Bring the joys of choir singing to a group in the community who really need it. Sarah Summers explains how to run a choir for carers.
Every week a group of carers in Swindon get together to sing (and chat) under the leadership of Sarah Summers, a piano teacher and choir director. These one-hour choir sessions are sometimes the only break members get from their caring responsibilities all week, and their effect is profound.
“They tell me that it helps them to do their caring role,” Sarah says. “Carers come and have a bit of respite and sing with people who understand their situation. It energises them and helps them to keep going.”
Sarah took the reins of the Swindon Carers Choir four years ago. Since then, she’s witnessed the bonds between choir members grow strong. “The genuine care that these people have for each other is inspirational. Not only do they care for somebody at home, but they also have this unlimited and non-judgmental care for each other.”
Speaking on the Singing Teachers Talk podcast, Sarah explained her approach to leading the Carers Choir. “You need to be flexible as they have so much else going on in their lives,” she says. “But I feel so lucky to do what I do. It’s the best job in the world.”
If you’re looking for a way to bring the benefits of singing to a community group, here are some tips from Sarah.
How to run a choir for carers
Make it easy
On the issue of learning repertoire, Sarah caters for all members. Singers can learn songs by working from the music, lyrics or by ear. “Carers lead very challenging lives and often have to fight for the needs of the person they care for. I want to ensure I’m creating a space for them where they don’t have to fight.”
“Sometimes people come into a rehearsal late, having just had a difficult morning or appointment, and are visibly upset.
“If we’re working on something that’s not appropriate [given the mood], I’ll change things. We’ll move on to a song that I know will be uplifting for that person. If that situation arises, there are no questions. Nobody minds; they’re happy to go with the flow.”
Draw on your stronger singers
Due to their caring demands, some members struggle to attend all rehearsals or find the time to learn lyrics or harmonies. “Therefore I make sure that the confident singers support those who are less confident. There are some quite dominant voices within our choirs, and that’s absolutely fine.”
Choose repertoire carefully
The choir covers a range of repertoire, including requests from members themselves. “But it’s always good to have the more uplifting, upbeat songs that I can pull out when the mood needs that as well.”
Merge choirs for performances
When it comes to performances, Sarah often merges the Swindon Carers Choir with another choir she leads (the Great Western Harmony NHS Choir) to bolster numbers. This is because it’s difficult for carers to commit to events, as so much relies on the personal circumstances of the person they’re looking after.
Listen to the full interview with Sarah on how to run a choir for carers to discover:
- How her work with carers has inspired her academic studies.
- Her views on whether choir leaders should have some form of psychology training, given the nature of their work.
Find out how Caroline Redman Lusher started Rock Choir, and how it became a household name, by listening to this episode of the Singing Teachers Talk podcast.
Image: Stock image courtesy of Canva