Pete Churchill writes about The London Vocal Project – Five Years On

Pete Churchill writes about the LVP’s three-day series at The Forge (Dec 6th to 8th) …

The London Vocal Project (LVP) is a unique ensemble. We have been rehearsing every Monday night now, in a church near Angel tube, for nigh on five years. When we are all present we number about twenty-four. We have a few new recruits, but  the attrition rate is fairly low. Members sometimes ‘take a season out’ but often as not return after a time and we try, if at all possible, to ‘keep their seat warm’.

Being a ‘project’ choir our gigs tend to be very varied, ranging from massive schools projects at the Albert Hall (LVP have a parallel existence as a crack workshop team – all CRB-checked and ready to rumble!) to singing with Bobby McFerrin at the Barbican, Sir John Dankworth and Dame Cleo at the Royal Festival Hall and most recently recording Kenny Wheeler’s wonderful poetry settings with Norma Winstone – the same music we performed at last year’s London Jazz Festival. If we add in our Sundays at Ronnie Scotts and our 606 residency (thanks Steve!) we have clocked up a whole raft of performance experiences since our first tentative gathering five years ago.

So how is it that we have lasted this long? I mean twenty four people is a pretty unwieldy number and we are not without our share of personalities! At the start LVP was simply a collection of unauditioned students and alumni from the various London Jazz courses and it was this common thread that held us together. But a community, if it is to survive for any length of time, needs more than just a shared history. It is all about ‘making memories’ and I think that LVP are now connected by something beyond simply the music.

In the past I have noticed how large ensembles like ours which come together in such a flurry of optimism eventually, either quietly (or noisily!), fall apart. With this in mind, I have come to the conclusion that if any musical community of this size is to survive then the people within must be bound together by so much more than the music. There is an LVP life that flourishes beyond our weekly rehearsals – a network of relationships which has developed over time into something way beyond the intent of our original brief, it is the glue that holds us together I feel. This bonding process began during the very first summer of our existence – when we managed to spend a week singing together in France. It was during this precious time away we found that we actually liked each other! The quality of our singing noticeably improved as we gradually transformed ourselves from a weekly choral gathering into a viable community.

Five years on I think one of the greatest lessons I have learned, as Director of LVP (and a contributor of much of the repertoire) is that the moment you start to love the music more than the people who are making it then things will begin to go wrong. There has to be something else that unites people… I’d go so far as to say that the music is really a means to an end – a catalyst if you will. There is a satisfaction in getting the music right in its own terms I guess – putting all your energy into fulfilling the vision of the composer or arranger (especially if its you!) – but ultimately the act of singing together must express the joy of being a community… a celebration of the time spent in each other’s company. This is what communicates in a performance.

So now, in addition to the Monday night rehearsals and any concerts we have throughout the year we try to nourish our ‘extra curricular’ activities – organising workshops when we can (Jon Hendricks, Mark Murphy), maintaining our educational profile and somehow we still manage to get away to France or Italy for a week long singing retreat every summer. All these various activities serve to bind us together as much, if not more, than the act of simply making music.

This week brings one of the most challenging series of concerts we have ever had. We are extremely fortunate to have a three night residency (6th, 7th and 8th December) at ‘The Forge’ – a fantastic venue on Delancey Street in Camden. Here, in addition to singing our usual (and varied) repertoire, each night will also feature music from a new ‘project’.

Thursday (6th Dec).  ‘The Voice Within‘ will be showcasing the writing from within the choir. There are some astonishing writers in LVP and it is amazing to hear their music emerge. I have always thought that a choir director, if they’re doing it right, should be gradually putting themselves out of a job! We have been singing so much (too much!) of my music over the years and it is so good to see that the workers are finally taking over the factory!

 Friday (7th Dec). We will be performing with a long time friend of the choir, the astonishing Argentinian singer/guitarist Guillermo Rozenthuller. We have been working hard on some of his fantastic repertoire and we will be joined on percussion by the A-team – Adriano Adewale and Andres Ticino.

Saturday evening (8th Dec) that glorious wooden performance space at the Forge will ring to the sounds of LVP giving you their Christmas message. Poetry from Palestine and Israel fused with traditional carols, freedom songs and more… songs of hope at a time when we all need it most.

Five years on and LVP are going from strength to strength – they are an astonishing community of people and it’s a privilege to be part of their story. Come and catch the vibe… and kick start your Christmas break!!!! 

Categories: miscellaneous

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