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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Sullivan

Building on a long tradition of mass participation

2015 is shaping up to be a very interesting and productive year for 80,000 Voices. We have a team now, as I have been joined by three talented, committed individuals – Tim Carr, Michael Townsend and Erin Hutching (see all of us pictured below at our Christmas party!)

We are incredibly excited to have a few others providing additional support and advice in their areas of specialist knowledge – digital media, branding and communications.

Who’s going be in our Christmas party photo next year? Will we be able to fit everyone in one picture? We think there will be so many it will be difficult.

I think by now you know what we are going to do. We are a production company that creates great cultural events with the specific intention of building and strengthening society.

I’d like to go back to the very beginning and talk a little bit about choral singing, which has played a very important role in British social life since the 14th Century.

In the late 1790s, Handel’s oratorios were performed and popularised by huge masses of choral singers.

When Crystal Palace was moved to Sydenham, it began a great  revival of Handel’s choral music that lasted for 60 years. Because of the size of the venue, the scope and reach for choirs and audiences was broadened even further. Musical culture seemed to be growing as fast, and perhaps more sustainably, than Victorian industrial technology.

In the early 20th Century, composers such as Benjamin Britten and William Walton developed and experimented with choral music. Other traditions originating from outside the classical realm of concert music, such as black spiritual choirs and barbershop, further enriched the choral repertoire and increased awareness of new cultural diversity.

In our time of fast-moving technological innovation, there is an interesting social counterpoint: an apparently growing interest in community choirs and other eclectic singing groups. It has been said there are currently more choirs in the UK than fish and chip shops (Tessa Thomas).

Choirmaster Gareth Malone hasn’t been off our TV screens in the last five years with his various award-winning series where he introduces unlikely candidates to the joys and benefits of singing.

It has been proven that a good vocal workout relieves the stresses and strains of daily life. And the sense of community created by coming together through song is demonstrated by events like the Latvian Song and Dance festival, which has been held every four years since 1873. After the Soviet invasion and annexation of Latvia, festivals continued in the Latvian SSR, celebrating the Soviet family. The festival tradition was also continued in exile, first in displaced person camps after WWII, primarily in the western zones in Germany, then in the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Don’t get me wrong: 80,000 Voices isn’t an Eisteddfod. We will use many elements to tell our story – song, colour, movement, multimedia, participation. The closest thing I can think of to how our event will work is Danny Boyle’s 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony.

Accessibility and diversity are key, and we envisage participation from all corners of the globe through virtual choirs, such as Eric Whitacre’s.

I’d love to share with you some of the other quirky, eclectic choirs we have discovered and would love to work with:

The Screaming Men’s Choir of Finland

The Pink Singers London (LGBT choir)

What do you think?

-Gina Langton

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