Scotland Choir Removes Barriers to Build Community
Cathy Phillips Brady, Music Development Officer, University of Glasgow; Global Leaders Project alumna
In Edinburgh’s iconic Usher Hall, the Love Music Community Choir is knocking down walls. Cofounded in 2006 by professional composer and educator Stephen Deazley, Scotland’s ambitious community singing program is now some 330 members strong—one of the largest community choirs in the nation. Despite these numbers, Love Music has successfully fostered an environment where members feel as if they are in a close-knit community. Their secret is simple: they welcome all comers and then encourage them to stay.
“Open to anyone who wants to sing,” as their slogan says, Love Music has eliminated the traditional barriers to music performance. Nervous to audition? Love Music doesn’t hold auditions. Can’t read music? You’re in—and will have opportunities to learn how, if you’d like. Afraid it’s too late to start? This is an all-ages choir (those under 16 must bring an adult to sign up.)
Deazley, who also serves as Artistic Director, has curated a diverse repertoire that serves to cast a wide net in the community. From classical to pop, from musical theatre to international folk, the choir’s many genres encourage singers to extend their comfort zones. Deazley arranges or composes every piece to suit the needs of the choir members as well as any professional collaborators. The choir has shared the stage with artists like Dizraeli, the Dave Milligan Trio, Yazz Ahmed, Karine Polwart, and Denys Baptiste, singing everything from Bach to Metallica.
This tailored approach ensures that the choir is able to learn across different levels of skill and experience, with each person feeling appropriately challenged. Says one member, “No one is made to feel that they cannot keep up; the ethos is one of encouragement that everyone can sing. People respond to this message and give their best in return. At the same time, there is no compromise on musicality. The standard set is high, and even those who have some musical training are challenged by what is expected of us.”
In addition to removing barriers of experience, the choir has a pay-what-you can membership policy. The choir’s parent nonprofit organization, Love Music Productions Limited, supports the rest of the budget, including the funding of new musical equipment. In this Covid reality, that also means streaming equipment; Love Music has adopted a hybrid approach whereby members can either participate from their homes or join rehearsals in person. Having fundraised and invested in cameras, audio equipment, and streaming platforms—including digital spaces where members can chat with one another—the choir helps members feel comfortable participating even when they are not in the room.
The success of the Love Music Community Choir led the Love Music team to launch a Junior Choir program in September 2017. There are 200 spots for children ages 8–12; with a focus on inclusivity, diversity, and access, half of those spots are offered free of charge for children from lower-income families.
Love Music is made unique by all those who care about and support it. But its challenges—funding, access, time, resources—are universal. It soars because of those passionate people, of course, but also because of the balance it strikes. By focusing on its members, its communities, and its collaborative spirit, it has made itself a more inclusive, inviting space.
This community work takes many forms. Projects include “This School’s Got Soul,” a festival experience for young people ages 8–11; “Punkit,” a series of ambitious mass-percussion workshops; “Road Trip,” for budding audio and sound designers; and songbook performances with resources such as A Little Book of Monsters and The Songbook of Unsingable Songs. Through the work of a dedicated team of teaching artists, the organization has reached national acclaim.
Said a Community Choir member, “Music and a love of singing may be the common thread that brings everyone together here, but once that has been achieved, then finding out more about the people around you, making new friendships, and breaking down any perceived social barriers is, in the end, the far more important aspect.”