The Bolder Voices choir, run by Clair Chapwell, are expert at getting their voices heard where it matters.
“Older people can melt into the woodwork, but singing can give them a voice. It’s such a good way to bring issues to the attention of the world,” says Clair Chapwell, the force behind the campaigning choir Bolder Voices whose members come from Age Concern Brent and Age UK Camden.
Clair, originally from Minnesota, has lived on the same road in Camden since 1975. She planned Bolder Voices’ most recent gig at the 50th anniversary celebrations for Henderson Court Resource Centre. It was a chance to hear the songs Clair has written for the exuberant choir that has had 1000s of YouTube views.
Encouraged by the Age UK Camden team, Clair organised Bolder Voices – which has between 12 and 20 members aged between 65 and 95 – to be filmed singing a catchy protest song, Ain’t Gonna Close Our Centres Down at a time when pensions were to be slashed. “We took about 15 people to Downing Street in a van. They loved singing and filming around Parliament Square. I remember saying, ‘Don’t drink tea before we go because there’s no place to stop for a pee,’” says Clair.
“Bolder Voices wouldn’t exist without Age UK Camden. Having Centre Manager Laurie White saying ‘Put us in the van, let’s go’ and having CEO Gary Jones say ‘It’s good, here’s some money, let’s do something,’ gave us the right support,” adds Clair, now 64, who set up and spent nearly 30 years running the Spare Tyre theatre, renowned for its creative workshops and wry, witty songs.
The choir, which rehearses on Wednesday mornings in Kensal Green, has now built up a collection of catchy campaign songs including their very first number The Bankers are to Blame, Love that Freedom Pass, launched at Somerset House. They performed their rap demanding older pedestrians get more time to cross roads, Hey Mr Boris, to Sadiq Khan. They’ve also sung at supermarkets, the South Bank, Albany Empire and Brent Civic Centre and will be doing a show at Jackson’s Lane on 4 November.
It’s not all about protest though. One of their songs is the deliberately happy tune, I’m Alive, due to be the group’s next video project. “I’m not a trained musician,” explains Clair despite her ability to knock out wonderful songs, “but I was taking piano lessons and my vibrant, talented teacher, in his 20s didn’t turn up. It turned out he’d died of an aneurysm. At the next choir rehearsal people were moaning about how they felt. I said ‘Never regret growing old because we are in fact alive’. It got me thinking how terrible things happen all the time – people commit suicide, kids in their 20s can’t get jobs and people in their 40s are so stressed because they are worried they are going to be made redundant. But old people are enjoying their lives. They may not be clubbing or having wild sex but there’s stuff to see or do. It’s not the worse thing in the world to be over 60.”
“Before they join the choir people always say ‘I can’t sing,’” admits Clair who used a 2013 Churchill Fellowship to focus on the benefits of singing for older adults inspired by the groundbreaking work of Julene Johnson who is based in San Francisco. “There are amazing links between singing and better health,” she says adding that even near her home in Kentish Town the Caversham Health Centre runs Singing for Breathing and Singing for Parkinson’s. Clearly at Bolder Voices a catchy tune is as much about good health and friendships as it is a chance to create memorable campaign messages, and be a video star. What’s not to like?
You can join Bolder Voices choir; invite them to sing for you or even have a song written to order (from £50-£500). Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, or call Clair on 07958 204551. You can also visit their website at www.boldervoices.org
For more information about Henderson Court Resource Centre see the Spotlight section.