Modern living can be so hurried and pressurising that many of us seek out ever-creative ways to relieve mind and body of the daily stresses we put ourselves through. Some jog, while others choose the solitude of a good book.
It is also said that the act of engaging in a communal activity is a good way of alleviating the pressures of every day life and fosters feelings of integration. Joining a choir is becoming a popular way to chill out, and for some it becomes a passion.
Iain McLarty is the musical director of the Scottish Chamber Choir in Edinburgh. He says: “In our choir we have people who travel from the Borders and Fife.
“You can see them come in flustered, they’ve been travelling or just finished work. Their energy is going in all different directions.
“We start with a really good warm up exercise in relation to the body, loosening up arms and legs and any tensions in the neck, and you can see that what is happening is that the tensions drain away and they start to focus.”
Iain, from Glasgow, trained as a professional conductor at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen following a first joint degree in Maths and Music at Edinburgh University.
“I was always involved in music but thought of it as more of a hobby and thought I would work with maths, but then I started conducting and music started to feel like a vocation.”
The SCC is a high level amateur choir which auditions potential members. “There are almost no professional choirs in Scotland,” he adds. “The Dunedin Consort is one of the few professional choirs. One of my aspirations is to get more professional work happening.”
The Scottish Chamber Choir rehearses once a week at Stewart’s Melville College and has performances in June in Glasgow and South Queensferry. Its repertoire specialises in English and Italian early music as well as more modern and contemporary pieces from James MacMillan, Herbert and Delius.
Research nurse Guen Innes, a member of the SCC, said: “I have a lifetime of music making behind me. I started with piano at age six and then took up oboe. When I didn’t get into an orchestra I thought I would take up singing.
“I sing alto and I’ve a very broad taste with a particular interest in Renaissance music of the 16th and 17th centuries.”
Guen, who graduated in economics and sang in the Edinburgh University Choir, took up singing again when her two children were small and she was working in insurance.
It has been her salvation. When a marriage ended 20 years ago and she was raising her family, choir practice was her next priority.
She said: “Singing was the one thing I made time for no matter what was going on in life. I made sure I got a babysitter and went to rehearsals every week.”
Now working as a research nurse at the Western General, Guen’s passion for choir singing has seen her through her career transition.
“Choir singing takes a lot of concentration so there is absolutely no room in your head for day to day worries.”
Her obsession with singing has also seen her go on singing holidays.
“I have had the pleasure of singing in St Mark’s in Venice, the Basilica of St Francis of Assisi and, last year, in Burgos in Spain we sang with monks in a monastery.
“I do love it. There is something about singing with other people which is better than singing in the shower.”
Amanda Forsyth is an investment manager with Murray Asset Management who sings alto with three choirs.
She says: “It’s so all consuming that everything else gets pushed aside. Being in a choir is very little short of life saving.
“I worked through the dotcom boom and then the markets kept falling. I find being part of a choral community is essential to my well being.
“I sing with St Giles’ Cathedral Choir. We sing five or six different pieces every week. To sing with them is an absolute privilege. The likes of Gareth Malone has demystified what a choir is about.”
Amanda also sings with a chamber choir, Chorus Edina. “It’s just like a group of friends getting together,” she says.
Amanda has been involved with choirs since her childhood. “My dad was a chorus master in Staffordshire. I didn’t even know what a note was when I joined a very small group. There was no escaping it. In the past I have sung in the chapel at St Andrews.”
Every year St Giles’ Cathedral Choir participates in St Giles’ After Dark during the Festival Fringe.
“Last year it was amazingly successful. We sing songs from the shows like the Book of Mormon and we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
Once seen as elitist, choir singing is providing an outlet for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to shake off the cares of the day by exercising their varied vocal ranges.
Psychologist Liesbeth Tip, a former therapist is from the Netherlands where she sang soprano in a choir. She moved to Scotland five years ago to complete a PhD in clinical psychology.
“Through my research I interviewed a lot of people on NHS wards who had benefited from music therapy and the choir idea came from that. Singing is good for lifting everyone’s mood. And with one in four people having a diagnosis of some mental health condition I found that people were not talking about it.”
She founded Harmony Choir in June 2016, initially for just two months. Support was provided through an Innovation Initiative Grant from the Edinburgh Fund which gathers contributions from the alumni and friends of the university.
“It’s an inclusive choir irrespective of ability and desire to perform. It also tied into some research that I was carrying out.
“I was curious to see how internalised stigma and feelings of low self-esteem were affected by singing in a choir so I gave out questionnaires before and after rehearsals which monitored enjoyment, connectedness and well-being. There were vast improvements.
“In fact members were enjoying it so much they asked to keep it going beyond the two months.”
Now, with a small membership fee, there are no auditions to join Harmony which has a 45-strong membership and the emphasis is on fun with a light repertoire ranging through folksongs, classic pop, and songs from the musicals.