Members of the Surbiton branch of YMCA Choir UK rehearse on a Wednesday evening. All are welcome

16 April 2019

YMCA Choir UK began life as a small community choir six years ago. It has grown in success and by June 2019 there will be seven community choirs across YMCA St Paul’s Group in Surbiton, Wimbledon, South Ealing, Walthamstow, Roxeth Gate, Hayes and north Kingston, with ambitions to see community choirs set up with YMCAs across the country. Charlie Swift is the lead Musical Director of YMCA Choir UK, and he looks after the Surbiton and Wimbledon choirs.

The choir is entirely inclusive with no auditions for new members. They pay £3.50 per week to attend (although residents and people on low income don’t pay) and the choir is self-funded by the members. “I’m a concert and theatre producer in my day job,” says Charlie, “so when it comes to securing venues for concerts, I have lots of contacts which is useful. We also seek funding through sponsorship, too.

“All we ask is that members turn up regularly, but if they can’t then that’s ok. It’s quite relaxed compared to other choirs. We do say that members need to attend at least four weeks before a concert because the last couple of weeks are dedicated to rehearsal.”

YMCA Choir UK ambassadors are volunteers who help with the logistics of running the choir, for example printing off the music, managing the register and payments and so on, so that the Musical Directors can focus on the music. All the choirs learn the same songs, so that they are able to perform together at concerts.

“The songs range across the decades, from the 50s up to the current day. We’ve even got a bit of 1850s in the mix! We don’t do so much classical, its mainly pop, rock, funk. When we do a classical piece, it’s good practise and helps with learning harmonies,” says Charlie.

The Surbiton and Wimbledon choirs have performed at a number of concerts, but the one that stands out for Charlie is the YMCA St Paul’s Group AGM at the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. “The choir members have a sense of ownership. They are very proud to be part of the choir. At the AGM, they put in so much extra effort, were very professional and rose to the occasion.”

The choir members love the songs that they perform, but they have their favourites. “They love the upbeat ones and the all-round favourite is probably All My Loving by The Beatles. That’s the first song we started the Surbiton choir with this year.”

Singing in the choir is very sociable and an ideal way to boost emotional wellbeing and to de-stress. In fact this is one of our core values, that everyone in the communities we serve should enjoy the benefits of good health and wellbeing. Choir member Penny Gillam is a former yoga teacher at YMCA and says: “I’ve been with the choir for six years, from the very beginning. It’s so sociable and great to be able to sing; it makes everyone feel good.”

Leading a choir as a musical director is hard work but great fun. “I have been with the choir for about three years. It’s been great and of course challenging at times, but when it all comes together it’s magical,” says Charlie.

Watch our video of the YMCA Surbiton community choir in rehearsal.

YMCA Choir UK

Here’s what choir members have to say…

Francesca, a Surbiton local

“About a year and a half ago, I walked past a community bulletin board and I saw a poster about the choir. I had wanted to join one for ages as I did a performing arts degree. I saw it, thought I would go along and I have literally not looked back since.

“I love my choir and I tell everybody about it. It tapped into everything I enjoy and now I miss all the choir members when I don’t see them. There are people who come to choir here who I would never meet in any other walk of life and that’s why I love it. The choir is what connects us – it’s nice. My favourite song is U2’s With Or Without You. I also love our warm up song Anything Goes – that brings out my inner jazz hands!”

Bob, former YMCA Surbtion resident

“I lived here at YMCA Surbiton for a short while in 2015 and now live in sheltered accommodation in Chessington. I’ve always been very musical. I love the choir and Charlie’s a fantastic musical director.”

Ken, former YMCA Surbiton resident

“The choir is a big part of my life and I enjoy every minute of it. Learning to sing new songs is challenging but when we get it right, and it sounds good, it’s great! I used to be a resident at YMCA Surbiton a few years ago, and I know how much work goes on to support people and get them back into work and living a normal life. The choir is a great activity for everyone, both residents and members of the community. It’s a good way to come together and have fun.”

Interested? Contact us

Click here to register your interest with one of our community choirs.

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