VIDEO: Our reporter joins the 'choir for people who can't sing'

James Harrison

James Harrison

To adapt an old saying, if you don’t know who’s singing out of tune, it’s probably you.

Well now, for anyone who has ever had that sticky realisation that tone-deaf bleating you can hear is indeed a product of your own larynx, there is a new service just for you.

I say ‘just for you’ but really, if we’re honest, it’s for all of us – even musical greats like Pavarotti must have had the occasional moment of horror, belting out a solo rendition of  Bohemian Rhapsody while bombing down the motorway, Wayne’s World-style, that no, you couldn’t quite hit those high notes.

And again, I say ‘music greats’ but really that was me, on the M1, two weeks ago.

And it was with that in mind that I headed down to the inaugural session of the Tuneless Choir at Maidenhead United Reformed Church, in West Street, on Wednesday, June 8.

It’s billed as ‘the choir for people who can’t sing’, yet I couldn’t help but feel a better label would have been ‘the choir for people who would really just like to have a bit of a sing and a natter and maybe a glass of wine too’.

The mission of the choir, which is the third in the country to be opened under the Tuneless Choir banner, is to break down conventional stereotypes about choirs and, perhaps more importantly, the type of people who are welcome in them.

Yes, most of the singers on Wednesday night were women but it wasn’t the stern ‘Jam and Jerusalem’ type of crowd that often puts people off.

Instead, there was a real range of people, from young to old, and even a smattering of men.

Natalie Wegener, of Clare Road, and Ann Lipscombe, of Pine Close, have been friends since they were at Cox Green Comprehensive School together and decided to brave each other’s singing voices for the night.

Ann said: “I saw it on Facebook and was able to persuade Natalie to join me for it – we both love to sing.

“It wasn’t serious though and it just seemed like a bit of fun.

“I know I can’t sing or hold a tune, so it mattered to me that I could come along and sing without being judged for it and I’ll definitely be back.”

The lack of judgement implied in a group that sells itself as the Tuneless Choir seemed to be a big deal for most of the people in the room.

But perhaps the most surprising thing to find from the session was that, as a group, it didn’t sound that bad – or certainly not bad to someone who spent a childhood going to football matches in the North-east of England.

The Monkees’ classic Cheer Up Sleepy Jean, which I remember being directed at the then Sunderland manager Peter Reid, definitely carried more harmony than anyone in Tyne and Wear ever managed, while the singers also left happier than the fans tended to.

None of this came as a great surprise to the choir organiser Tabitha Beaven.

Formerly a senior figure in corporate HR, she left her job with Pepsi to go on sabbatical about a year ago and has never returned, training instead as a laughter yoga instructor and rediscovering her love of music.

“I wanted to do things that would make me smile, so first thing I did was join Maidenhead Community Choir, which had a massive impact on the way I felt and now I really look forward to my Tuesday nights – hopefully others will now too,” she said.

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