Keele Women’s Community Choir is a not-for-profit community group. We sing for fun, with an open access policy – so no auditions and no singing experience required, although experienced and trained singers also welcome! We were formed in March 2012 by Rebecca Leach with Mary Keith as Musical Director.
Although we have been going a little while, newcomers and beginners are always welcome assuming we have the space and although it might be a little tough for newcomers to join in with songs we’ve been practising for a few weeks or months, we’ll do our best to help you out while you’re learning them too… We sing in harmony (different parts), a capella (unaccompanied) on the whole, although Mary does occasionally break out with a whistle or ukelele to help with the tune; and no musical knowledge is required (we do not use music scores but learn the songs gradually).
Please don’t be put off, especially if you’re completely new to singing in a group or singing at all, if you think we all sound great/experienced/’proper’ singers etc. We’re really NOT! Some members are experienced singers and have sung in choirs before but the majority were new to it too when we started up, and it’s practice and Mary’s legendary encouragement and skills that have got us to this point
What kind of music does the Choir sing?
So far we’ve been singing contemporary/recent folk songs: Alison Krauss. The Wailin’ Jennys, Carole King, plus some other bits and bobs. Mary is open to suggestions for songs that people know/like but clearly, as the musical director, she has her own skills and repertoire so the Choir cannot guarantee particular songs or styles of music. Rebecca’s aim in setting it up was that it ought to be ‘singing for fun’ – in other words, songs that some people know and love and/or things that are fun, moving, interesting, but in particular with a commitment to try out new things, new styles. The plan is to be a little bit edgy and challenging and contemporary by mixing nuFolk with pop with ancient folk with cheesy classics with music from different places and cultures. We have a Facebook page which members are free to join to discuss music, or suggestions can be made to Mary. But the bottom line is that the Musical Director needs to be free to develop her own repertoire AND some songs just won’t be suitable or available for the choir to sing. There are many other choirs at Keele and in the local area so if you’re finding this one is not for you, there are other options.
“But I can’t sing! No, really, you haven’t HEARD me…”
This is what about 75% of the people I ask about joining the choir say. They laugh, feel a bit embarrassed and tell me their family won’t allow them to sing in company etc.. Quite a large number of women in the choir right now said exactly this too, but I twisted their arm so hard they couldn’t refuse to join. Now, they love it, have so much more confidence in their voice and they find the whole experience brilliant. Some of them are surprised by their own voices and the great sound we make as a group.Do come along and give it a try – that’s the thing about choirs, you sing in a group so no-one can really hear you when you have those 14 year old boy voice breaking moments or those bellowing cow in labour moments. And we all do.
Singing is so much joy and fun, and doing so with a great group of women is a really uplifting thing, builds networks, makes friends, gets communities together.
There are so few experiences to sing in a group unless you’re still at school or you go to church regularly. This choir is just one of many in the area, and our focus is on singing for all, for fun, with a tiny bit of edge… Other choirs are available, singing more classical music, with auditions, with a different flavour of song. Try them. Try us.
Why women only?
A whole number of reasons, none of which are to do with being deliberately sexist about/against men! If you want the more detailed, complex discussion of this point, feel free to contact me and I’ll discuss it with you. (Even better, come and study with us at Keele and you’ll get the opportunity to explore why women-only settings are sometime important… ;D)
It’s also worth noting a couple of principles here though: one, most men who enquire ‘why women only?’ when asked whether they actually want to join this or any choir say ‘No! Don’t be ridiculous!’ but they do want to make a point about principle. And my experience of asking around and recruiting for the choir suggests a level of interest ratio of about 100:1 in terms of women to men! So I’m not going to flog a dead horse trying to balance out male voices…
And two, there are not only LOTS of mixed choirs in this region, but a large number – being an old mining location – of male voice choirs. There’s a long tradition in Britain of male voice choirs, including in Staffordshire. In Europe, there are also many traditional female only choirs – including some of the famous Eastern European choirs using open throat singing.
This is the main point really: it’s not really hurting anyone and there are some positive reasons for doing it – women are often isolated at key points in their lives (when they’re at home looking after small children and when they are retired or widowed for example). This is not to say that some men aren’t – for example, older men are often very isolated – but the social exclusion of many women from public life is well documented. Many women’s ‘voices’ are not heard in a lot of settings. Despite this, women often remain the ‘community builders’ in their localities – making connections, caring for others, running groups. And still, despite the improvements in opportunities for women in the last 50 years, many women are unable to speak up personally or publicly about what they need; or if they do speak up, they are suddenly invisible or unheard…
A women’s choir is a great way to bring together some of these needs, so that women’s individual voices can gain confidence and that community ties can be strengthened.