Singing to change the world

Choral composer, Chris Hutchings, reflects on the difference that choirs can make to protecting our planet

Singing in a choir is about the most environmentally friendly possible way of performing music: we just need our voices and maybe a few bits of paper.

Until the Covid-19 pandemic, over 2m people sang regularly in choirs - that's 1 in 30 people in the UK. As community groups, choirs and their members have a great ability to reach out and make a difference: when we encourage members and their families and friends to use trains instead of flying, switch to green energy, use public transport, get rid of plastic water bottles, or other activities, we can be leaders of individual change - and it's great to see many choirs already doing this. (Visit choirsforclimate.com for suggestions of what your choir can do!)

But if the world as we know it is to survive the effects of climate change, we also need governments and corporations to make major changes - and while individual changes can influence this sometimes, the outreach that choirs can perform to their audiences can have an impact beyond anything that the individual members can do (unless your choir includes, say, the CEO of Shell or a large number of MPs).

'A memorable song - be it a protest chant, a children's song or a concert work - will communicate its subject not just to the ears and minds of its hearers, but to their hearts and souls...'

This is because choirs, performing with music as well as words, have a unique ability to communicate with their listeners. This is why choirs have been such an important part of the Christian tradition for centuries; a choral setting of a religious text will have a completely different impact compared to reading it out loud. A memorable song - be it a protest chant, a children's song or a concert work - will communicate its subject not just to the ears and minds of its hearers, but to their hearts and souls, and will often be remembered long after the impact of just hearing the same words spoken would have vanished. ("Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory...") 
 
We are in a climate emergency which needs drastic action: so choose music with a message, and send the message loud and clear. If you can, sing it where it can be heard by people who can cause big changes - whether that's in the street or outside Parliament. Invite your local MP to your concert (or send them a recording if they're busy), invite prominent local or global businesses - the types of people who are placed to make global change are often classical music lovers because of their demographics. Tell them in the concert why you're singing what you're singing. 
 
Choirs are uniquely placed to speak truth to the powerful with the songs that we choose for them to hear, and I believe that someday, the right song in the right place will help to save our world. I hope you do too.

Chris Hutchings runs choirsforclimate.com, where you can find a variety of music about climate change and related causes by over 20 different composers, most of it free to download and use.