Update from our weekly performance workshop for 16 - 25 year olds
Rachel Hynes is a classically trained Opera Singer and Choir Leader who leads our Platform Singers community choir group. We caught up with Rachel to find out more about how she started singing, how she got involved with Platform Singers, and why singing is so good for you…
Our Platform Singers group meets every Friday afternoon at 4pm here at Platform, and all ages and abilities are welcome to come along and give it a go! It is free to attend and there is no need to book – just drop in. Meet in the Cafe Bar.
How did you become interested in singing?
I’ve been a Professional Opera Singer for twenty-two years now, and I come from a trained musical background. My interest in the arts and performing came from a very young age when I learnt Ballet and Tap, and sang and danced in the local pantomime in my small village in the Welsh Valleys. I had always wanted to learn how to play the piano and I had a keen interest in acting. A friend of my mum’s said that she thought I should get my voice trained, and she gave her a name of a local Music Teacher who taught singing and piano. Then, when I was sixteen, we moved to Cambridgeshire, and the school where I did my ‘A’ Levels, had great emphasis on Music and Drama, and, being close to London, I was exposed to much more live theatre. This is where I discovered my love of Opera.
I vividly remember being mesmerised by a wonderful production of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel at English National Opera, and I suddenly wished I could be up there doing that. I then realised that opera was an art form that combined my two great loves of singing and acting, and the seeds were then sown. I went on to music college in Yorkshire to study- a wonderful arts college called Breton Hall – and then moved to Glasgow to study at the RSAMD, and made my home in Scotland.
How did you get involved with Platform Singers?
I love performing on the big stages, in grand theatres, but I also enjoy small and intimate venues, communicating with the audience so closely and being able to meet with them afterwards. When I was at college, I studied a bit of Music Therapy and did some volunteering at the Larbert Hospital. When I got the chance to do some work with people with Dementia when I was at Scottish Opera, this reignited my interest in community music.
I was the Vocal Leader on the inaugural Memory Spinner’s Project at Scottish Opera, a collaborative Dementia Singing Group with Alzheimer’s Scotland. I did a lot of inter-arts theatre projects when I first went freelance too (after finishing my Company Principalship at Scottish Opera). Participating in a ‘Train and Sustain’ Dementia Course with Enterprise Music Scotland, I met my current boss at Common Wheel, which is a mental health music charity based at Gartnavel Hospital. It’s basically music and singing sessions to help mental health, and we facilitate groups in the hospital wards, care homes and at Campbell House in the Gartnavel grounds. I have since also trained with the British Lung Foundation, learning ‘Singing for Breathing’, to help with breath management in people with long term lung conditions such as COPD, Asthma, IPF and Bronchiectasis.
It was through a colleague I work with at Common Wheel that I got introduced to Platform and its Culture Café initiative, and from singing sessions I ran there, the choir started in September 2018. People are beginning to hear about our group more and more and it’s just a matter of trying to get the numbers up now -encourage people to come and join in the fun!
It has always been on my bucket list to work at Platform, for Platform. I have rehearsed and performed here several times with visiting companies and was totally inspired by the set up. It’s the sort of community that I thought would really benefit from the positives of group singing. I think that my cover weeks with Culture Café tapped into that, as the group really responded so positively to singing and movement.
Really, Platform Singers is the participants’ group - what we do each week in terms of repertoire, is very much shaped by the people who attend and join in. I’d like to think that if we could grow the numbers, we’d be able to liaise on projects with some of the other groups within Platform, in the future- singing and knitting anyone?
What’s your favourite thing about Platform Singers?
No two sessions are the same. It’s a community-based group of people that come together because they maybe want to learn to sing, but also want to socialise, meet new people and have some fun. Some people have never sung before; some have dabbled and some have sung in choirs previously, perhaps a long time ago and lost the confidence to return over time. As no previous singing experience is necessary, this is the perfect way back in for such people, and also for absolute beginners, wanting to learn a new skill!
So, we are a generic group – people from all different backgrounds, cultures, and anyone with a physical or mental disability is welcome too as singing is having such positive effects on such conditions as Dementia, Lung Health, stroke, Parkinson’s, Mental Health conditions. I incorporate lots of fun games that can help with movement, posture and the multi-tasking aspect so prevalent in singing. We often sing in different languages as well, and we are currently learning some African songs and Japanese songs as well as actually writing a song for a project in a couple of weeks. We’re still exploring what we want to do with Platform Singers at the moment, as it’s still quite new and fresh. Community singing is quite a buzz thing at the moment, but the emphasis for me -and this is an important message - is that anyone can learn to sing, and it’s my personal mission to allow people to find their voice, in a fun, safe environment!
Why should people join Platform Singers?
To discover the vast benefits of group singing in a social and fun environment! Singing is really good for both your mental and physical health. It takes a lot of energy to sing properly, but it is such fun, whilst also being a good physical exercise too-10 minutes of singing a day can clear your sinuses, improve your posture and release endorphins, the happy hormone!
And it teaches and develops other useful skills like rhythm, balance, and a musical ear! A lot of people who come to the group maybe don’t read music, but actually, you don’t need to have any music skills to come to Platform - it’s not like a traditional choir. I do my instruction aurally, and I teach the songs mainly by ear without written words or music. There are people that can read music in the group, which can benefit us as well. Our aim is not just to meet and sing songs in unison - we want to learn how to sing in harmony, to be able to sing one part whilst embracing and blending musically, with others singing another or sometimes several other parts. The sense of achievement when we accomplish 2, 3, sometimes 4-part harmonies is truly magical!
Each of the groups that I work with throughout the week have different skillsets to bring and find different things difficult, so it’s my challenge as the facilitator to persuade people of the benefits of singing in harmony. Not only that, singing is a great way of meeting new people and socialising. I think singing together in a group, promotes teamwork too, a good life skill!
As Platform Singers is developing, I think the group of people who have come together have actually formed a a close unit- a bond and friendships are growing.
What do you have planned for Platform Singers in the future?
I’d love to get more regulars on board. We have a stable core of five or six people who come most weeks, but we could do with some more men in the group! If we can get our numbers up, we can play about with what repertoire we can do. Our big project at the moment is to plan some music, and our first public performance is at The Bridge Family Festival on Sunday July 28th. I’ve got some ideas in my head and I want to use this as a platform to encourage people to join the group. I might even do some audience participation and get people watching and listening to join in with a few songs!
Do you have any advice for people who might feel a bit nervous to sing as part of a group?
Come to Platform Singers! Take a deep breath and step through that door. Your courage will be greatly rewarded with a very warm welcome and plenty of laughs. Go on, take that step through the door!
Platform Singers meet every Friday at 4pm here at Platform and it is a free, drop in group – no need to book. All ages and abilities are welcome to stop by and give singing a try!