Falkirk choirs on song

Singers and musicians hard at work during rehearsals
Singers and musicians hard at work during rehearsals

Thousands of eager viewers watched the military wives of RNB Chivenor and Plymouth come together - shaking off their loneliness and sense of isolation as their husbands fought, far away in Afghanistan.

The BBC television series ‘The Choir’ showed how the women’s voices, at first timid and tremulous, soon swelled and their confidence grew under the guidance of an inspiring young choirmaster called Gareth Malone.

The rest, as they say, is history: a number one single that blasted the ‘X Factor’s’ offering into a distant second place and thousands of pounds raised for charity.

For many of the women who featured in the show, singing in a choir was an entirely new experience - but for hundreds of people in Falkirk, it’s something that is very much a part of their lives, as the district’s thriving choral scene shows.

As the young conductor Gareth Malone has demonstrated, singing is good for you - and you don’t need to have the lungs of Pavarotti to enjoy being part of a choir.

While the TV group created friendship through music, more locally, another choir uses the magic of song to keep friends together.

The Strathcarron Singers was formed by former matron Molly Parsons just after she retired in 2004 - inspired by words of wisdom of her mother’s, who told her that ‘people who sing together or eat together stay together.’

“I just thought it was a good idea to keep some of us together and to my amazement and delight it just grew,” said Molly.

While the majority of members are retired or ex-volunteers, there are some present staff and even a few school pupils who have helped the choir grow from an initial seven numbers to 45-strong.

The former matron is firmly convinced of the benefits of singing.

“Singing is a really healthy thing!” she says. “And, socially, it keeps you wide awake and makes you think life is good!”

The choir has preceded the Military Wives in another way - so far, their performances have raised nearly £60,000 for the hospice.

Another local conductor is also convinced of the health benefits of singing.

Bob Tait, who conducts Falkirk Festival Chorus, said: “It’s a very physical thing - if you are doing it correctly it can be quite tiring.

“You have to use muscles for breathing, particularly your stomach muscles and even just standing and getting good posture is important.”

Despite the fact that the Festival Chorus tackles some of the most demanding pieces in the classical repertoire, Bob still thinks it is important that the choir is welcoming and inclusive. “I don’t run auditions,” says Bob. “My attitude to choral singing is a bit like Gareth Malone’s - if a singer wants to participate, it’s my job to give them the wherewithall to do that.

“When someone comes along for a few weeks, it’s amazing how they get on.”

After nearly 40 years at the helm of the choir, with his wife Christine’s help, Bob still believes it is very much worthwhile.

“Christine and I believe that if singers can walk off-stage with their heads held high and shining eyes and they’ve had a great experience, that’s what it’s all about.”

Other choirs in the area have different repertoires - but the essential experience of rehearsing together, enjoying a cup of tea and blether and then experiencing the thrill of it all coming together in a performance is the essence of every choir.

Falkirk Caledonia Choir’s roots go back as far as 1922 and these days, President Mary McCann says anyone who enjoys singing is welcome to join the choir,

which has around 70 members and performs everything from ABBA songs and Scottish music to contemporary pieces by composers such as John Rutter.

Like most choirs, the songs are in four parts - soprano and alto for females and tenor and basses for men - and like all choirs, it’s men in particular they would love to see more of.

“You don’t need to have any previous experience and its not necessary to read music,” says Mary. “All we ask is that people are enthusiastic, like to meet other people and just enjoy singing.”

Grangemouth Choral Society, which was formed in 1954, also performs a mixed repertoire and members have a packed schedule of performances, from fundraisers to its annual concerts.

Member Sarah Patrick loved the choir so much she persuaded her mother to join.

“It’s a great way to meet people and make friends from all kinds of different places and all sorts of backgrounds.

“We take it seriously - but not too seriously! We have a lot of fun as well.”

As Gareth Malone continues to sing the praises of choral singing, local groups hope that more people will think about joining.

“Some people come along and know very quickly that it’s not for them but most people once they join are very loyal,” says Bob.

“It give you great pleasure, and a feeling of belonging,” adds Mary.

And if you’re not convinced, just ask those Military Wives ... wherever they are.