Published: 24 February 2011
by PAVAN AMARA
IT is like a United Nations of singing. The Fleet Singers Choir, which meets every Monday evening, has members hailing from as far away as Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and Tonga.
But organisers say the diverse nature of the group, which features 20-somethings to those in their 70s, only adds to its community feel.
Pam Gilby, the choir’s chairwoman, said: “I would never dream of holding auditions because it’s about learning together, struggling through, and bonding through the thrill of singing, regardless of who you are.
“We have one homeless person who comes to every rehearsal without fail. Another elderly lady says she lives from one Monday’s rehearsal to the next, which shows that there’s a clear gaping hole where there should be more community work going on. For a lot of people we fill that hole.”
The Fleet Singers Choir have been nominated for a Camden Unsung Musical Hero award, through the scheme set up by Mayor Jonathan Simpson and supported by the New Journal. The awards are all about celebrating local heroes that make the borough an acclaimed musical hotspot worldwide.
The choir was nominated by Hampstead ward councillor Chris Knight.
“It’s nice to hear that we’re in the same territory as all those well-known Camden names now,” said Ms Gilby. “Although, in all seriousness I was very flattered.”
Since forming in September 2008, the choir have featured on BBC Radio 3’s Mendelssohn Weekend, the BBC’s Sing Hallelujah Project, and performed at the Royal Albert Hall, Barbican Arts Centre and the Southbank Centre.
A recent 45-minute fundraiser for Hampstead’s Marie Curie Hospice saw street donations triple from their usual daily collection amount.
Singalongs in the street have also been a regular success.
“I think singing triggers a change in atmosphere, and people find it moving to see a group of people doing something together,” said Ms Gilby. “We’re all so isolated nowadays, and we want to change that.
“We had a big singalong in a local Waitrose not too long ago, and it was a glorious reaction. I saw people taking their iPods out of their ears to listen to some live singing for a change.”
The choir is currently granted £500 per term by refuse organisation Veolia, £1,000 from the local Hampstead Wells and Campden Trust, and is allowed to contribute a reduced rate to rehearsal space Gospel Oak Methodist Church.
Ms Gilby said financial backing was vital to keeping the choir alive but a £6 charge per member has also been introduced.
She added: “It’s great value, because you’re getting 90 minutes of professional vocal training. The vocal techniques also help a lot of asthmatics with their condition. But what I have easily had the most feedback about, is the powerful therapeutic impact. People concentrate on their vocal technique and completely forget about other problems, even if it’s only for a little bit.”
Cllr Knight said: “The way they’ve engendered community spirit is unique and wonderful. Pam is an absolute dynamo.
“They run the choir on a shoestring budget, and yet they’ve gone from nothing to performing in the Royal Albert Hall in two years. I have introduced my own neighbour to join.
“It’s an amazing success, and still growing.”
The Unsung Heroes ceremony will be held at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm on March 28. Although organised by the Mayor’s office, it has not cost the taxpayer a penny because of sponsorship from King’s Cross Central, Bulldog and Apollo.
• For more information, visit www.fleetsingers.org.uk
SEND US YOUR NOMINATION...
DO you know an unsung musician, music venue manager or teacher who deserves one
of the mayor’s awards? Do you know anybody who has played an important role in keeping Camden’s music heritage alive? Make your nominations now. Send your suggestions by March 11 to: Councillor Jonathan Simpson, Mayor of Camden, Town Hall, Judd Street
WC1H 9JE. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org