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Choir that meets in Bury St Edmunds, Sudbury and Ipswich invites everyone to be a rock star and discover the joy of singing





No auditions. No need to read music. In the words of one local leader, Hollie Heard: “All you have to do is rock up and sing.”

Nationwide more than 33,000 people - hundreds of them in Suffolk - have already discovered the joy of joining the Rock Choir.

They swing, they sway, they click their fingers … but above all they sing. And when you listen you can’t help but smile.

Sudbury’s Wednesday morning Rock Choir at the Quay Theatre. Picture: Mark Westley
Sudbury’s Wednesday morning Rock Choir at the Quay Theatre. Picture: Mark Westley

Voices blend and soar in a mix of old favourites and up to date numbers. Their enthusiasm fills the air along with the sound.

You can join from age 14, and plenty of people are still singing along in their 80s. Whole families get involved, in some cases three generations.

Rock Choir is the pioneering contemporary choir in the UK and remains unique operating in around 400 communities. It was the first of its kind to offer an accessible and inclusive experience for amateur singers with no musical experience.

The choir was founded by Caroline Redman Lusher, an award-winning musician and singer, in 2005. She is still its creative director and has attracted a host of talented people to work with her to ensure excellence across the board.

Hollie Heard, who leads the two Sudbury choirs plus four in Essex. Picture: Mark Westley
Hollie Heard, who leads the two Sudbury choirs plus four in Essex. Picture: Mark Westley

Its team of more than 130 includes 100 professional musicians and performers. They train three times a year so that good practice is shared and new skills developed.Rock Choir has been flourishing in Bury St Edmunds since 2014, and there are also groups in Sudbury and Ipswich.

Bury’s 50 members are currently without a leader but that has not stopped them getting together to sing until a new one takes over in the summer term.

Other leaders step in to run fortnightly workshops and on Saturday April 6, together with Ipswich, they will be entertaining the crowds in the arc shopping centre in Bury,

Rock Choir members performing at the Apex in Bury St Edmunds. Picture submitted
Rock Choir members performing at the Apex in Bury St Edmunds. Picture submitted

Numerous potential new members have booked taster sessions for when they return to regular rehearsals at the New Bury Community Centre on the Howard Estate.

The choirs don’t just get to perform locally, and in the past they have sung at exciting venues such as the BBC Proms in the Park, and the Edinburgh Fringe. They also did a recording session at the iconic Abbey Road Studios.

Dave Easter, Rock Choir area manager for the East of England, said: “I was in Bury at Christmas. We did the emergency services carol concert at the cathedral, which was wonderful.

Sudbury’s Wednesday choir, one of two in the town, take a break from rehearsing at the Quay Theatre. Picture: Mark Westley
Sudbury’s Wednesday choir, one of two in the town, take a break from rehearsing at the Quay Theatre. Picture: Mark Westley

“I’ve been a Rock Choir leader for eight years. I was head of music at Milton Keynes College and decided I needed a change in my work life balance,” says Dave, whose background is in musical theatre. “I love singing and run four choirs myself as well as my management role.”

“All groups teach the same songs at the same time. We have an ever growing repertoire. Every term we learn three or four songs as well as an extensive back catalogue we’ve worked on over the years.

“It’s a real mix of classic rock and pop and some contemporary ones and includes Dolly Parton, Guns n’ Roses, Meatloaf, Michael Buble, and Beyonce - a very eclectic mix.

Members of the Sudbury Wednesday choir rehearse their latest number. Picture: Mark Westley
Members of the Sudbury Wednesday choir rehearse their latest number. Picture: Mark Westley

“We make it a very relaxed, friendly and fun atmosphere, almost like a party. No-one has to audition. No-one has to do a solo. We teach by rote, they learn by ear. We just want to get everyone singing and enjoying themselves. It has such a positive impact on people’s wellbeing.

“We did Proms in the Park singing to 40,000 people in Hyde Park with the BBC Concert Orchestra behind us. There is something really quite wonderful about singing in a big group.

“But equally there are some people who don’t want to perform and can just go along to the weekly sessions and enjoy them. The friendships that people make are lovely to see. Singing together is a real bonding exercise.

Rock choir members say that singing brings them joy. Picture: Mark Westley
Rock choir members say that singing brings them joy. Picture: Mark Westley

“Rock Choir was part of a study measuring what goes on in the brain when you sing. It releases more endocannabinoids, a natural ‘high’ chemical, than other physical activities like dancing and cycling.”

Dave says they would like to encourage more men to join the choirs - and his thoughts are echoed by Sudbury member Mark Whiter, who is in his 80s and feeling a little lonely in the bass section.

“We need more blokes to sing bass,” says Mark who believes he is one of the oldest members. He joined the choir with his daughter Wendy Bright who persuaded him to go along following the death of his wife.

“The choir is great from the point of view of friendship, mental health and wellbeing,” he said. Wendy, meanwhile, has also stayed the course. “I’d always fancied joining a choir and I love it,” is her verdict.

Hollie Heard, the leader of Sudbury’s Monday evening and Wednesday morning Rock Choirs plus four others in Essex, has stepped straight out of university into what she calls her dream job.

“I studied music at uni where I specialised in singing. This is my first term with the choirs. I came across the ad in the summer, and loved what the organisation stands for and the opportunities they give the members.

Sudbury Rock Choir leader Hollie Heard teaches members a new song. Picture: Mark Westley
Sudbury Rock Choir leader Hollie Heard teaches members a new song. Picture: Mark Westley

“I feel so lucky. It doesn’t really feel like you’re at work. It’s so much fun being in the sessions,” said Hollie who also does one to one vocal lessons, solo gigs, and sings with a funk and soul band.

“I grew up in a home where music was at the forefront. My dad was in a band and taught me and my two brothers how to play the guitar and piano.

“At my first session which was the Monday evening choir in Sudbury I was so nervous and I was so lucky because the choirs were so warm and welcoming.

Rock Choir members performing at the Apex in Bury St Edmunds. Picture submitted
Rock Choir members performing at the Apex in Bury St Edmunds. Picture submitted

“We just had an event in Colchester Mercury Theatre with 600 people from choirs including Sudbury and Bury. Hearing the sound they all produced was amazing - and an experience for the members.”

This term the choirs are learning The Emotions’ 1977 hit The Best of My Love, Green Green Grass by George Ezra, and Shake a Tail Feather from 1963.

The songs are specially arranged into four parts - soprano, upper alto, lower alto, and bass - and singers are given lyric sheets to follow.

Checking the lyrics during a Sudbury session. Picture: Mark Westley
Checking the lyrics during a Sudbury session. Picture: Mark Westley

“The genre is basically contemporary pop and rock,” says Hollie. “We switch between upbeat and ballads.

More than 50 members usually go to each of Sudbury’s choir sessions. Some attend both. The Monday choir meets at The Curve Arts Centre and the Wednesday group at the Quay Theatre.

As the Wednesday session begins, Hollie, bubbling with enthusiasm and clearly having a great time, is on stage with her keyboard and backing tracks, and the singers are in the auditorium.

First, it’s vocal exercises to warm up their voices and gradually the notes get higher. Then they loosen up with a gentle physical workout - arms over heads, rolling shoulders, shaking hands and feet.

The first number is Best of My Love complete with moves, sassy clicks, and phrases ending with an “Oh!” that reminds Hollie of Nessa from TV’s Gavin and Stacey, which gets everyone giggling.

Then the mood turns sentimental as they dip into the back catalogue for A Thousand Years from the Twilight films and Hollie tells them their rendition brings tears to her eyes (in a good way).

Green, Green Grass, Sweet Child ‘o Mine, and Video Killed the Radio Star complete the session. It’s impossible not to sing along.

Afterwards some head up to the Quay bar for a serve-yourself coffee and a chat.

Jenny Matthews says: “I joined in 2016 and it’s the best thing I ever did. I absolutely love singing. Her daughter Amanda is also a member. “I’d been a rock choir ‘groupie’ for quite a while, in the audience at concerts, and seeing how wonderful it was. I finally joined in 2019.”

Sudbury Rock Choir started in 2012 and Harriet Thomas and Sarah Hill have been in it from the start. “It’s really joyful. Sarah and I sat together on the first rehearsal and have been friends ever since,” said Harriet.

“It’s a highlight of the week. In lockdown they kept it going. It was a lifeline, sitting in your bedroom singing to yourself.”

Sarah says: “We have done some wonderful things like recording at Abbey Road Studios with other local choirs.

Maggie Hoskin is a choir ‘prefect’ who helps organise the sessions. “Being a prefect means being a welcoming face of the choir,” she says. “I love it. It’s not just the singing, it’s the friendship. You just need to take the first step to come along - you can have a free trial session first.”

Linda Wade and Jayne Watson joined six years ago. “It just gives you a buzz, a lift,” said Linda.

“It’s good for the brain, and we’ve made a lot of friends. It’s something to look forward to every week.”

Jayne adds they had confessed that they couldn’t sing. “When we phoned they said it doesn’t matter. That was a plus.”

And Janet Clark and Tricia Rudel spoke of the warm welcome from other choir members. “I wanted to sing but kept thinking, I dont know…” said Janet. “Once I plucked up the courage I wondered why we had been nervous. We have a whole new circle of friends.

Jane Coe has been in the choir for 10 years. “I love singing - I can read music but they don’t here which makes it accessible for everyone.

Helen Withers joined two years ago. “I stopped working full time and wanted to have some fun things in my week. It was quite hard to catch up with the songs that everyone else knew.

But there are resources and tracks online you can use.

“I got a list of 40 songs and tried to learn them over the summer break. Once I had done that I felt I was part of the group properly.”

Val Hills and Diana Bloomfield met on day one of the Sudbury choir and love the social side as well as the singing. “It’s great and so is the company,” said Val. “It’s very therapeutic for everyone, we always come out of the sessions feeling happy.

“It focuses your brain, and we enjoy the fun side of things. People need a bit of fun in their lives.

“We have done so many venues, the O2, Abbey Road, Wembley, and The One Show on TV.

Recording at Abbey Road was a great experience.”

A little bit of discomfort doesn’t bother them either. “We’ve done pop up sessions in pouring rain, boiling heat, and freezing cold.

“One of our first events was at Colchester football ground at half time, and at the time we didn’t wear jackets, it was a bitterly cold day - it was freezing.”

Tricia Ware, who has been a member for around five years, said: “I’ve followed Rock Choir on and off since they started and when we moved up here I thought it’s only just down the road so I’ll give it a whirl. The nicest thing about it is ‘us’.”

Everyone is welcome to join their local Rock Choir and can sign up for a free taster session by visiting www.rockchoir.com or calling 01252 714276 for further information.

Rock Choir members can also join a session with any choir if they are away from home. Chris Harris from Canterbury was singing along with Sudbury while on holiday nearby.