, everyone’s hearts start beating as one, in a unified rhythmic pattern. It is therefore no surprise that ‘A community that sings together, stays together.
Lynda from Nova Scotia joined the choir during a recent visit to Australia. She shared that "Singing in this community group was really quite lovely as I could feel the enthusiasm of the group, which supported me to just relax, appreciate the fun and have a good time. It was a very satisfying and joyful experience."
As we age, we do not need to be stuck in our ways, only doing what we have done most of our lives and what we are comfortable with.
In fact, part of the joy of ageing is continuing to find new activities we can engage with, particularly activities that provide an opportunity for community involvement. The last time I sang in a choir was at school and only then because it was a mandatory activity. During my adult life I only ever sang when I was with friends at social gatherings where my voice could either meld with other voices or be drowned out by stronger singers – I have always hidden my voice.
Since deciding to join the local community choir it has been so much fun and I now love to sing. Chris’s forte is getting people to relax, to feel the music from their whole body rather than just their ears. This is when our natural voice can flow free of emotional restrictions . . . and the added bonus is that we get to meet members of our local community we otherwise would never meet.
When Chris is not teaching or performing overseas, Voices on Fire meets once a fortnight in St Paul's Church hall, Keen St, Lismore, starting at 7pm. For further information please click here.
You will be most welcome should you feel to come along and participate in this community gathering and you don't need to be a singer or an Elder to join in the fun!
Anne McR., Australia
"Singing is a very natural part of being a human being ... singing relieves stress and brings you back to a place of harmony." Chris James