Oh Happy Days

Monday 6th May 2013

Following on from Saturday's blog post, we write more on the Chorus Festival at the Southbank Centre.

Whether it was the whiff of record breaking in the air, the sun in the sky, or the Real Food Festival crammed full of people, Sunday at the Chorus Festival was even more buzzing than Saturday and felt like the place to be over the Bank Holiday weekend.

Nestled amongst the food stalls along the Queen's Walk was a live stage to showcase some of the choirs taking part in the Chorus Festival. From famous choral franchises like Rock Choir, to lesser known groups from Ireland, Italy and beyond, the stage hosted a great range of repertoire and talent across the day, and most significantly (for us) the Unity Gospel Choir performed here.
Rock Choir in action on the Southbank
Formed last year by Jon Bint, one of Anna's old choir directors, Unity comprises of singers aged 9 - 60+ from across west Devon. Due to the rural nature of the choir's catchment area, the choir operates parallel rehearsals between the towns of Hatherleigh and Chagford (where we hold our annual Summer School). This rurality is one of the reasons we offer our services in Chagford each summer; whilst there is a thriving community spirit, residents are deprived of opportunities on account of their location. There is a real need to provide high-quality extra-curricular opportunities in communities like this, where young people might not have easy access to the services offered in larger towns/cities due to limited public transport and/or having to rely on their parents to drive them a considerable distance to access them. The Unity Gospel Choir is testament to communities like this working in action to share skills with all ages, and is the perfect celebration of 'Neighbourhood'; even more fitting for this festival.
MD Jon Bint with the Unity Gospel Choir
Indoors, the Clore Ballroom was host to GVE (the Goldsmiths Vocal Ensemble) presenting an hour and half set of music with artists like ESKA, and proved that 'choral' music need not be religious or classical, as the word 'choir' seems to denote for some. Casting an eye over the Choir Biographies in the programme, the range of repertoire and styles represented across the Chorus Festval offered something for every taste; there really is a choir for everyone out there.
Starling Arts' Anna & Emily study the Chorus programme
Come evening we were witness to choral history being made at the London Community Gospel Choir 30th anniversary concert. Their energetic and galvanizing performance featured special guest appearances from X Factor finalist Jahméne Douglas and legendary singer Jocelyn Brown. 
The concert culminated in a successful Guinness World Record attempt for the largest number of people in a gospel choir singing together in a concert, with 1169 voices uniting in song. We loved the choice of 'Oh Happy Day' (made famous in the movie Sister Act 2) because the crowd could join in (and we could do our bit to sing along!). Our cheering was loudest for our Devon friends from Unity Gospel Choir who were one of 30 gospel groups participating. Watch two of our regular Summer School participants talk about their experience to Anna here...
The evening proved more than anything that music has the power to bring people together.  We were up in our seats dancing with a packed out Royal Festival Hall, everyone present lifted by soulful voices and a love of music. We always say that faith doesn't have to be a 'religious' thing, and any music lover can appreciate gospel music, whatever their own beliefs. Faith in music is just as powerful, and something that we at Starling Arts believe in. As we carry on preparations for our summer concert Abracadabra we will try and replicate some of the commitment and passion we saw from LCGC and their guest choirs!     
Check out this video clip of the record-breaking 'Oh Happy Day'!