300,000 more people sing regularly than play amateur football each week, according to a new national survey from choral charity, Voices Now. Despite this, football receives £30m in government funding annually, compared to just £500,000 for choral groups.
The Big Choral Census aimed to find out how many choirs there are in the UK, what types of choir are represented, who sings in them and what sort of music they sing. Through conducting an online survey of over 3,200 choirs and collecting data from a range of national and regional organisations, Voices Now estimates that 2.14m people sing regularly in over 40,000 choirs. Community choirs, choral societies, rock choirs and church choirs rub shoulders with new categories including choirs relating to health and social wellbeing, socially engaged choirs and even ‘tuneless choirs’ for people who ‘can’t sing’.
According to the report’s authors:
‘The health benefits – mental and physical – of being in a choir are wide-ranging and well-documented. We believe that choirs foster a sense of togetherness and community that other comparable activities do not. Choirs do not require any specialist equipment or venues. They cover every genre of music, are inexpensive, and a clear majority welcome people regardless of musical background – or lack thereof.
‘Yet these vast numbers and countless benefits still fall under the radar. Simultaneously, choirs suffer from multiple and contradictory misconceptions. On one side, there are super-slick, super-competitive groups who appear well beyond the abilities of the nervous and curious beginner. Then there are various personal, sensationalised and jeopardy-ridden ‘journeys’ with ‘difficult’ communities. And we still have the traditional tropes of angelic choir boys, or obsolete, old-fashioned groups warbling through sepia-toned, corner-curled sheet music. The first two make good television, but perhaps do not encourage taking part. The latter is a lazy cliché that no longer holds true.
‘Study after study by leading research institutions has shown that singing in choirs creates coherent community groups, strengthens working relationships, promotes happiness, mental well-being, and general and therapeutic physical health. It takes place in welcoming environments at an economic cost well below many other leisure and cultural activities, does not discriminate by age or ability, and is close to being within the reach of even the most geographically-isolated communities.
‘Choirs are already popular and are still growing, they bring innumerable benefits to communities and individuals, they are open to and cater for all. But they have the potential to do much, much more. Voices Now believes that the time is long overdue to grasp the incredible, untapped potential that choirs offer to the whole of society, both for those already in the fold and for those who have not yet sung their first notes.’