Singing in a choir can 'change the world and boost mental health'

Jeremy Haneman and massed choirs at Union Chapel

Jeremy Haneman conducts the Mixed up Chorus, Sing For Freedom and Sing For Our Lives choirs at Union Chapel - Credit: Together Productions

Hampstead choirmaster Jeremy Haneman has spent much of his professional career teaching amateurs.

From the Royal Opera House's community chorus to the Sing for Freedom Choir of refugees, he loves working with people who think they're tone deaf - and believes in "the power of singing to change the world".

"I started out in opera with top flight singers but you get a real joy from amateurs that you often don't get with professionals," he says.

"For them it's a job and they have wonderful voices, but there's a unique joy you get from amateur singers. When they love it, their eyes light up with passion and you push them to go beyond what they imagined they could do."

For Haneman, it's a "huge joy to bring singing and music to people who believe they can't sing".


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"My favourite thing is when people say they want to join but can't hold a tune. Pretty soon you find that's not the case. People often confuse singing in tune with being able to sing - I've never met anyone who can't learn to sing in tune, even people who consider themselves tone deaf."

Haneman's projects range from working with performers with severe disabilities or mental health issues to the Freedom Choir - based at Freedom from Torture in Islington - and the Mixed Up Choir based at Hargrave Hall off Archway Road.

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Of course Covid 19 put paid to in person rehearsals but the choirs have continued online, recording innovative lockdown videos.

Jeremy Haneman conducts the Mixed Up Chorus

Jeremy Haneman conducts the Mixed Up Chorus - Credit: Together Productions

"When lockdown started I thought 'game over'," he says. "But so many people joined Zoom choirs it completely shocked us. One of the great pluses is that people from all over the world from Romania or New York, who couldn't get to north London on a Tuesday night could join the Mixed Up Chorus. That's great because we consciously work towards bringing people together who otherwise wouldn't meet across every barrier, age, race, sexuality gender, on a mission to inspire social change."

The Sing for Freedom Choir

The Sing for Freedom Choir - Credit: Courtesy of Together Productions

The Sing For Freedom Choir sees refugees sing with people from the local community. "Our theory is a lot of prejudice comes when people have never met someone different to them. If you get to know someone you are more likely to see them as human beings than a stereotype in the Daily Mail. We have had the most incredible feedback from people. Some have been through the worst that humanity can inflict and come here and had terrible experiences in detention. Many suffer PTSD and the choir is an absolute lifeline. During lockdown some said 'this is what gets me out of bed in the morning'.'"

Which brings Haneman onto the mental health benefits of singing.

"There's lots of research that singing in a choir is incredibly beneficial for mental health. Your dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin goes up and your cortisol goes down. Incredibly people's heartbeats and breathing tend to synchronise. Humans being singing in groups goes back to the dawn of time and is a powerful way to get in touch with our humanity.

A file image of Hargrave Hall, home of Monty's Montessori Nursery. Picture: Google StreetView

The Mixed up Chorus usually rehearses at Hargrave Hall off Archway Road - Credit: Archant

"There's a magic about singing in a choir. It's the fastest way to forge bonds and build friendships in a community. We are huge champions for the power of singing to change the world."

Haneman plans to bring all the choirs together for a workshop at the Union Chapel in June.

"It's going to be really emotional. We are all going to be in tears to be in the same space, making music together."

To join a choir email hello@togetherproductions.co.uk To make a donation go to https://togetherproductions.co.uk/

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