Mental Health Awareness Week at LBG, Edinburgh.
A huge glass atrium filled with hundreds of people eating their lunch, overlooked by offices on all sides, is not a typical setting for your first performance, especially if you have never even had a rehearsal before. This was the challenge facing the participants of Lloyds Banking Group’s mental health event on Wednesday in Edinburgh, and boy did they step up to the challenge!
The event was set up by LBG’s mental health lead, Martin Roberts, to mark Mental Health Awareness week, one of a series of over 50 events around the UK. On:song were invited to lead an impromptu choir for the event, a taster session for the choirs they will be running for LBG across five of their key sites over the next six months. If yesterday was anything to go by, the final ‘sing-off’ performance in December is going to be a very entertaining and impressive affair, as the level of commitment and quality of singing, from many people who had never sung in a choir before, was fantastic!
The event started with a number of short talks, some by LBG employees, giving their moving accounts of mental health issues they have themselves experienced over the years, including burnout, the stress of moving to London to go to university, and homelessness. The stage was then set for Noga Ritter, one of on:song’s lead facilitators, to jump straight in with some basic warmups for body and voice, demonstrating how close our spoken language is to song on a day to day basis. This lead on to some more gospel-esque call and response, filling the vaulted space with sound and turning a few heads!
On:song director George Bell then stepped forward to give a quick overview of what on:song is all about and to highlight the link between mental health and singing, as well as the core benefits of singing for building community in business. He then passed back to Noga who lead the singers in a rousing rendition of ‘I need a dollar’ in four parts (a slightly tongue in cheek choice of song given the venue!) complete with full actions for bass, guitar and violin - who knew LBG had such competent air bass players?! Noga’s approach really does exemplify that of on:song’s vision, to update outdated and stuffy preconceptions of the choir, and bring people together in lively and accessible ways, combining inspiring repertoire with an engaging and uplifting approach.
The participation from all sides was excellent, it was great to see LBG team leaders getting involved, and seeing the transformation on singers’ faces, from nervous and self-conscious to beaming and bursting with pride, was a joy to behold. It just goes to show you don’t need any experience to get the most out of a choir, just a willingness to take part!