Back when it all began
Our first ever session was in East Grinstead at The Jubilee Community Centre on Tuesday 24th February. The centre was packed, and I kept asking people as they arrived if they had come for choir. But no, they had come for pancakes, served by The New Life Church (now the Jubilee Community Church). However, 13 people did come, and of those, 3 – Lynne Fallowell, Kath Lunn and Isobel Holloway – are still coming. We also had an expectant Karen Draper. She’s now Mrs O’Connor, and Rudy is approaching 10 years old.
Our first big concert was at Chequer Mead Theatre in East Grinstead on 6th December 2009, with around 75 on the stage and 278 in the audience. It was then that the name inChoir inConcert was first used.
Starting to grow
In January 2010, inChoir Haywards Heath was formed. We first met at the Age Concern Building on 18th January, then occasionally The Methodist Church, before settling on our current home in St Joseph’s School.
inChoir inConcert took place at The Capitol Theatre in Horsham on 16th January 2011 with 314 in the audience and, the following week, inChoir’s third branch opened in Crawley. Initially at Ifield College, we soon settled on The Charis Centre as our venue.
Our shows got steadily bigger and bigger. The next inChoir inConcert was at The Hawth on 22nd July 2012 where there were just under 300 of us on stage. I can still remember the gasp of the audience when the curtains opened and they saw how many of us there were! This was our first concert with a live band, led – as they all have been since – by Mark O’Connor.
The next four choirs came quickly, with Tunbridge Wells in September 2011 (in Christ Church where we still meet every Wednesday), and Burgess Hill in January 2012 (now in its third venue, Woodlands Meed). Jon Kettle started inChoir Crowborough in Beacon College in April 2012, (we are now in Crowborough Community Centre), and in the midst of all these our children’s choir inChoon started in September 2011.
Shortly after this we launched two day time choirs; East Grinstead – now run by Jude Holden – in September 2012, and Haywards Heath began in Clair Hall in April 2013.
In July 2013, inChoir inConcert took place at The Assembly Halls Theatre in Tunbridge Wells, and we settled on a biennial concert schedule. July 2015 was at Brighton Dome and in July 2017 we had a full inConcert weekend with two nights at The Hawth in Crawley. We’ll be back at The Hawth in July this year, once again for two nights.
This just leaves our six newest choirs. Jude started Oxted in September 2013, and Hilary Jones set up our Uckfield branch the following January. Karen launched our most Northerly choir in Redhill in June 2014, and in April 2016 Hannah Summers started our southern-most choir in Shoreham-by-Sea. Our Dorking choir is a little unusual in that an existing choir joined the inChoir stable in June 2015. And last but by no means least, Jude launched Horsham, her third choir, on Halloween 2016.
Singing far and wide
We’ve arranged a number of trips, both overseas and in the UK. We’ve sung at Christmas markets in Bath (three times), Leeds Castle, Winchester, Salisbury and very excitingly in Prague. We’ve taken inChoir members to Cape Town, Dublin, Inari in Finland, Boston, Andalucia, Tuscany, Treviso/Venice, Disneyland/Champagne, on the Queen Elizabeth to Bruges, and Morzine in the French Alps, where we have been three times. Closer to home we’ve sung in Liverpool, Cornwall (at the amazing Minack Theatre), Stratford upon Avon and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which we’ll sing at for the third time in August this year.
On top of the above, we’ve sung at St James’ Palace, The Bluebell Railway, on The One Show, The Big Beach Cafe in Hove, Wakehurst Place, Lingfield Park Racecourse, the Scoop in London, Brighton Pavilion Gardens, and too many others to mention. We’ve sung with Russell Watson, Blake and Kerry Ellis, and we’ve recorded and sold two CDs for charity, the second of which was recorded at Abbey Road Studios. Yes, Abbey Road Studios! There were 350 of us across two sessions, so we had to use Studio 1 where The Beatles recorded ‘All You Need Is Love’. Most of The Beatles’ recording was done in Studio 2, but we used that as a room to leave our coats and bags! Don’t tell anybody, but Mark did have a go on the honky tonk piano used by Paul McCartney on Lady Madonna (also used by Mrs Mills – remember her?), and the celeste used to play THAT melody on the Harry Potter soundtrack.
We don’t know exactly how much money we’ve raised in total for charity over the last ten years, but it is well into the tens of thousands of pounds, and not so far from being in 6 figures. Beneficiaries have included big national charities like Children in Need – for whom we collected so much money in coins we couldn’t lift the bucket – and local charities like Taylor Made Dreams in Crowborough, which provides dream fulfilling days out for children with life limiting illnesses. We have just donated a total of over £4,000 to various local charities following the Christmas Concerts we ran last festive season.
We’ve had 9 choir leaders over the years; 4 have left us and 5 are still with us, and Kirsty Hudson has just run her first choir session to become our 10th. So from choir leaders Mark Heppell, Karen O’Connor, Jude Holden, Jon Kettle, Hannah Summers and now Kirsty, thanks so so much to the inChoirers for coming along each week.
Our own brand of singing for fun is not up everybody’s street, but over the past ten years, getting on for 3,000 of you have been prepared to give us a go. We’ve grown older slightly disgracefully during that decade and plan to continue to do so for many years to come!
And finally from me (Mark) a confirmation that standing in front of inChoir is the most enormous privilege; seeing your (mostly!) smiling faces is an enormous privilege; waving my arms about, telling awful jokes, randomly playing the wrong song on the piano, and teaching you the vocal parts, all an enormous privilege. But hearing you sing. Hearing you sing from the front of the choir. Wow, that’s the biggest privilege of all. I’m so lucky. We’re all so lucky. Thanks to you all.