Rejoicing in the power of choral music to enthral and unify

May 24, 2017

Recently I attended the  450th anniversary concert of Italian baroque composer Claudio Monteverdi. The concert was performed  by the world renowned Monteverdi Choir, named after the composer, and conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner, one of the most revered conductors in the world. It was a breathtaking performance.

This choir has extraordinary longevity and popularity, and I am sure this is down to its magnificent ability to captivate audiences. Sir John, at just 17, created the ensemble for a performance of the Monteverdi Vespers in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, and more than 50 years later, it is still going strong.

It’s no wonder that experts in choral music chose the choir as Gramophone magazine’s best choir in the world in 2010.

The editor of Gramophone, James Inverne, said: “It seems to me that there’s a real excitement around choirs at the moment, as well as a great feeling of what you might call social relevance.

“In the UK and elsewhere, choirs have been bringing together fractured and disadvantaged communities, acting in some measure as a unifying force in society. So there have been various TV shows and the like that have arisen from this – and they in turn have increased that interest.”

Inverne was referring to ensembles such as those created by choirmaster Gareth Malone in the BAFTA award-winning TV series The Choir. And I can see his point; who could fail to be moved by the way communities such as the women of the Military Wives Choir who – under Malone’s tutelage – came together to sing? Their enthusiasm and emotion overrode any technical issues for listeners.

Whether we listen to amateurs bonded by a simple love of music, or the brilliant sopranos, altos, tenors and basses of the Monteverdi Choir, the result is the same. We just feel inspired and uplifted.

Humans have always understood this urge to stand together and sing; it has long formed a part of our religious and faith-based ceremonies, as well as more temporal gatherings.

Studies have found that singing relieves anxiety, encourages the release of endorphins (hormones which make us feel happy) and contributes to a better quality of life. Best of all, a University of Sheffield study in 2005 reported that group singing “can produce satisfying and therapeutic sensations even when the sound produced by the vocal instrument is of mediocre quality”.

When we sing, the body becomes the instrument and we find joy from within.

Claudio Monteverdi understood the power of music only too well. He said: “The end of all good music is to affect the soul.” It’s a comforting thought – and one with which I concur.

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation