Out of the Voice Box Choir Concert © Roger Schmidt

5 Inclusive Choir Projects Welcoming All People and Abilities

Choir singing is one of the most inclusive activities for disadvantaged and disabled people.

International Choral Scene

Choir singing has always been known as a practice with a built-in capacity to forge a sense of community.

Singing in a choir has multiple health (physical, psychological, and social) benefits that everyone should be able to enjoy and, for this reason, the choral world should (and can!) continue providing safe spaces for all singers - considering choir singing as one of the most inclusive activties for disadvantaged and disabled people.

We collected a few choral projects and initiatives that have demonstrated how choirs can truly create space for everyone in this world - even for singers who have lost their voices!

Keep reading to discover five inspiring examples that show how choral singing is one of the most inclusive activities in the world.

“We don’t think of going into prisons to make music.
We don’t think of going into places to work with young people who have disabilities or challenges, you know?
We take choral music and we go into the universe, we go into the college, we go into school, we go in the church, we go in the synagogue…

but where can it change lives? Where can it transform lives?

It makes such a difference, you have no idea!”
- Catherine Roma, conductor

1. The first prison choir competing in the World Choir Games

A prison choir cannot, of course, compete in any choir competition on site. 

However, if choirs cannot go to a competition, the competition can go the choirs!

This is the story of the UMOJA Men’s Chorus, a choir composed of 16 inmates. 

As they could not take part in the 2012 World Choir Games, the World Choir Games went to them, sending three judges to Warren County Correctional Institution to evaluate their performance under the category “Gospel and Spiritual”.

“The fact that the media… the fact that people wanted to come and believe in people who are in prison… that’s a wonderful wonderful thing because so many times we see the negative aspects of prison, we’re always hearing the bad things that goes on, so every once in a while it’s necessary for people to know that we are human, we have human experiences.”

- Norman V. Whiteside, singer

This encounter ended up being meaningful not only for the choir but also for the very jurors:

“I never expected this result here today. This big event is such a great story for me and it touched my soul”

- Nicol Matt, juror

The motto of the world's leading organizer of international choir competitions INTERKULTUR is “Singing together brings nations together”: it was born out of the sentiment that choirs and singing can defy distance, borders, and walls, bridge cultures, blend differences and unite voices.

This project is, without any doubt, the pure embodiment of this stance.

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2. The Olympic flames traveling to meet disadvantaged people

By analogy with the Olympic flame, the World Choir Games have a Choral Flame. It was handed over to Flanders in Tshwane (South Africa), the previous host city.

On September 15, it was re-lit and began a five-week trip to numerous Flemish cities.

Special efforts were made to make the light of the flame reach further: the Studio Koorvlam event organized a caravan traveling through the Flanders region and stopping in various places to meet people with dementia or physical disabilities, people living in poverty or in disadvantaged conditions, and finally at an interfaith singing group.

The Choral Flame is a symbol of the warmth that singing together spreads in our society, and this project rightly shows how this warmth can and should touch everyone.

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3. A concert by people who lost their voices

During the 11th edition of the World Choir Games in Flanders, the “Out of the Voice Box Concert” took place in De Bijloke in Ghent.

The concert featured OverStem Kanker choir, an ensemble of people without vocal cords, supported by the Belgian choir Schola Cantorum Cantate Domino (Belgium), the British choirs Garsington Adult Community Choir, Brain Odysseys, and Maggie’s Melody/Sing2Help, and the musical accompaniment by the Die Verdammte Spielerei music group.

With the focus of inclusion as a key theme of the evening, other groups with communication difficulties (due to a stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or hearing problems) were also able to participate creatively in this heartwarming concert program.

The singers’ memories from their everyday lives, insights, and thoughts were turned into wonderful lyrics and shared in an intimate musical conversation between singers and audience.

In an artistic and highly inspiring way, the singers told the long and painful story of losing one’s voice and the tortuous journey of getting it back again.

A truly powerful and thought-provoking evening, ultimately demonstrating the limitless power of passion, the boundless possibilities choir singing can open, and how a major limitation can become an artistic asset.

4. A community for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities

Soundabout's new Inclusive Choir project offers a new and different opportunity for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities to make music with a community of mixed ability singers.

The aim of the initiative is to provide people of all ages with learning disabilities with a regular opportunity to collaborate with local choirs, building on the singing abilities they are developing in the community music-making sessions.

In this way, choir members are able to enjoy music singing, and performing alongside Oxford’s thriving choir community.

Each month, around 20-30 families living with disability take part in this inspiring opportunity for all involved, with around 100 people taking part in each Inclusive Choir session.

On the one hand, the project connects disabled children, young people, and adults with disabilities, as well as their families, providing a regular ‘safe’ supportive and creative space for them to come together.

On the other, it enables Oxford’s Choir Community to use their singing to help others.

5. Choir Singing: one of the most limitless and inclusive activities of all

If OverStem Kanker choir (an ensemble of people without vocal cords) demonstrates that you can still sing without “a voice”, the Tijanjin Dolphin Hearing Disabled Children’s Choir shows the world that you can also without hearing.

The Tianjin Dolphin Hearing Disabled Children’s Choir from Northern China is the only choir in the world composed of hearing-impaired children.

All the children use a cochlea implant, which makes a full choral experience possible. None of them had received any singing training before they joined the choir. After the choir was founded in 2014 by Miss Ling Xiao (who is still the present head of the choir), the children received regular training once a week, and so far they have given performances of high media attention in various activities, such as “Dream Star Patterned” TV show on CCTV and the 2015 New Year Concert of Tianjin Philharmonic Choir.

In July 2016, the choir took part in the 9th edition of the largest choir competition of the world, the World Choir Games, in Sochi, Russia. They performed a Chinese Folklore Chorus “Carp Rebirth” in the Category of Scenic Folklore of The Open Competition.

The choir eventually won a Silver Diploma, showing the world how singing allows passion and determination to overcome any limits.

The World Choir Games have had the honor to witness numerous inspiring performances by choirs who defy limits and challenge expectations.

This is the case of the competitive performances at the 2014 World Choir Games in Riga (Latvia) and the 2016 World Choir Games in Sochi of the Paros Chamber Choir - a choir comprising of singers in wheelchairs and with other disabilities - representing Armenia and winning 2 silver medals each.

And then again of the incredible performance by Changsha Dream of Wings Blind Children’s Choir from China, a choir composed by blind children, who moved the audience to tears at the 2016 World Choir Games.

Join the discussion!

If you found this article interesting or even inspiring, you can follow our Instagram and Facebook pages as we are dedicating this week to open conversations and discussions about choir inclusivity with our community of choirs, singers, conductors, and choral friends!

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