Growing Singing is run by Clare Elleray Mee and Rachael Wadey. Each of us has been running groups separately for decades and we came together at the end of 2022 to launch The Growing Singers (a committed, performing, fundraising choir) and to develop some more drop in groups for during the week (to which you can just come when you like and make no commitment whatsoever).
The way we lead singing assumes that if you can talk you can sing and that, much like many pastimes (think football, cooking, knitting) some people will choose to develop particular expertise but the vast majority of us just like having a go because, again like many pastimes, it’s fun and feels good to do.
An awful lot of people tell us variations of “Oh you won’t want me in your groups! I can’t sing. They kicked me out of the school choir because I’m completely tone deaf. Imagine if someone was telling you that about reading “Oh you won’t want me in your reading group. I can’t read. They told me I was incapable of reading when I was a small child and I’ve never tried since”. You’d be outraged! How dare they tell you you can’t read? Of course, you can read, it takes practice and patience and might be quite hard at first but if you want to read, of course, you can read!
Well, we feel very much the same about singing but wouldn’t suggest you need much practice and patience – you just need to get singing. It’s true that lots of people haven’t sung since childhood. It’s true you might be quite nervous about doing it as you might be totally out of practice. It’s true you might feel horribly self-conscious. And it’s our belief that the best way of really starting to enjoy singing is by doing it.
The wonderful Frankie Armstrong came to that belief long, long before we got there and founded, with others, the Natural Voice Network of which we are both enthusiastic members.
Clare Elleray Mee
I guess I’ve pretty much always sung and never been discouraged, so I was lucky. When we were all quite tiny (in a family of 7 children) my wonderful Mum and her friends started a church folk music group (much to the consternation of some other church-goers I gather!) and we sang in old peoples’ homes and the like as well as singing at Sunday Mass and on long journeys in the car.
Most of us went to Avril Dankworth’s Music Camps regularly from the age of 8 ish and I still know my solo from The Little Drummer Boy from way back then. I was so envious of my elder sister who got together with some excellent folk singers locally and toured a few ceilidhs singing three-part harmonies. And so it went on, I just sang whenever the opportunity came up and particularly loved singing with a bunch of others.
While living in Italy in the mid-1980s I met my beloved friend Louise Tenenbaum who, over the years, introduced me to her extraordinary family and to so many songs, ways of singing and groups that do it. It was then I began collecting harmony songs that can be sung without instruments to accompany them and began to dream of running groups myself.
Back in London in the mid 1990s I did a training at Goldsmith’s College – a certificate in Music Workshop Skills – and started up a community choir in Hackney, The Wing-It Singers, that still runs today. In the intervening years (as well as several non-singing-related careers) I ran a choir at the Deptford Albany, started and ran a charitable organisation (Not Just Bread) offering music workshops to people experiencing homelessness, busked all over much of the UK in my lovely Romahome campervan, made an album of traditional songs and another of my own compositions, ran singing camps in the US with the Tenenbaum family, sang wherever I could and discovered Folk Camp.
In the same years (life’s never really the bowl of wholly ripe and sweet cherries we’d love it to be) I experienced debilitating episodes of depression and anxiety and struggled immensely with my childlessness. Let’s fast forward through some tricky bits to Kendal where I came to live in 2008 having fallen in love with my now husband via the Guardian’s Soulmates internet dating site.
By then I’d collected 1000s of songs and run many groups so immediately started a group from home. I had also found an excellent job and was Administration Coordinator at Growing Well for 7 years where I learned so much about maintaining one’s own wellbeing in the midst of life’s ups and downs.
One of my mantras became “Slow down, lower your standards and when in doubt, sing!”. After years of extraordinarily helpful psychotherapy both in London and in Kendal and linking into a support group of other people who were also involuntarily childless I have settled into a place where depression and anxiety rarely figure and found myself wanting to share what I can of the intense enjoyment of singing with a bunch of others.
If any of the stuff about finding yourself “living the life unexpected” of not being a mother (when you wanted to be) resonates with you, then I cannot recommend Lighthouse Women (used to be called Gateway Women) enough. My contact with them has been a transformation. I’m still very much a struggling human being but – and I never thought I’d say this – am being transformed into a woman who happens to be childless and manages to live a meaningful and fulfilling life despite that fact. Really. If this rings any bells for you then do go and have a look at Lighthouse Women and/or perhaps read “Living the life Unexpected” by Jody Day. It might very well help.
I now lead songs in as wide a variety of styles as I can, including songs from around the world, from a variety of religious and non-religious traditions, original and traditional, modern and ancient. Rachael and my newest project is called The Growing Singers and you can find out more about that here. I do still perform (and love it!) with Pandora’s Handbag and occasionally in some sort of folk club setting.
My approach to singing hasn’t really changed that much over life. Singing doesn’t solve by any means all life’s problems, but it can really help. I love doing it, especially with others, and cannot describe the privilege of leading a roomful of others in a glorious singing moment.
The Monday evening and Tuesday morning Growing Singing groups I now lead don’t involve performing as I’ve come to believe that the really valuable bit for many people isn’t in the performance but in the challenge and satisfaction of learning a new song in several parts and just indulging in that special thrill of letting your voice be part of a greater harmonious whole. The Growing Singers (a mixed, committed, performing and fundraising choir) is a new adventure for both of us that launched in person in January 2023.
Singing has always featured positively in my life. My parents met in a choir and I’m someone who is super enthusiastic about singing with others, about creating a magical sound that is just not possible alone.
I trained to be a teacher, specialising in maths and music. This was where we had the most fun playing xylophones and various other percussion, we had our own Indonesian gamelan, we made up songs and tunes and learnt the basics of leading singing and music making groups.
My many years as a primary school class teacher embedded my confidence in the power of music to bring memorable moments of joy and fun to life and learning. My happiest memories are of singing, hand drumming, dancing acting in class, in performances at school and in lots of different venues.
Fellside Singers are an adult group that sing together for the joy of it, and who perform locally with a repertoire of folk, traditional and contemporary. For a few years, I sang with them, then began leading the group in 2013, affiliated to the Natural Voice Network. I also love to perform, with Clare, as part of a quartet called Pandora’s Handbag.
2023 has been a year of new beginnings – joining Clare, with Growing Singing and in the launch of our new venture The Growing Singers, and beginning a role as Learning and Visitor Assistant with RSPB.
Don’t take our word for it though – go and find an opportunity to sing!