Great Choral Study

Monday 29 November 2010, 10:10

James McLaren James McLaren

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Numbers of people becoming involved in British choirs have been falling for some years; a new study of the state of the choral scene will assess just how drastic that decline has been.

Researchers from the Great Choral Study will aim to "investigate the current and future trends, opportunities and challenges facing British choirs".

"Major questions are being asked throughout the choral community on the future of choral singing - is the television-driven popularity of choral singing the first signs of a rebirth of our choral tradition or simply a blip in the ongoing decline of a great tradition?"

Leading Welsh choral conductor, John Hywel Williams MBE, a recognised authority in choral singing, is an expert advisor for the British Research Team and whose long and established choral career makes him no stranger to the evolving trends in choral singing.

"While choral singing was a pillar of community life years ago, this has faced great competition in terms of competing social activities, changing work habits and the redefinition of community and home life dynamics.

"All this has had a profound impact on the positioning and popularity of choral singing within the community and across the land. With choral singing and 'the Land of Song' a key component of the image of Wales, to understand the trends and challenges for choirs and the future of choral singing is of great interest to Wales as a country."

We caught up with The Great Choral Study's Jeremy Williams to ask a few questions.

Do you think that the likes of Only Men Aloud are genuinely fomenting interest in lower age groups?

"Yes. Without a doubt, the likes of Only Men Aloud have brought choral singing to popular media and to a wider and lower age demographic. They have reached the wider demographic audience through popular media and brought much needed movement, visual engagement and glamour to the traditional static and aural approach to choral singing, whose lack of visual dynamism and glamour is not well suited to the popular media and commercial channels."

What do you say to those who think that musical genres come and go and it's natural for certain types of music to wane and disappear?

"I look at any music or performing art as an evolution. Some new genres or approaches may enjoy longevity, others quickly shine and disappear but most add some footprint or impact, however small or brief, in the general progress and evolution of the art. Current new choral phenomenon may last, may not but one thing is sure, they have been a catalyst in progressing the dynamic, visual approach of choral singing."

Are themed, amateur choral releases such as The Priests and The Soldiers taking potential sales away from traditional choirs?

"They may be doing so to a degree but such releases are reaching a far broader and wider mass audience market which traditional choirs were not attempting or succeeding to reach. I see a synergy here in that any new or varied approach to choral releases by alternative groups or commercially driven groups only drive greater public affinity and interest in choral singing - which is a good thing for the world of choral singing."

Prior to the study's research and conclusions, what are your thoughts about how choirs and choral societies feel about their current predicament?

"Many traditional choirs do feel they are losing the battle against declining and ageing membership. However, there are some who, through drive and innovation, are bucking such trends. The laws of Darwinism apply just as much to choirs as they do to the animal world. The choral organisation which will survive is the one that is most adaptable to change and meets the evolving needs of its environment and society."

What ways are traditional choirs investigating in order to publicise themselves and perhaps garner greater success, now that they're not one of the cornerstones of local life?

"Many choirs - but not all - attempt to break away from their traditional approaches. Performances are becoming far more visually dynamic and varied to drive greater entertainment and attraction with its audiences. Greater efforts are being placed on recruitment and publicity not only in the hope to attract new members but in many cases to maintain membership levels. Choirs are embracing the web and social media to drive awareness and following."

We'll be keeping a close eye on the Great Choral Study's conclusions and will bring them to you as soon as we can.

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