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It's not easy to start a choir, particularly working within the fields of classical or gospel music. You get a bunch of people together, they all have to be able to sing in rhythmic unison while conjuring up ecstatic harmonies. Or work in a few fiendish counterpoint melodies that swoop around the main refrain.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Some choirs sidestep difficulties by lowering their quality control, some avoid the issue of auditioning by bringing in far too many members to count, while others dispense with melodies altogether.

BBC Music Day is about to celebrate choirs of all sorts, with 40 diverse choral performances at 40 different train stations across the UK for 40 BBC local radio stations, on Friday 28 September. So, as a taster, here's a tribute to the many unorthodox uses of the human voice.

Tuneless Choir

[WATCH] BBC News interviews Tuneless Choir

You may think the one thing anyone needs in order to join a choir is the ability to hold a tune, but that's the assumption that this Nottingham ensemble was formed to challenge. Nadine Cooper put together the Tuneless Choir after years of being told she could not sing, and the result is a musical experience quite unlike any other.

She told the Telegraph: "When I was 11, our music teacher laid his hand on my arm and asked me to stop singing. He told me I was spoiling it for everyone else. Ever since then I've tried to avoid singing in public. But I feel I've missed out on a great deal of pleasure."

That's what singing in the Tuneless Choir has given her. And she's not the only one, as there are several Tuneless Choirs starting up all over the country. And in case anyone gets too big for their boots, the choir has a handy clause in their membership to prevent things from getting too harmonious. Musical director Bernie Bracha explained: "We want everyone to feel comfortable using their voice. This is about participation not performance... We've agreed that, if anyone gets too good at singing, they'll be asked to join another choir."

Mieskuoro Huutajat

[WATCH] BBC News meets Mieskuoro Huutajat

Taking the Tuneless Choir concept a stage further, Mieskuoro Huutajat (Men's Choir Shouters) is a Finnish choir that doesn't sing at all. On their website, they describe themselves (brilliantly) as "20-40 decently dressed men" who "scream, bellow and shout excerpts from national anthems, children's ditties or international treaties". There are a lot of raised voices, in other words, in a range of frequencies from the heavy metal death growl to a very manly kind of screeching. They refer to their musical approach as "simple but loud".

Petri Sirviö is the group's founder, composer and conductor, having set up the group in Oulu, Finland, in 1987. He's so committed to the concept of simple but loud he even conducts using a drumstick instead of the traditional baton.

Number Nine Chorus

[WATCH] Number Nine Chorus sing Ode to Joy

10,000 people is a stadium-full. Your favourite pop performer would probably be delighted to have the chance to sing in a venue that fits an audience of that size, and yet in Japan, there is a choir with so many members they would have to perform from the seats (and presumably put a small, carefully selected audience up on the stage).

The Number Nine Chorus from Osaka is a mega-choir made up of 10,000 amateur singers who get together to perform Ode to Joy, the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, every December. The song is an integral part of the Japanese Christmas, and is commonly known as daiku, meaning "number nine". The popularity of the ode came from German soldiers imprisoned during the First World War in Japan, who first performed it for a Japanese audience, and since then it has taken on the same seasonal significance we give to Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody.

Thankfully the Number Nine Chorus are not a touring concern - it would be financially ruinous.

Whale Choir

[WATCH] Mouths of the Tyne sing Whale Song

This performance was created especially for an exhibition of the work of French artist Marina Rees, as part of a residency at the Old Low Light Heritage Centre in North Shields in July of this year. She got the Mouths of the Tyne Community Choir to impersonate the song of the humpback whale, as organised into musical form by Icelandic composer Guðmundur Steinn Gunnarsson. The performance was part of a series of pieces gathered under the headline North Atlantic Drift: Pursuing Whales, designed to illustrate how whales interact with their environment and themselves.

She also encouraged choir members to restrict their senses - some held their breath, or pinched their noses - to try and bridge the physiological gap between whales and humans. The idea is to try and understand their communication, a desire made more urgent by the fact that human endeavour on the seas is reducing their ability to communicate in the first place.

Pub Choir

[WATCH] BBC News meets Pub Choir

Choral singing need not be weighed down with expectations that it's improving, hifalutin or even artistic, it can just be a right laugh. That's the ethos behind Australia's touring Pub Choir, in which people pack out a bar, learn a song in three-part harmony over an hour and a half, sing it together twice, and then film it for YouTube.

The Pub Choir mission statement is thrillingly direct: "Music belongs to everybody. So grab a beer, relax, and simply open your sound hole (your mouth, FYI). It's rowdy, wholesome, and so much damn fun. No audition, no solos, no commitments, no sheet music, NO WORRIES."


Bill Drummond - musical conceptual artist formerly of The KLF - created The17 as part of a thesis he had developed that the age of recorded music is now over. The ubiquity and free access to the history of recorded music means that records aren't special, musical events are. So, he formed a choir. Strictly speaking he formed a number of choirs, as the membership changes with every performance. Sometimes there are 17 singers, sometimes many more, sometimes none. There is no audience, no filmed footage and no recordings of their work. But they've performed all over the world.

They work according to instructions called "scores" which contain no musical notation. One says simply, "PUT YOUR EAR TO THE GROUND AND LISTEN," while another invites the choir to pitch to the dominant note in a recording of a car journey. Hundreds of people have taken part in The17 events, including schoolchildren, who even contributed their own scores for others to perform. The choir's scores have since been translated into 22 languages, proving that spontaneous music knows no barriers.

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