Published on May 9, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Singing for society
Poet/singer/songwriter Simma delves into the question: when is a choir not a choir?
Mark Deeks decided after 20 years of leading and arranging that he wanted to do his own thing in music, and started from the principle that singers and audiences get the most from performing when the songs mean something to them as a group, or as individuals.
Given that the word “choir” had connotations of dull school halls and dusty churches, his project, Sing United, would be called a community singing group, and rather than the standard West End hits and pop classics, would sing pieces and play venues that connected them to a cause, a theme, or their home.
“The meaning of and the story behind the songs is the first and most important part of any Sing United show,” says Mark. “Finding songs with the right lyrics and meaning that people will identify with is the first step.”
The first sign that it was the beginning of something special came when almost 100 singers applied to join Sing United in the first two days.
The idea that music can either do good or be good is a widely accepted myth, if the history of terrible charity records we’ve put up with over the years is anything to go by, but Sing United are a glorious exception, being a genuinely top-class choir and contributing to society in tangible ways. Their first major project was based around the River Tyne and raised funds for the RNLI. Songs were chosen for their connection to the river and its surrounding communities. Some of the relationships between choir members and the theme ran generations deep.
The original idea soon took on a life of its own and expanded far beyond what Mark Deeks had initially expected. Fundraising also soon transcended the usual buckets and stickers, as members started making things to raffle and sell. The community aspect of the project blossomed, raising thousands for the charity and performing at Tynemouth Priory and The Discovery Museum in Newcastle. Their Power To The People show resulted in a huge donation of funds and food to The People’s Kitchen, while This Land Is Mine saw them not only raise funds but find time to visit elderly people at Manor House care home in Whickham, Gateshead.
Make no mistake, this is no “aww didn’t they do well” setup. This choir is seriously good, musically engaging and interesting, and its unique outlook sets it apart from other groups.
The latest Sing United project focuses on mental health and, as usual, it’s a matter close to the group. Mark says: “Musicians have long been able to use their songs as an outlet for their feelings and their struggles, and in turn, these songs have often become something of a support network for fans across the world. I thought it was important for Sing United to make a musical contribution to the mental health of our region.”
I for one can’t wait to see where they go next.
Always On My Mind is performed at The People’s Theatre, Newcastle, on June 16. Tickets now on sale.