Quirkus: Quirky Choir celebrate 20 years

Choir leader Janet Wood reflects on the choir and its busy 20th year

I think my voice

Is a squeaky gate,

I think my voice

Is a rusty nail

Down a breeze block

(from Raise Your Voice, a song written by Ian McMillan, Janet Wood and Quirky Choir)

What do you think about your singing voice? Do you compare it negatively with those of your favourite singers? Did a misguided teacher once tell you to stand at the back and mime? Quirky Choir was started in November 1997, born out of a passionate belief that singing is everyone’s birthright, and that everyone can sing.

Quirky Choir has had a joyously busy eighteen months celebrating our twentieth anniversary with a huge Arts Council funded project called Quirkus. We collaborated with four excellent artists, Ian McMillan, Luke Carver Goss, Hayley Youell and Lucky Moyo, who in turn worked not only with the choir but also with our Singing for Memory group, a group of people from our Creative Directions programme, young women from Swag Choir and Swaglets, and members of Doncaster Conversation Club. We have nearly thirty original songs to add to our repertoire.

With Ian we laughed out loud but were also brought close to tears in a series of songs exploring memory. Luke introduced us to different musical modes and styles and gave our voices instrumental flavours from far-off lands. Hayley, with colleagues Andy Seward and Nick Lewis, led us gently into the world of conductive touch technology and opened up new ways of using our vocal sounds. Lucky brought us traditional songs from southern Africa which we adapted and built upon to make our own, incorporating some of the languages of newcomers to Doncaster.

We have performed our new material in Doncaster Trades Club, the Mansion House, the Minster, The Point Gallery and the Dome, and at pop-up events at the Bus Station, Central Library, Campsall Park, the Quaker Meeting House and a Catholic Church Hall in Stainforth. We have recorded all our new material with Jim Lunt, taken part in a beautiful documentary film by Jim Lockey, contributed quirky vocal sounds to an installation, and launched a wonderful celebratory exhibition featuring said recordings, film and installation and also James Mulkeen’s lovely photos. We have taken advantage of other events – the Make A Noise In Libraries project for people with visual impairments, Doncaster’s Steam Punk Festival, an Arts and Crafts Fair in the marketplace, the opening of the refurbished Wool Market and the installation of the Museum of the Moon in Doncaster Minster.

We have featured on Sine FM and Radio Sheffield, and had articles in the Doncaster Free Press, Doncopolitan, and The Mature Times. We have hugely developed our presence on social media.

We have opened up to new ways of presenting our work, as in the Singing For Memory installation at the DN Festival which gave visitors an immersive insight into a session with Ian, and the Quirkus exhibition installation, where, by touching ornamental letter Qs near images of the choir, visitors could trigger sounds which cut through the ongoing recordings being played and allowed them to create their own Quirky piece.

We learned a huge amount through the project – some of us taking on responsibilities for negotiating gigs, posting on social media, nurturing contacts, writing articles, speaking on the radio,

managing finances and paying artists. We had to learn a lot of new songs very quickly, attending extra rehearsals and learning at home with sound files, but it was all worth it in the end!

We pride ourselves on being a very different kind of choir and we feel we have really pushed our boundaries and consolidated our identity through the Quirkus project. We feel we have significantly raised our profile in Doncaster. We now know much more fully who we are and what makes us different from other choirs in the town.

We have a large body of songs which we will definitely keep in our repertoire. We want to retain regular, varied performances and eclectic challenging music alongside our more immediately accessible fare.

Individual choir members report having increased confidence in their singing abilities and also positive impacts on their wellbeing. Feedback also mentions becoming a more “bonded” and “unified” choir. One said, “Quirky Choir has become a very polished choir, which easily adapts to different requirements. We just seem to gel together so well!”

There is a thirst to “keep growing creatively, continuing to set ourselves challenges.” And in answer to the question, “What should we keep from the project?” another member said, “We should keep our identity as a group of like-minded people who love singing and use our enthusiasm to bring pleasure to others, spreading a message of harmony and tolerance.”

Since the project we have welcomed new members – why don’t you join us? You don’t need to be able to read music and there’s no need to feel anxious about your singing voice – just come and enjoy the experience of singing in harmony with others – adding your own unique voice.

This is my voice

It’s my fingerprint

This is my voice

And it makes its mark

On my life’s page