How can singing help prisoners rebuild their lives? The formidable MJ Paranzino, co-founder of Liberty Choir, tells her inspiring story on this week’s episode of Singing Teachers Talk. Find out why MJ started a choir in Wandsworth Prison, why she believes group singing is so powerful, and what she plans to do next.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • MJ’s choirs are inclusive and give people who may not have had the opportunity to sing before, a chance to enjoy the healing power of music.
  • It took MJ ten years to convince prison authorities to let her start a choir in HMP Wandsworth.
  • Singing lifts your burdens and can relieve pain. This can be so important and transformative to someone who is behind bars, depressed or lonely.
  • MJ has a dream for every prison in the UK to have its own choir.
  • Everyone should have the opportunity to find their sound in a supportive, creative singing environment.

BEST MOMENTS

It’s just a groovy thing to do and it’s contagious! No matter what your mood is’

Being part of peoples lives enriches you’

Our excellence comes from enjoying the singing’

EPISODE RESOURCES

BAST Training

Toward the Unknown Region, Vaughan Williams,

Geographical Fugue, Ernst Toch

Uptown Funk, Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars

My Shot, Hamilton

One Love, Bob Marley

Toreador Song, Carmen

Lacrimosa, Mozart

ABOUT THE GUEST

MJ Paranzino is passionate about bringing people from all walks of life together to sing, learn and build friendships. She leads five community choirs and is the co-founder of Liberty Choir, a charity that takes singing into prisons and secure psychiatric settings

Guest Website:

mjparanzino.co.uk

Social Media:

youtube.com/channel/UCbJKfD9WJDxgzdmAQnVqGdQ

facebook.com/unlockingheartsthroughsong

Link to podcast presenter’s bios


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Ep.37 The Power of Community Choirs with MJ Paranzino

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

people, choir, singing, prison, sing, sopranos, choirs, understand, music, week, mj, community, singers, liberty, life, embrace, fantastic, concerts, talking, wonderful

SPEAKERS

Bronwyn Bidwell, MJ Paranzino

Bronwyn Bidwell  00:06

Hello it’s Bronwyn here. Welcome to another episode of Singing Teachers Talk. Our guest today is a singer, vocal coach and composer. She also runs no less than five community choirs, one of which is based in Wandsworth prison. So without further ado, welcome to the show MJ Paranzino.

MJ Paranzino  00:25

Hello, Bronwyn! Hello, everyone!

Bronwyn Bidwell  00:27

So how are you going? And how are things for you at the moment? Are you back to full capacity with your choirs everyone back seeing face to face? Or where are you with that?

MJ Paranzino  00:40

Yes, I mean, well we started up the four community choirs that are not in prison. So that all started in September. It’s not at capacity like it used to be. And I’ll give you a perfect example, the South London Choir, which is located in Balham usually has 125 singers on a Tuesday night. And we’re hitting 50 and I think that’s just because people are being cautious, and a little bit concerned. But I think that all will change as time goes on. Look people going to football matches and festivals and things like that an nobody’s worrying. But it is been a little bit of a stigma around singing so I hope it disappear soon, to the distress of all of us who are singers and understand the joy that singing brings. And the sense of well-being brings, the sense of community and friendship and camaraderie. And, I know that soon that will return but it’s not there yet.

Bronwyn Bidwell  01:43

So talking about bringing singing to people; tell us about your work in prisons and how you started the Liberty Choir and how all that kicked off. 

MJ Paranzino  01:54

Yes, okay. Well, Liberty Choir started really from a dream in that all my community choirs, we’ve always gone to places where possibly vulnerable people or people with disabilities, or people that weren’t thought of. And, one of the things was to be involved in prison work. It took a very long time to get Liberty Choir established, because when you contact the prisons, they would say, “MJ you come in and sing with the men or the women” and I would say no, I have to bring members of the community choir in and they would worry about that security, what would people be like and but to me, it’s important that it is just about the singing and the performance. It is about community and understanding people and knowing that not everybody is all bad. There’s there’s many multitude of reasons why people end up in prison. And so that took 10 years to get started. I think the first time we got to go into prison was with my Brighton city singers and that was back in like 2003. And I worried that night, the night before I worried I thought “Oh, what am I doing to everybody taking him into prison to sing?” You know, I couldn’t sleep. And we went in and it was just fantastic. And afterwards, I think there were like 25 choir members that went in with me and they said, “Oh my God, when can we do it again?” And then we couldn’t get back in, we couldn’t get back in. There was something that happened within like a two week period. And there was a lockdown. And then when we were scheduled to get in the person that believed in us, didn’t say that they were leaving the job. And then I couldn’t get back in. And then that was the beginning of the pursuit to get back into prison. We always joke that it was harder to get into prison than it was to get out. But what happened from that first experience, we sent music at the end of this wonderful performance. And singing with the guys and we did “Down By The Riverside”, I can’t remember what pop song we did. But we did a classical piece “Down By The Riverside”, some pop, some musical theater theater, and then a bunch of guys, about five of them came up and said, “We have a singing group. Do you have any music you can share?” And we sent music and there was a couple letter writings that went on afterwards. And that was the beginning of understanding that actually worked. And even the guy that sat in the corner of the room with his hands folded at the end was singing along with a smiling, swaying and clapping. And you knew that it doesn’t matter how tough someone is or what their image is. Singing is wonderful and it’s universal and you relax, and you giggle and you laugh together. And it’s just a groovy thing to do and it’s contagious, no matter what your mood is, you know, it’s just contagious.

Bronwyn Bidwell  05:04

Well, that was what I wanted to ask you do you? Did you worry when you started going and you push, push push for 10 years to get to go in? Did you worry that you might just have a couple of kind of keen choir members? And then other guys that are just aren’t interested? Did you think this could this could, you know, maybe wind up just me and a group of fellow singers and then it wouldn’t it wouldn’t work?

MJ Paranzino  05:29

Yeah, I mean, I didn’t worry about that. Because I know and understand what happens as musical director, many musical directors know what happens, people are transformed by music. In prison, the opportunity to get out of your cell and have an activity is so valuable, you’re going to have people that are going to take you on anyway. They can still be miserable and cranky while they’re there, if they choose to be. But odds are, it’s that thing to understand that 20/25 people have come in from the outside who don’t know who you are, and have decided to come into prison, and spend the afternoon with you, an hour, two hours. And anybody that’s in prison knows how hard it is, the process of getting in and getting out is very difficult. And so they will appreciate and respect that and then once they come into the room, and they understand and they start talking and socializing together. And then you sing together, when you leave, like anybody, you have a skip in your step, you have a smile, your burdens have been lifted for an hour or two hours, and your pain is lifted. If you have some kind of chronic pain or some kind of disability, everything is lifted, and it hangs with you when you leave. And so because we know that this happens with singing and inquire especially this strange thing that happens when you breathe together, it’s guaranteed people are going to come back, not only they’re going to come back, but they’re going to tell their cell mate about it. And my wife, Ginny Dougary always tells a wonderful story about one of the guys, he had a very thick, you know, London accent and talks about, you know, that nobody could believe his friends that he was singing in a choir. And, you know, he went back to his cellmate and said, “You’ve got to come. It’s just fun, and it’s great, and you’ll feel good afterwards”. And when he got transferred from Wandsworth prison to another prison, he set up a choir!

Bronwyn Bidwell  07:39

And do you feel like you’ve learned a lot from that experience of going into prisons?

MJ Paranzino  07:44

Sure. I mean, before we got into the prison, we were in the forensic psychiatric ward at Springfield Hospital, which is people that have usually schizophrenia, or some type of psychotic, you know, problem. And they’ve committed some type of crime, that to others or to themselves, and so they’ve been committed in a secure ward, that was the first place we could get into. So it’s sort of similar to a prison. But, I know that people are transformed. So I really, I didn’t have a problem with understanding that people would be transformed. But I’m not just talking about prisoners, or people who are ill when you go in, or senior citizens, or people who have neurological diseases, I’ve done all that throughout my whole life. The people who are also transformed are the people that are participating in community choir, because it’s the interaction with human beings. You know, when we have, in our families, people who have mental illness or drug addiction, or who are terminally ill, or seniors or with dementia, we understand how important it is to still embrace them and love them, no matter what the roller coaster ride is, with the family member or the friend. And sometimes in life, you are isolated from that you’ve had, you know, you don’t have those experiences, often, never or as often. And so when you do but you want to be involved in people’s lives, you understand that being part of people’s lives, is really what enriches you, as a person and it enriches how you perceive others. So when you walk by somebody in the street that you know, has some of these issues, or a friend has some of these issues, then you actually know how to react to them, or embrace them, that not everybody is evil. There’s something going on that caused the problem.

Bronwyn Bidwell  10:02

And would you like to see a Liberty Choir rolled out in every prison? You know, would you like to see this? If it has such a transformative effect, you know, rolled out into other places?

MJ Paranzino  10:14

Yes, I mean, our dream is to be in every prison in the UK and sometimes expand someday expand to America. I’m big on, I want music, to be in all prisons, no matter what shape or form it takes. But I do know, that choir, with people coming from the community is key. It’s great to do a good deed and go in and do a two week performance or a one off session. But it’s another thing to go in every week, year round, every week, for an hour or two hours and interact with people and be there when they come out and be available. Because they’re you’ve developed comradeship, friendship, fellowship with them through music, so you understand and you’ve, you’ve met people at the worst time in their life, and you’ve accepted them, the whole person. And so that’s something wonderful then, there’s an understanding, and they’ve done the same thing for the people coming into the choir. There’s posh people, people who struggled through their lives, people who are dyslexic, you get to meet all these different people, because that’s the world isn’t it. And so then there’s an understanding of each other. And the one thing that I know is that, in this world, there are more people that want to make a difference, that don’t want to just sit on the fence, they may not be able to give their time week in and week out, but they might be able to give an afternoon of a couple hours. And and they may have skills that I don’t have, they may have been teachers, or lawyers, or therapists, or fathers or mothers. They may have been addicted to drugs, or dyslexic, we all have something. Okay. And you know, it’s wonderful for one in a million who’ve never had a problem before ever in their lives. But I don’t think I think everybody’s had something. And that’s why we can relate to each other.

Bronwyn Bidwell  12:15

And so growing up what were your experiences of choir, because you you obviously have a very inclusive approach to choir singing. But for me and probably for a lot of people, when we were growing up choir singing was quite elite. It was something that people with musical skills and a musical background did. So what were your early choir experiences like?

MJ Paranzino  12:36

Well, I mean, so I came from a very loving family, large Italian American family, everybody sang. I remember five years old wanting to play the piano. And, and then as the years went on, when I could when I learned how to read chords, and so I could change a song into any key, and my father love to sing, he loves Sinatra, and he would sing “My Way”, “All of Me”. And I could change the key for his range and he had a great voice and stuff. And I could do for all the relatives. So, you know, Saturdays and Sundays were fantastic. Everybody’s singing around the piano. It was really though, when my parents, you know, working hard, we move to a better neighborhood. And this school, had a choir. And, and, and of course, I was I was born with a voice so it was easy for me to get in the choir. And, and the musical director was fantastic. And I remember the first time, two things, the first time I heard Mozart’s . And I just thought I’d died and went to heaven, because I grew up on Sinatra, Louis Prima, Dean Martin, and I’m sure I’d heard choral music, but I never really understood that I heard all that okay. And the first time I’d heard and saw cello played, and I’d probably had seen that in my life, you know, because we’d always go to, if Sinatra was in town, my father got tickets okay, so there were cellos in the orchestra. But the first time I actually saw the instrument heard of played, and you know, I’m 13/14 years old at this point. And that was it. That was the beginning. So I had these very inclusive music teachers who embraced all styles of music, so knew how to talk to you about classical music, but also knew how to talk to you about pop music and musical theater. So I was fortunate in that and also embrace that I didn’t have the background that other kids that were interested in music had where they had good schooling, understood music theory, all that stuff. I was just kind of learning by observing so I’m different, I’m that kind of kid. I don’t like to read. Okay, but I can I can fake my way through things okay. And I think pick up things. So I learned quickly and I perceive patterns, the wonderful thing that music does, okay, it teaches you a lot of stuff without you doing the nuts and bolts that you would do with book learning. You’re learning through music. I mean, you think about choral music, but you learn? You learn about math and proceeding patterns, and social history and waiting. You know, there’s all the stuff that you’re learning through choral music, and, and playing the piano and all that stuff. So, I guess I was fortunate. And again, that I was born with a gift, a gift I never had a work at. So it was easy. Okay, I opened up my mouth, I could sing operatically, I could sing pop, you know. And so that opened the door for me, in every way possible. And so I was lucky.

Bronwyn Bidwell  15:50

And I know you were a performer for many years. But when you made that transition from performer to leading a choir, was that something that happened naturally? Or did you actually make a decision to sort of move into that area?

MJ Paranzino  16:02

Well, so I’ve been a choir person since I was 13. And then, you know, I was in a magical group, close harmony group, as a performer, I had my band and then my band transitioned to a close harmony group. And so singing and singing with other voices has always been a part of my life. So when I came to the UK 20 some years ago, I knew that I would not have a recording career anymore and a concert career, and I couldn’t start out like I was 20. And so then the natural thing was for me to do choirs and the other things that I was still doing, which was vocal workshops, motivational seminars, and workshops for public speaking and things like that, because as a vocalist, those are your assets, aren’t they? And I was fortunate enough, because of my background, that when I first came here, I was working with indie bands, retired rock stars, things like that, which gave me a little bit of notoriety for people to pay attention to me. And my first choir was the Brighton Choir, the Brighton City Singers and then and then went on from there to South London Choir, West London Choir, and the Hastings Town Singers. Did I get all four in or what?

Bronwyn Bidwell  17:22

You got all four, that was good! And so that’s what I was gonna say what advice would you have to vocal coaches or singing teachers thinking about setting up their own choir? What sort of advice would you give them?

MJ Paranzino  17:36

Well, I mean, you know, everybody’s different. Because I’m big about community, and embracing everybody. I’m a community choir person who likes to do choirs that are non auditioning, who encourage people who have been choir people to people who have never done it before and everything in between and I don’t worry about whether people can read music or not, they’re still going to be handed music, they still might do, for instance, Vaughn Williams, ‘Towards the Unknown Region”, or “March of the Toreadors” from Carmen. At the same time, they’ll do “Uptown Funk”, and Bob Marley’s “One Love”, okay and Hamilton, “My Shot”. I want people to know that you can learn anything. You don’t learn it in an instant. But you can learn in anything. And that that’s okay, that it might take the community choir a year and a half to do the Vaughn Williams, ‘Towards the Unknown Region”. And there might be sections that we never quite get, right. But that’s okay. Now they know how beautiful it is. They hear it, they’re gonna want to listen to it, if it comes around in the concert of going to go want to go. Same with the Carmen. Same with doing Hamilton. Because because they’ve experienced it. And I always think back in the 1700s, 1600s, 1800s, before television or radio, people were singing at home together, and they were going to live concerts in the home and people were performing. And not everybody is the best performer. That’s okay. It’s about the music. There are people that want to do choirs of excellence. They audition them, they’re worried about the blend, etc. Fantastic. It’s not my bag. My bag is bringing lots of people together. Some people may squeak and squak more than others. That’s okay. Because the majority of people, the blending will work. And there will be these fantastic moments. And some of the people that were squeaking and squawking and couldn’t find their sound will eventually find their sound. And they’ll have that opportunity to do that. So if they got crushed early on, because somebody said, “Oh, don’t sing. Ooh, are you not?” They have a chance now to erase that. And discover sound. Because it is a discovery isn’t it singing is listening and making sound, it’s both. And it’s knowing self, this wonderful instrument that’s inside of us. It’s not outside our body, it’s from within. And we know ourselves better than anyone else. So, singing gives you that chance to explore that. The breathing and the muscle and where does the airflow go? And, and the joy of making sounds, even if they’re nasally, you know, this thing, you know, I’ll say to people, “So say the word w-h-a-t”. You can say? “Wha-T”. You can say, “Wh-oat”, “Wat”, “Waaht”, okay, you have lots of choices. You know, when people come for voice lessons I say, “So now, when you go out this week shopping, and you go to the cashier, you know, examine how they use their voice, and then the next person you see at the garage, how do they use their voice? And what muscles are they using? Do they use their whole palette? Did they use their whole self? Are they only using one section of self, okay, in their lower in their lower jaw?” Because that’s a lesson in life. Really, I mean, do you just use a smidgen we all get used to just using a little bit. But we have this whole person, we can use this whole thing we can explore. And that’s what singing does, it gives you that gift to know that you’re much more than what you’ve been giving to people, you’re much more. The thing that you were when you were a toddler and free. And you get excited about things we see it in little kids, we’re all the same, we’re still that toddler, but we’ve gone through life. And we’ve made mistakes, or we were worried about what people thought so we control things. And my thing is the cheese toastie the cheese is gonna go on either side, and go and melt out, and then you trim the edges. Don’t try to control it, let go in the right setting.

Bronwyn Bidwell  22:14

Did you find a difference between British and Americans in that sense that British have that stiff upper lip thing? Do you? Is that? Am I imagining that? Or did you find there was a difference in the way that they approach singing?

MJ Paranzino  22:29

Yes. So two things, okay. So what I love about England, is how the English embraced choral singing. So in America, it’s a very pop culture. So you have a group that’s in the choirs, but it’s a pop culture. So you’re always kind of outside the field, okay, as a choir person in America. But in England, lots of people singing in choirs, they get it! Okay. They understand it. I remember the first time, even though it’s a religious program, the first time I saw Songs of Praise, I thought, “Oh, they have a program about people singing songs”. I mean, I know it was religious, you know, but I just thought how amazing is that? Okay. And so that I really loved. I love that England embraces the arts. Fantastic. Yes, it takes a while for people to free up, okay, there’s a little bit of holding back. But people do want to let go. But you have to figure out a way as a musical director to do that, in a way that doesn’t frighten people. How do you loosen people up and not frighten them? And that’s a technique because you know, it’s like a clown, a clown’s in makeup and walks up the kids. And if the clown goes, “Hi” in a loud voice well the child’s going to be petrified. But if you go in and ease in the child is going to embrace this whole experience of this weirdo dressed up in makeup with a red nose. Okay, and won’t frightened kid and I think that’s the same thing that you do with community choirs. When you’re doing all styles of music, you know, how do you get people to relax? How do you get them to be able to sway or clap or smile? So like when I’m doing warm ups? You know, I might turn the sopranos and say, “Oh my God, you all look miserable. Could you smile?”, and then everybody will do a little giggle and start to smile because sometimes you don’t even realize that you look miserable. You may not be miserable, but but you’re given that vibe, because you just don’t realize you’ve come from work you’re rushing, you’re concentrating on your (singing) but what’s the point? If you’re not smiling and feeling the goodness of the breath and singing? And that’s it. That’s one way of easing people in. And then eventually you giving people permission to sweat Okay, you know, if we’re doing a song like that, you know, I’ll say, it’s not Mozart. Sure. So you’re actually, if you’re feeling the groove, you’re allowed to sway. And of course, sometimes people don’t know how to sway, no one’s ever taught them, you know, their legs are going up in the air, they’re moving erratically bumping into people, they’re not sure what to do. So sometimes you actually have to teach that. How to teach people how to relax and be together? It’s it is a process, but you can ease people into it, and get them to be relaxed, and come up with vocal exercises that relax people. So my thing is, because my community choirs are not about auditioning. And our excellence comes from enjoying the singing. And being confident that it’ll be fantastic with the end result because it’s relaxed. And so for vocal exercises, I will do the same thing often. And it’s about the squeak and squawk. And I’ll give you a perfect example. I I’ll say to them, we’re going to do (sirens down). Well, most people can do that. And that’s from the highest register to the lowest register. So if you can make all that sound, that means you can sing all those notes. You may not prefer to sing that high note because you’re an alto or bass, okay? But it exists. Okay. So if it exists, it means you could sing it if you could find a pathway there. And if you explain to people that holding sound is the same speech, except you’re holding it longer. So if you break it down into those simple forms, you’ll see people around the room going, “Oh right”. And sometimes I’ll say, you may not understand what I’m talking about, store it in your brain. It might take two years, one day, you’ll say, “Oh, that’s what MJ was talking about!” And it’s okay, if you don’t get it immediately. Who cares? Who’s paying attention?

Bronwyn Bidwell  27:18

What are the other challenges you think that you faced? When you sort of, I mean, you’re dealing with clients, you’re dealing with huge numbers as well, in your choirs? What are the other sort of big things that you obviously you probably don’t face them now. But when you started out you you found challenging?

MJ Paranzino  27:33

Well, I mean, like any choir, you’re always looking for men initially, okay? Because you want people to experience three and four part harmony, not unison singing or two part harmony. Also, the idea, so all my choirs, nobody does a solo, it’s all about the choir. And for people to understand that that’s really what it’s about. And I think just getting, I think often sometimes the challenge is too that you want to bring every age group, every ethnic background, every kind of background into choir singing, so it really is a community. I don’t think I’ve really ever faced, you know, I’m always going to present a song. And I’ll know in two weeks if it’s gonna work, and if it doesn’t, I just put it away. And we go to something else. And I’ll give you a perfect example. Something that I love, I love tremendously and right now the composer, left my mind, but it’s a word choral word thing called “Geographical Fugue”. Okay, and it’s all about rhythm, that’s all it is, it’s just rhythm, speaking rhythm. Most of the choir hates it, I bring it back about every four or five years in the hope that someday I’ll be able to perform it with everybody. And it’s really because it’s very difficult. Okay, so they can get through like the first three pages and by the time (it’s eight pages) by timing to page four, you can just see the exhaustion on their face. Like “What, why are you doing this to us?” You know, but I always bring it back and they joke about it, you know, because long standing members you know, the people in the choirs 10/15/18 years and I’ll pull it out and they’ll go “Oh, no!”, and I say “Let’s just see what happens”. You know, because every now and then you think, okay, there’s enough people in the choir that actually read music that will make the other people soar. Because that’s the other thing isn’t it? Like in life you know, you have a group of friends and there’s one who’s really good at something and one mediocre at something whatever. And but as a group you soar because of this balance between someone who’s really good at something is the same thing happens in choir in a soprano section. You might have two really fantastic fiest sopranos and everybody else really the second soprano okay some people really aren’t but they think they should sing soprano because they don’t want to learn harmony in the alto section so they’re in the soprano section and because you have those two really good first sopranos. And as they get to become comfortable with music and they start to understand it, and they can hear them, and they can hear their approaches, all of a sudden, you have like eight sopranos who are doing what those first sopranos did, because not only are they comfortable with the music, but they’re hearing how they approach sound. And that’s like a fantastic reward for a musical director. I’m like, I’m loving that. That’s just fantastic. And that just goes to show you, you know, what happens in a group. It’s fantastic. And, and everybody’s so proud, you know?

Bronwyn Bidwell  30:34

And so you’ve had some singers keep coming to you for 18 years. That’s a pretty impressive track record.

MJ Paranzino  30:41

Yeah. Matter of fact, funny. It’s just happened because everybody’s coming back after this 18 months of, you know, no singing together. And, it was spontaneous. It happened both at the Brighton and the South London choir, where people got up and said, I just want you to know that I’ve been coming for, because a couple new people came and the numbers aren’t that big. I do a thing at halftime and I say to people, does anybody have? Here’s the scoop. Everybody comes every week. So sometimes you need a carpenter or a plumber. Wouldn’t it be good as the people you see every week, they’re usually from your neighborhood, okay, they’re gonna know who the good plumber is and who the good electrician is, etc. Or they might be selling something, whatever. So I always say, does anybody have any joys or concerns, issues? Depressed, confused, need electrician or plumber, then somebody will raise their hand say, I need a plumber or I’m trying to sell this if you know anybody wants a desk, I’ll give it to them. Okay? Anyway, just spontaneously both Brighton and South London Choir said, I just want you to know that this week. I have been at the South London Choir for 14 years we just celebrated. And then, you know, it happened in Brighton. And once somebody does it and somebody else stands up and somebody else stands up. And what happened last week in South London. One of the sopranos got up and said, because we’re talking about Liberty Choir, and how difficult it is to get into prison still, to do the program. And we’ve been doing radio programs and letter writing campaigns and care packages to let the men and women know that they’re not forgotten. But we can’t get in. And she got up and said, “You know, I came from work”. She’s single parent “came from work rushing lots of anxiety, worried I was going to be late. And here we are. And within 15 minutes, I’m smiling. I’m talking, I’m meeting new people, I’m meeting old friends. God, I really miss this, isn’t it great. And we’re singing the song”. And as she went through the whole thing, because I think we’re doing Mozart, “Lacrimosa” and Grease, “We Go Together” and “Surfing USA”, you know, so we have this mix of songs. And then somebody else, Eddie got up and said, “Well, you know, it’s the same things that happens with the guys, the first time they come, they’re just coming because they want to get out of the cell. And there it is two hours they can get out of their cell. But then they come back the following week, they’re coming back for the same reason that we come back, because of the people that you meet in the choir, because of this thing that happens when you sing together and how you feel. And then you know, it went on, it went on, I had to stop everybody. I said, we’re gonna sing now. Can we all stop? And, and that was the spontaneous thing that happened. Okay. And it is because numbers are low. everybody’s so glad to see each other and I think there’s this worry, you know, that, I think four new people that came or something that they wanted them to know, you know, what it really is all about. It is about the singing, of course, it is about the concerts, of course, it’s about the adventures that we have when we go to festivals and do these different things. But it’s so much about meeting up every week and singing together. And what that does to you in that room together, singing a song, breathing together, smiling and interacting. Or when you do “Lacrimosa” and you feel this wonderful weave, carpet weave that Mozart has written that each part., even though three of them are harmonies, all of them are on a melody. All of them are exquisite. Often I’ll have everybody sing all the different parts, learn all the parts just for the fun of it even though you know sopranos kind of panic about the whole thing. Just so that they have the experience to understand the thread that’s going on underneath and then we might do it acapella. Just one page. We can’t do the whole thing. You know just one page and then the piano part will come in. And I’ll say so here it is, this requiem this death March, and yet there’s a loss going on underneath it. How magical is that?

Bronwyn Bidwell  35:08

So, well listen, it’s been so lovely to talk to you and to hear about your experiences. But before we let you go, what is in store for you for the rest of this year and 2022? What what are you planning?

MJ Paranzino  35:24

Well, I mean for the community choirs, you know, it’s just to get them back to where they were. Normally we do the Brighton Fringe every May. Lots of festivals, we normally Christmas remember singing at the V&A. And so we’re hoping that some of these things open up. Brighton Fringe has opened up. And that the venues where we would do these concerts, you know are still going to be open. So I’m just kind of waiting and hoping. And as soon as I can get us to do things, we’ll be doing them. So that’s the community choirs with the Liberty Choir, we’re already going to be starting in women’s prison Downview, HMP Downview prison, which is in the Sutton area, the first week in November, we’ll probably be at HMP Send by the end of the year, and then Wandsworth, Brixton, Lewis and a couple others going into 2022. There’s still a high level of risk. And but that’s the key, I’ve just hired a lot of musicians to go into the program. But if anybody’s ever interested in being involved in Liberty Choir, or working for Liberty Choir, all they have to do is go to the website and contact us through the website and we’d love for them to participate. Anybody can be a Liberty Choir volunteer, they just have to contact us. And the same with musicians, always looking for great accompanist and great musical directors who I’ll train in the MJ method.

Bronwyn Bidwell  37:06

Well, that ties in perfectly well with what I’ve got written down here. I have got Liberty Choirs website, libertychoir.org go along. And also there’s a page there where people could make a donation if they think that they like the sort of ethos that Liberty choir, is it sort of operating on they could go along and maybe give a little donation might be nice.

MJ Paranzino  37:29

Bronwyn, that is perfect! They can do it on PayPal. There we go.

Bronwyn Bidwell  37:33

There we go. Well, listen MJ, thank you so much. I really appreciate talking to you and good luck with it all for the rest of the year in for 2022.