At Christmas 2011 a friend told me about a choir that had just started meeting at Carrs Lane Church in Birmingham City centre. The choir was looking for new members and women singers were especially needed, “It’s just your sort of thing but I can’t remember its name”. Ironically, the choir with the name my friend could not remember turned out to be Choir With No Name.
I joined CWNN in January 2012 at a very low point in life. Years of personal trauma and loss had caught up with me and I was still coming to terms with the death of husband Ian, four Christmases earlier. Following his death I struggled to keep body, mind and soul together, not to mention a roof over my head. Having previously experience homelessness the thought of going back to something that I believed was long behind me was very frightening. Looking back the New Year 2012 marked the start of my emergence from those dark times. Instinctively I knew that I needed to find some way to express myself and somewhere to feel acceptable and be accepted – CWNN provided both.
By the end of the first rehearsal I’d found what I was searching for.
My four year relationship with the choir has been the supportive backdrop to some dramatic changes in my life. It has provided me with a refuge from the traumas of life as well as a place to nurture and develop my musical skill, build my confidence and become a whole person. I’d always been musical but in a very introverted private way. I had some basic awareness of my ability to carry a tune but the thought of standing on a stage and performing to an audience terrified me.
The Choir with No Name has provided me with friendship, encouragement and support. As choir members we all care for one another and the volunteers are wonderful people who give their time, talent and energy – week in and week out. They also provided kindness and patience plus the great food which we share at the end of each rehearsal. Pete, our choir director, has the most incredible ability to bring the best out of everyone.
I’ve been truly amazed at how much I’ve been able to achieve – singing solos is not something I’d ever have even contemplated before joining the choir, but now I find myself standing in front of an audience singing my heart out! Somehow the sense of singing the solo on behalf of the rest of choir taps into hidden reserves of courage.
Choir has become like an extended family to me.
During this time I’ve also become a mature student gaining a First Class Honours degree in Humanities from the OU. I’m now starting postgraduate studies at Lancaster University. I also work two jobs as a retail assistant and an admin assistant. This can be a challenge but I’m grateful for the measure of financial stability and independence that this employment has given me. I have also been blessed with new love in my life and that secure roof over my head has finally become a reality for me.
The songs we have sung together as a choir have been the stepping stones on the road to recovering my soul and rebuilding my life. Sunrise Sunset from the musical Fiddler on the Roof has a particularly special meaning for me. My solo lines begin “Is this the little girl I carried…” the voice of a woman watching her daughter as a bride – sadly my own mother never saw me marry. Our first public performance of this song was at the Birmingham Town Hall on 25th January 2016. We had been invited to sing at the Holocaust Memorial Service, an especially poignant occasion commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp. It was doubly poignant occasion for me as it fell just four days after my late mum’s memorial service. The 21st of January would also have been her 92nd birthday. My mum was a survivor of the Nazi era in her homeland of Austria. Many members of her family lost their lives or were brutally persecuted. My mother herself was a Resistance fighter and the shadow of those dreadful times never left her. Consequently, haunting memories of the Holocaust were very much part of my own upbringing.
However, there was another side to my mother. She came from a very musical family and was a classically trained singer with a beautiful voice. After the war she had made her living by singing but somehow this was another area of her life that never fully recovered from the traumas of her youth. Oddly my mother did not encourage me musically. Maybe she did not want me to suffer the same disappointments that she had or perhaps it would have been too painful for her to see what might have been reflected in me. Nonetheless, the happy memories that I have from my childhood always include my mother singing. That night in January 2015, on stage with the choir it almost felt as if it was my mother’s voice was coming through me. Yet in the same instant I was clearly aware of breathing for myself - this was my own voice projecting on stage. I believe that both of us were liberated from our past pain at the very same moment.
Music really does save people – this I know from personal experience. And through music the Choir with No Name also saves people. It provides joy, encouragement and unconditional love. It’s a place to be and discover yourself and a place to be with others and encourage them on their own journey of discovery. The Choir with No Name is a force for good in an often dark and lonely world. Your support is vital to the continuation of this life transforming work.