Arriving just before the Workplace Choirs concert at this year’s Voices of London Festival, I found every nook and cranny of the venue, including both carparks, full of last-minute rehearsing. Last year’s event, which I also attended, was memorable for its rather charmingly tentative little groups of singers who bravely stood up and sang in public, many of them for the first time. But only a year later these groups had noticeably grown in number, expertise and volume. It was a visible and audible demonstration of how this significant new branch of choral singing (first brought to wider public attention a couple of years ago by Gareth Malone’s “The Choir: Sing While you Work” TV series) is putting down roots.
Friday’s lineup of choirs gave a remarkably comprehensive overview of working life in the UK. There was a group each of NHS workers, estate agents, journalists, lawyers, bankers, council workers and arts management (The Place Choir, sounding very good after only one year of singing) topped off by the by now rather famous P&O Ferries Choir, who won ‘Sing While You Work’ in 2013. Of course, in years gone by we might also have heard workplace bands and male voice choirs made up of miners and steelworkers; but where these ensembles still exist, they have outlived their former industries.
The repertoire was largely gospel and R&B, stretching in a Freddie Mercury direction. There was no Rutter-Tavener-McMillan (as you might hear from a progressive church choir) but a Bob Chilcott number sung by all the choirs together closed the concert effectively. This is a quickly-developing musical field that needs new repertoire which, on the whole, contemporary classical composers don’t seem to be writing (yet).