Last September, just six years after its founding, Victoria Park Singers performed at the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall. Standing shoulder to shoulder with the London Philharmonic Choir and the BBC Symphony Chorus, the group sang In the Name of the Earth, a piece written by Pulitzer Prize winning composer John Luther Adams.
It’s a fairytale story, but it was no accident. A typically East End blend of fun and hard work has got the group to where it is today. Victoria Park Singers are always improving, always growing, and always singing.
Victoria Park Singers is directed by freelance musician Hannah Brine, who founded the group just a couple of months after moving to Bow, East London, in 2013.
Brine is no stranger to choirs. They have a knack of springing up wherever she goes. Prior to the VPS she founded Kensington Singers in West London, Finsbury Park Singers in North London, and Fosse Singers in Leicester, each with their own unique character.
‘I think this area has a special kind of person,’ Brine says. ‘There’s a lot of creative people, a host of people with a brilliant attitude to things. You’ve got midwives and teachers and architects. Everyone’s willing to have a go, to feel a bit silly.’
We meet in the Hub at Victoria Park, a stone’s throw away from where the group met for the first time. The VPS made their start in the upstairs room of the Royal Inn on the Park, but swelling numbers soon saw them outgrow the space. There are now around 100 members, every one of them keen to get stuck in.
‘Everybody’s got an attitude I like, which is about team spirit, and working hard,’ Brine says. ‘People will put the work in and come every week wanting to be better.’
Brine certainly leads by example in that respect. Her passion for music makes for a kind of song in itself, her mind dancing through all the steps that go into running a community choir. There’s practice, there’s arrangements, there’s vocal health, there’s harmonies… Brine adores harmonies, the more the merrier.
The numbers have had to plateau at around 100 to keep things manageable, but, as with most things, Brine sees potential where others might see problems. With so many members the potential for vocal power is incredible. ‘It’s like putting the keys into a Ferrari,’ she says. ‘You can go from nought to sixty like that.’ She clicks her fingers and laughs.
It’s easy to see why Brine won a BBC Unsung Hero award in 2015. She has directed Victoria Park Singers to remarkable highs. The group had raised thousands of pounds for charity by the time she received the award, and has raised thousands more since. As well as providing a social function, it has also helped members cope with mental health struggles. And of course, a portion of the group has now sung at the Royal Albert Hall.
Members were invited to partake in John Luther Adams’ In the Name of the Earth, a celebration of the elements performed by more than 600 singers from eight choirs. The piece gives voice to rivers, lakes, mountains, and deserts across the world. Appropriately, Victoria Park Singers was the east group. Some singers had never stepped foot in the Royal Albert Hall before that night. Not a bad first, as firsts go.
Appropriately, Victoria Park Singers were the east group. Some singers had never stepped foot in the Royal Albert Hall before that night. Not a bad first, as firsts go.
This all makes for a formidable CV, but the group has always stayed true to its purpose – a community choir. ‘Music is the glue,’ Brine says. ‘Some people come to extend their social circles, but the core thing is of us working hard on music.’
The intimacy and openness of singing together has created something of a family at Victoria Park Singers. With Brine at the wheel one can only expect that to continue for a long, long time. She’s quite at home in Bow (she’s a big fan of the Pine Tree and Vinarius) with plans already well underway for the coming year. If you want to see them in action the group will be performing at St Anne’s in Limehouse on 4 December, and at the Barbican on 1 March.
Victoria Park Singers are always open to enquiries from potential new members, but if you want to be part of a programme from start to finish, the time to sign up will be January. New years resolution to sing your heart out, anyone? You’ll be in good company.
If you’re interested in joining, visit the Victoria Park Singers website for more information. The images below, taken by contributing photographer Dominik Pietruszka, capture the Victoria Park Singers in full flow
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