She told me about beginning her training at 4 years old as she’d shown an affinity for music. This led to a scholarship at a Girls’ school where she learned violin, piano and singing. Caroline laughingly recounted her days of singing in Birmingham night clubs under-age. And seemed right at home in Media City, having studied popular music and recording at Salford university.
She then moved to Farnham, studied at night school and began to teach A level performing arts. She explained that her students were strong dancers and actors but struggled with music and the more technical, academic side of performance.
In light of this, Caroline began a Wednesday afternoon music lesson in which her “organic” way of teaching by ear led to her students acing their exams. It quickly became more than that, becoming something of a social movement. Her students’ grades were going up across the board and parents were approaching her to ask what she’d done to make such a change in their child. Her answer was simple: “we’ve been having a lot of fun on Wednesday afternoons.”
The effect she had on these students led to their parents asking her to do it for them too. Caroline, imagining “running a choir every day of the week” put a poster in a Farnham coffee – everyone welcome, no experience needed, no need to read music.
70 turned up to first meeting and a “highly emotional” practice ensued.
Caroline described how Rock Choir has a “set of ingredients that have all been created organically”. Firstly, “the singing which releases endorphins”. Secondly the social side – “it’s anti-loneliness”, as Caroline put it. And finally, dance routines – all things that “keep them alive.” Her passion for community and bonding through music was evident. She explained how starting a community choir in Farnham grew into a phenomenon where 28,000 members now participate. They sing across 400 towns, run by professionals hired and trained by Caroline herself.
When I asked how she maintains the same community and support when 70 people has grown to 28,000, Caroline explained that everyone is linked by learning all the same songs. And each Rock Choir leader has multiple choirs that they bring together for “big sings.”
Caroline was delighted to let me in on the Rock Choir surprise for Proms in the Park (Hyde Park). Last week, unbeknownst to anyone, 12,000 ‘Rockies’ were among the audience in Hyde Park. This culminated in a flash mob to Dancing in the Street, certainly a sight to behold!
Caroline chose the Cohen classic Hallelujah for Rock Choir’s single. She explained that picking songs we all know demonstrates the effect of music that everyone knows and feels. Despite the bigger scale of Rock Choir, Caroline continues to arrange all the songs they sing. Her arrangements of classics like Somebody To Love, Mr. Blue Sky and Something Inside So Strong all focus on the emotional effect the songs will have on the audience.
When I asked Caroline to sum up the essence of Rock Choir she said, “Singing fantastic songs you feel good about and the friendships”. Rock Choir puts great emphasis on being a support system that applies to those from all walks of life. Helping people through loss, illness and giving people a new community to belong to.
Looking to the future, Caroline commented: “I’m a teacher and this is the bit I like the most – just being in the room with them.” We discussed her plans to teach younger people and students. Caroline admitted that although, in her opinion, the 80s hits she arranges for Rock Choir are some of “the greatest songs ever written”, there would need to be a change in some of the music and the approach to a younger demographic.
The Rock Choir founder came across as a humble and impressive woman. What struck me most about Caroline was her obvious care and pride for all the successes of Rock Choir, and the community it stands for.