Singing with the homeless

Back in April I was asked whether I might be prepared to form a choir to sing at the Genesis Trust‘s 21st birthday celebration, which takes place this coming Thursday at The Forum in Bath. The Genesis Trust works with the homeless and needy in Bath, and is an amazing set-up; so of course, I said yes!

After all, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to take a little something of what I have learned at Monkton and put it into practice in the wider community. There is no doubting the transformational nature of The choir who can’t sing, and I was genuinely excited at the prospect of sharing that a little further abroad. The reality was rather different….

I think there were about 16, maybe 20 people at the first rehearsal. A mixture of clients – people who have had their fair share of struggles in life, and volunteers, big-hearted people who give freely to the former group, whether by helping out with the soup run, life skills, or one of the many other activities which the Genesis Trust runs each week.

genesis-choir-chron-2

Photographer: Artur Lesniak/arturlesniak.com

The first rehearsal was, I think it’s fair to say, a steep learning curve for all concerned! The vast majority had never been in a choir before, so the very concept of a rehearsal was new to them. They talked, they sang when I was trying to demonstrate something, and they continued singing even when I gestured for them to stop. And the concept of unison singing was lost of them, with any number of them clearly being woefully inexperienced singers. It felt a little like the blind leading the blind, or perhaps the blind leading the deaf….

It’s difficult to know quite what to say when you’re trying to shape a vowel, and meanwhile someone wants to open a theological debate on the difference between a ‘wretch’ and a ‘soul’! Then again, there are people in this choir who find themselves in a place where life is really tough, but who in this hour on a Wednesday afternoon find a release that I can’t begin to comprehend. Music is a real leveller, and here I have seen people who, despite battling with life, are getting alongside others perhaps more fortunate than themselves and are inspiring them to achieve things which they didn’t think they could manage.

It has been humbling to see these people put their trust in me as the weeks have gone by, but even more wonderful to see them put their trust in each other. Several weeks in, I asked the choir whether they were concentrating purely on what they were doing, or whether they had a little spare capacity to listen to the person next to them; on acknowledgement of the latter, I pointed out that this surely meant that someone else was listening to them! I’ve written about it elsewhere, but there is something about the shared vulnerability of singing together which is difficult to compare to anything else, and we have found this in the Genesis Choir. Lots of it.

Last week we sang Amazing Grace together, and one choir member stood with her eyes closed as she sang. I found it extraordinarily moving. She is someone who doesn’t make eye contact easily, and yet here she was, eyes shut, and her whole face so animated, so clearly expressive. Life is tough – but here she inspires those around her.

Thursday is going to be rather daunting for us all. I’ve reminded the choir that the process is much more important that the outcome, but I think it’s still going to be potentially quite overwhelming for them. Please pray for us! In the meantime, I keep asking myself whether I will have fulfilled my obligation by putting forward a choir for this celebration, or whether the Genesis Choir should continue to meet after Thursday. Trouble is, these people – each one of them, regardless of their ability to sing or not – have got under my skin.

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