Singing can heal our divided country
The political arguments of the past decade have torn families and communities apart. Now, as we look to move past this deadly pandemic, we must rediscover that sense of community.
Wales has a long and proud reputation for being "the land of song", due to its network of local choirs.
When I was a young boy growing up in North Wales, my local village was alive with song. My father was a member of a Male Voice Choir and I, a young boy soprano, was part of a Penillion Choir.
We might not have had much money, but singing was the very oxygen of people’s lives and the choir was at the heart of our community. It provided people not only with the opportunity to sing, but also gave companionship and offered a sense of belonging.
Now some may say that choirs are a thing of a bygone era - but I disagree.
As the minister of Ebenezer chapel in Llandudno, I remember the summer months where we used to host "Sunday Night at Eight", a night of music with a different male voice choir each Sunday night.
It was fascinating to see the different styles of conductors; from those who conducted with gusto, to those who scarcely moved a finger in leading their choir.
To be part of a choir is to be part of a family, part of something bigger. Music can bring people together and provides a shared purpose at the heart of local communities.
Our society is deeply divided. The political arguments of the past decade have torn families and communities apart. Now, as we look to move past this deadly pandemic, we must rediscover that sense of community.
Without greater support, choirs across the UK will be forced to disband for good
That is why in 2017 I established the Citizens of the World Choir, to bring together refugees, asylum seekers, and local Londoners to sing as one and foster that shared sense of belonging.
As well as singing together, the group also helps support people with applications to the Home Office, finding accommodation, and much more. It truly is a wonderful organisation.
In our first year, the choir sang, uncompetitively, at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod.
I distinctly remember the youngest choir member, who was a 15-year-old refugee originally from Afghanistan, coming up to me afterwards to say, "that was the best day of my life".
That made all of my involvement with choir worthwhile – to see it truly change someone’s life and give them hope for the future.
Sadly, the Pandemic has silenced those voices and choirs have not been able to rehearse or entertain for many months.
Some sessions can of course be done online, via Zoom and other such technologies, but it cannot replicate the joy and sense of unity that you get from singing together in person.
I am concerned that without greater support, choirs across the UK will be forced to disband for good. This will have a huge impact on the health and wellbeing of so many in our communities.
With social isolation and loneliness hurting so many, particularly over the repeated lockdowns, we must ensure that choirs and local community organisations get the support they need to carry on, rebuild, and thrive.
On Wednesday, I will be pressing the government on this issue in the House of Lords and calling for action.
I hope that, by working together, we can restore our shared sense of belonging, bring our deeply divided country back together, and allow choirs to light up our lives once more.
Lord Roger Roberts of Llandudno is a Liberal Democrat peer in the House of Lords and founder of the Citizens of the World Choir.
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