This year saw the rise of the virtual choir, what makes Stay at Home Choir different?

We’re all about creating connections with some of the world’s most famous artists and giving our members the opportunity to get first-hand experience and insight from them. That isn’t something you can do in a physical choir setting, so we offer a different benefit that can sit alongside amateur music making.

During Covid, our output has been a virtual choir because that’s all that’s been possible. But we aren’t about the final product, it’s about the process of connecting with music lovers around the world and connecting them with amazing artists.

Could you tell us a bit more about how you connect your members with the artists?

The most important thing is finding artists who are open and willing to discuss their music at length with members of the public - there are some musicians, like Karl Jenkins, who are just genuinely open and inquisitive and happy to have these conversations. No project looks the same as we build them around what the artist wants and so far, it’s been a mixture of Q & As and coaching environments – giving members all of those wonderful little bits of insight you get when the composer is in the rehearsal.

We’ve engaged artists in other ways too. For example, we did a session with John Rutter which was a ‘come and sing’. We circulated a set of excerpts from his more advanced choral music and sang them through online – it was a sort of magical mystery tour of John’s advanced choral repertoire! Our next project is with the video game and orchestral composer Christopher Tin and we want to find exciting new ways of engaging with him. We try to keep it flexible because there isn’t a one size fits all approach for every composer.

With such a large number of members, how do you manage the sessions and build the community?

We have sessions of different sizes and that’s how we get the full spectrum of engagement. It’s quite a thrilling experience coming into a zoom room and realising the are 950 other people on the call, but a session like that doesn’t really allow members to engage as individuals, so we also hold technique forums and more informal drop-in sessions. During a project we run a few of the drop-ins every week and they are completely open sessions that give our members the opportunity to ask us questions and have a chat. These sessions give us the chance to really get to know our core members. We’re also doing a Christmas card exchange this year and 620 people have opted in to take part sending Christmas cards all around the world. We’re trying to do a mixture of things, from huge events to more personal sessions.

Did your Academy network help in setting up the project?

I’ve learnt a lot over the last few months about building teams, and how important an initial relationship and level of trust is, especially when your team never meets in the same room. That base level of trust is the reason that coming through the Academy and finding people from your networks is really helpful - you know that you’ve been grown in the same compost! I’m eternally grateful for Jamie as a business partner because we are the best working team. We went to the same choir from the age of 16 and then we both went through the Academy. We really think the same way, we trust each other implicitly and, although we’re very different human beings and pull in opposite directions all the time, it means the path we end up choosing is a balanced, good path.

What does the future look like for Stay at Home Choir beyond Covid?

We are planning for the future, not because we think that the virtual choir is going to continue to be popular when live music comes back, but because we’ve built a community of nearly 20,000 people who enjoy sharing experiences with other music lovers around the world and who get the chance to interact with artists in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

There’s also the issue of accessibility. Amateur music is an enormous scene and yet it doesn’t really take place unless it’s in a local setting and in person. You need to get to a specific place, at a specific time and if, for example, you work shifts or are physically disabled, you are more likely to be excluded. It’s exciting to think about how removing that simple bound of geography opens up access to high quality music making. We’re talking about the world’s best artists and the world’s best music with a real emphasis on quality and excellence, but without the bounds of geography.

The main thing is that we want to stay true to our principles: community building, making it accessible, and prioritising the quality and excellence of music making above everything else.

Tell us a bit about your upcoming project.

We have a project live for sign up called Sogno di Volare with Grammy-award winning composer Christopher Tin which starts in mid-January. The project will also feature the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the chorus of the Royal Opera House. Like all our projects, it’s pay-as-you-feel so we suggest a contribution of £15 but anyone can take part from as little as £1. We want to keep it accessible so if paying is a problem, people can also join the waiting list and we offer as many free places as we can afford.

What is your advice for anyone thinking of starting a project?

I can only speak from my experience, and I’m a particular human with particular motivations, but I think there’s a lot of truth in the old adage that there’s no substitute for hard work. I think with the right amount of intelligent working, anything can work. Just like when you’re learning to excel at an instrument, there’s only a certain part of the way that talent will get you, the rest is systematic, intelligent practice and it’s absolutely the same with building a project. If you decide to do something, throw your weight behind it, make sacrifices and dedicate yourself to it.

Find out more about Stay at Home Choir:

Visit the Stay at Home Choir YouTube channel to view recent projects:

Follow Tori on Twitter: @Tori_Longdon

Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jamiewdwright