Shelly Berry talks to Choir17 founder Rosie Dow
When I heard about Choir17 around this time last year, I signed up straight away. Having been in a choir before, I was keen to get back into singing – but knew that a choir in Walthamstow would be something special.
Founder Rosie Dow had a similar hunch. “Everyone here’s up for getting together and doing stuff, so I just went for it,” she tells me.
It’s clear Rosie cares about her choir members and admits that, at the choir’s performance at the Walthamstow Garden Party in July, she was more interested in the reaction of her singers than the audience.
“I get really proud of people when I can see that they’re a bit scared but they’re going for it anyway. Seeing that blossoming and their faces when it sounds really good – when you’re all looking really proud, when you’re singing and you’re bopping away – I love that.”
Rosie’s motivation for setting up Choir17 is embedded in her personal history. While learning the flute came with the stress of exams, singing in a choir was a positive experience. “It was somewhere I could go and literally just have a nice time,” she remembers, before telling me about one particular choir leader she met aged 14.
“She had so much energy. Ever since then I’ve emulated that desire to inspire people and make something with a group of people that was lovely and special and warm.”
Rosie’s work towards a masters degree in anthropology and community arts at Goldsmiths has deepened her understanding of the benefits of being in a choir, describing it as a community in itself.
“It’s about finding something that’s essential to that group of people and then giving them a focus and a way to understand each other.”
It is in this context that Rosie sees the rise in choirs as a “show of unity” against divisive politics that encourages individuality at the expense of wider society.
“That’s one of the best weapons we have against some of the stuff that we see in the world at the moment,” she argues.
As well as the stress-reducing and immunity-boosting benefits of singing, which may explain the ‘rush’ some singers describe, Rosie tells me about more recent biological research into the similarity between hormones apes produce when they groom each other and those released in humans when they sing in a group. “It’s like a social bonding hormone,” she explains.
While the theory is compelling, what Rosie has personally witnessed illustrates how Choir17 has made a difference to people’s lives.
“People stop me and say it’s made them feel more at home here because they see people in the street that they know from choir. I’ll go out jogging on a Saturday and I’ll see people and wave at them, and it’s so nice.”
And, as Choir17 approaches its first birthday, I would certainly encourage anyone whose sense of belonging or mental wellbeing could do with a boost to come along and give it a go.
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