Here at Choir with No Name, we've been talking a lot recently about how choir members can influence the way we are run. It's about choir members sharing their expertise and ideas, and more than that, it's about sharing decision making power. The term that is sometimes used to describe this approach is 'co-production'. This approach is driven by our belief that the choir members who benefit from being in the choir are best placed to help create and design our singing communities
As an organisation, we've always involved choir members in the way the organisation is run. Through member forums where members can feedback, to member representatives participating in board meetings nd in recruitment panels. From members giving speeches at gigs to writing in the newsletter and creating content for social media. We've always focused on showcasing our members talents and showing the world that there is a human with skills and passions behind the label 'homeless'.
But this year, we thought - what if we share power with members from the very start of a choir? This is how our new Coventry choir was born. And, what a journey we have been on.
We are excited, both about what our Coventry choir are doing, and the way in which the Coventry choir are influencing the other choirs. Our aim is to embed the same principles of equality, power sharing and importantly, supporting and showcasing our member's talents, across the organisation. Ultimately giving more people a place to sing their heart out when going through tough times.
So, in the spirit of Co-production let us hand over to our Coventry members…
My first experience of CWNN was a day I will never forget. Sally (choir manager) and Pete (choir director) from the Birmingham choir are two of the strongest personalities you’ll meet - each with a hint of yellow! They came into my life on the 24th September 2018 after homeless charity Crisis Skylight in Coventry invited them to lead a music sessionat the Canal Basin.
My mum had just passed away and I could barely reach my heart to sing. For me it felt so raw but I did sing, and I realised how much I was enjoying it, and how I was growing inside with every beat of the song. This was my first experience of singing from the heart and it woke me up from the negative space I was in. I thank Sally and Pete every day, with all my heart and I feel so honored to have met them and now have our own sessions in Coventry every Wednesday.
Our choir is a team effort, so I wanted to hand over to a couple of other members here. This is Tracy, who can tell you about being part of the huge ‘Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency’ show at The Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. It sold out most nights and brought joy to everyone! Take it away Tracy…
Co-produced by Cardboard Citizens, Coventry City of Culture Trust and Belgrade Theatre; the show is based on an original story by Heathcote Williams about a group of revolutionaries who set out to prove that real change is possible. The idea being an estate agency for homeless people to live in empty properties in the 1970's.
In September 2021 Coventry City of Culture Trust asked Underground Lights community theatre (a group I belonged to) if members would be interested in taking part in a community choir that was part of the production. We were happy to oblige and so I met Sally and Pete. We began rehearsing and quickly realised a permanent Coventry choir was very much needed as we all felt amazing when we were singing together!
During rehearsals we had a lot of fun - in the wardrobe department dressing up like it was the 70s and working with the wonderful cast, spending hours and hours with each other during performance weeks. Good job we liked each other, because in total we did nine performances! We all had an amazing time and our journey with Choir with no Name began.
Coventry Choir with No Name was born out of a need to have a sanctuary of safety. Where you can just go and be yourself, leave your troubles at the door and sing the tunes that inspire you and create happy memories and friendships that last a lifetime.
Being a member, you don’t need to worry about costs, unlike most choirs, CWNN is free to attend, but that’s not the main reason we go. Mostly everyone in the choir attends because we see Pip our pianist and Gina our musical director and we realise whatever our problems, we are stronger as a unit; growing confidence and strength through the food we share, the songs we sing and the gigs we perform.
We are starting to create a huge following in Coventry since being part of Ghosts in the Ruins with Nitin Sawhney marking the sixtieth anniversary of the consecration of Coventry Cathedral. It is on BBC iPlayer right now, so check it out!
Now I want to introduce you to Alison who will tell you about this huge event we were part of that involved an ‘after party’ and then an ‘after after party’! We also discovered a shared love of hiding your headphones… it’s a long story.
How can I describe the experience of "Ghosts in the ruins", written by Nitin Sawney? Well, we were initially given a time frame of three weeks to learn three pieces of what can only be described as pretty unusual sounding music, to perform in the cathedral ruins. I have to admit it was a challenge as Pete patiently taught us the three movements of strange phonic opera. If that’s even what it was! Well, we learnt it and joined up with two other choirs to experience the most wonderful series of performances over three evenings, standing in the cathedral ruins singing for a very appreciative live audience plus several TV channels - and subsequently a global audience! The sound was magical, I felt so proud representing the people of Coventry in this manner. Yes, it was cold and yes, we were a little nervous, but we did it and we had the opportunity to use our voices to pay homage to the cathedral ruins and celebrate 50 years of our new cathedral.
Nitin himself was such a lovely composer to work for, and Pete held us together so despite the bitter cold it was a truly wonderful experience. A once in a lifetime opportunity. If I could do it again tomorrow, I would be delighted.
Finally we took part in the City of Culture Parade, here’s Cecilia to tell you all about…
The City of Culture parade was a celebration of all the things we had done over the year. Creating a Coventry Choir with No Name that will continue growing and carry-on supporting people who’ve experienced homelessness and mental health difficulties to be part of our growing family.
We are excited to be opening our doors to anyone from the local community who wants to come and join CWNN Coventry! We want to build a welcoming choir family of people both with and without lived experience of homelessness so that we can get to know each other, understand each other and support each other when we’re going through a tough time – whatever that may be. We will sing together, eat together and build our choir together. We can’t wait.
If you'd like to get involved in CWNN Coventry get in touch with Sally at Sally@choirwithnoname.org for more details.