SFE Community Choir – Our Story

At Services For Education, our mission is simple: to use the power of learning and of music to create and build confidence amongst children, young people, adults and communities.

That mission is exemplified by our charitable projects.

One project that we are particularly proud of is our Community Choir.

From its inception in May 2018, it has been wonderful to see the choir grow and flourish. We couldn’t be prouder of the hard work and effort from our team members who made this happen.

So this week, our Head of Music, Stuart Birnie, tells the story of the community choir:

How and why the Community Choir was created…

In January 2018, I was approached by a producer at BBC WM based in Birmingham asking if SFE would be interested in collaborating with them and a community choir in Wolverhampton for their BBC Dementia Awareness week in May 2018.

We have a very successful track record of vocal work in Birmingham both in and out of schools and a community choir was something we had been thinking about for some time.

The remit was, to form a choir (approx 50 strong) and to launch it in May as part of a BBC WM project in the Community based around dementia and raising the awareness of living with dementia.

The collaboration between ourselves and a community choir based in Wolverhampton was to be a 7 week project culminating in a performance if possible. We launched the sign up on BBC Radio WM’s Sonny & Shay show and underwent dementia friends training. The choir was around 45 in total from Birmingham and about 40 from Wolverhampton.

Rehearsals were led separately over 7 weeks and it was remarkable to see the journey some of the members made. We had an age range of 16-91 and everyone who turned up saw the sessions as a social building exercise and a great way of making new friends and talking about their stories.

In the meantime, I organised for the choirs to collaborate on some massed songs with the view of performing in Symphony Hall foyer as part of our pre-concert performances at our Services For Education Youth Proms Series in Symphony Hall during five nights in July.

Unbeknown to the choir, they were also going to be singing on the stage of Symphony Hall!

Many of the choir suffered with personal needs and this was proving to be quite a feat for some of them to take in. The choirs sung together beautifully in the foyer whilst being filmed for the BBC and then went on to sing in our first Youth Prom in July 2018 on Symphony Hall stage that same evening.

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience and never thought for one minute they would be able to do such a thing.

Since then, Services For Education has kept the choir running on Wednesday evenings at Holt Court in Aston and this has been important to us as a service to continue bearing in mind the enjoyment and confidence it has brought to the members.

What the choir means to its members…

A lovely quote from one of our members recently came in….

“I joined the community choir having previously been involved with the Dementia Choir. I enjoyed that experience so much that I was hoping there would be an opportunity to continue!

What I enjoy about being part of the community choir, is simply the opportunity to do something that is fun and uplifting. We are a really diverse group and I love the camaraderie, the respect for one another and the development….it may not have sounded like it, but Emma (conductor) has done an amazing job in really getting us to think visually about music, so that we can collectively produce a more cohesive sound as a group.

This is an amazing accomplishment given that many of us including myself don’t read music and only ordinarily sing into shampoo bottles in the shower! Our confidence has also grown immensely and again that’s down to Emma’s skill encouragement and tireless patience!

Singing in short makes me feel grounded, happy and energised. I work in quite a pressured environment and singing is a wonderful release! Wednesdays are the highlight of my week even though I do some fabulous things most other nights too!!I think in terms of me as a person,  the choir has simply given me a new love, it’s like the Friday feeling on a Wednesday! When I think of choir, I smile and that says it all really. Professionally, I’m very aware of social prescribing and how well singing fits into this discourse, the community choir is an amazing opportunity for personal development in an environment which is diverse, supportive and fun!

I am feel incredibly privileged and thankful to be given this wonderful opportunity , to be involved in all of the projects that we have and will be, to receive such great teaching and leadership from Emma and of course more latterly to be joined by the wonderful pianist Maria!”

We are absolutely thrilled to hear stories like this one – it makes our hard work worthwhile.

Want to get involved?

Singing really can change lives.

In fact, we published a blog post on this very topic, recently: 5 Ways Singing (and Music) Can Support Your Journey to Happiness

If you would like to take part in the community choir, rehearsals take place on Wednesdays from 7.00pm – 8.30pm at our Head Office: Services For Education, Unit 3 Holt Court, Holt Street, Birmingham, B7 4AX

You can sign up online here: SFE Community Choir or feel free to email us at music@servicesforeducation.co.uk or call us on 0121 366 9950.

Author Bio – Stuart Birnie

Over a career spanning 30 years, Stuart has been involved in Primary, Secondary, Further and Higher Education as brass teacher and tuba specialist.

For 12 years Stuart was an Advanced Skills Teacher for the Music Service and was one of the first members of staff to deliver Wider Opportunities (whole class instrumental teaching) across primary schools in Birmingham. He was head of WCIT for 9 years and then went on to becoming assistant head of music service.

Stuart has been head of the music service since September 1st 2018.

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