With many people being forced to self-isolate following the devastating coronavirus outbreak, local choir conductor Emma Rowland is hoping to bring some much-needed joy and fun back into people’s lives with her Virtual Choir Practice Sessions.

Emma, the founder of the group Sing Out Strong, has decided to put on the virtual choir sessions after being forced to cancel her regular choir events.

Sing out Strong is the UK’s first family of wellbeing choirs and social-singing groups, with the ethos of their work being helping people improve their mental health and wellbeing through singing.

Following the government’s guidance about restricting all non-essential socialisation, Sing Out Strong had to take the difficult decision to suspend all of their activities, including postponing choirs in areas such as Hereford, Tewkesbury and Monmouth along with cancelling the increasingly popular Quick Sing events in Ross and Lea.

The group has also been forced to postpone the launch of a brand new Ross men’s choir that was due to start at the end of March.

Speaking to the Ross Gazette about the impact of the virus, Emma said: “It’s devastating financially for us as a group, but we’re much more concerned with the welfare of our singers.

“Our focus is mental health and wellbeing and right now it seems to me that people need to consider their mental health more than ever.

“The public is isolated, lonely and scared and we have been unable to reach out and come together in the solidarity and security that our singing groups normally provide.”

Consequently, Emma has decided to take some action by offering free Virtual Choir Practices online in a designated Facebook group and to open them up to anyone and everyone – regardless of whether they’ve ever sung with the group or anyone else previously.

Explaining the process of the virtual choir, Emma said: “Of course with a Facebook live, I will not be able to hear the choir – but they will be able to hear me. I’ll be guiding the singers through some mindful breathing, fun and silly warmups, and then a new original song (written by me) that we will all learn together by ear.

“The sheet music is available to download in advance and I will follow up after the session with some singalong practise tracks. As with all our “Singclusive” projects, there’s no experience necessary and you don’t have to be able to read the music – you can simply follow it like a book.”

Sing Out Strong’s first Virtual Choir Practice took place on Thursday, March 19at 7.30pm and proved to be a resounding success with as many as 1,000 singers taking part via Facebook Live.

This included members from the USA, Dubai, Australia, South Africa and Morocco as well as Spain, Slovenia, Cyprus, Belgium, the Netherlands and all across the UK, in what turned in to an amazing example of people united around the world in song.

The session has proven so popular that Emma has decided to hold regular sessions every Monday and Thursday evening while the country is on lockdown. She has also written a brand new song for the Virtual Choir entitled ‘Song for the People’.

Describing the song, Emma explained: “It’s about how a lot of us are feeling a bit lonely and frightened right now, especially if we are already isolating, but we mustn’t forget that we’re all in it together and we should still reach out to one another.”

She added: “I was so thrilled with the numbers of people who took part in the virtual session and the feedback was amazing which makes it all the more worthwhile, and anything that helps people get through this horrific time is to be celebrated and supported.”

The group held another Virtual Choir session on Monday, March 23 and with more than 2,200 singers joining the sessions are proving to be increasingly popular, with Emma herself delighted to be spreading some much-needed joy and companionship at this difficult time.

She said: “The sessions and rehearsals have been absolutely amazing and the group is continuing to grow all the time. As a group we are very passionate about supporting our members and their mental health, so we will continue to sing out in anyway we can and hopefully inspire others to join us.”

For more information on how to get involved with Sing Out Strong’s Virtual Choir visit their Facebook page @SingOutStrongWellbeing and the designated group for the Virtual Choir Practice can be found here: www.facebook.com/groups/SOSVirtualChoirPractice