LSO Community Choir loses funding after 20 years

Members claim funding was cut by the London Symphony Orchestra without consultation. LSO says funding has moved to a ‘project-by-project’ basis and offers support with business model ‘not funded by the organisation’.

The community choir. (credit Oliver Bennet)

A community choir in the area that has been meeting on Monday evenings at the London Symphony Orchestra has lost its support.

The choir, which has been running for almost 20 years, used to have the television personality Gareth Malone as its choirmaster, up until 2009. Now many of its 120 or so members are distraught at the decision. “It’s a genuine community choir of well over 100 people and has people from all walks of life from the local council estate to the Barbican,” says member Tania Cohen. “Many members have been in the choir for 15-plus years.”

Ms Cohen says that LSO’s decision was taken without consultation, engagement or warning. “Some people are devastated as it is such a big part of their lives, especially those who are retired or live alone,” she says. “It is a big loss to the community.” During its lifespan, the choir has taken part in singing events at Whitecross Street, an opera at the Barbican and the BBC Proms in 2019, and was a boon during lockdown. “People have lost parents and partners and had the support of their friends,” says Ms Cohen. “They supported each other during lockdowns, including Zoom meetings when we were unable to sing in person.””

The key reason given by LSO is funding. But choir member and Whitecross Street resident Tessa Sheridan says some choir members would “increase their subscriptions to keep it going.”

“We understand that LSO’s actual orchestra is always going to be a higher priority,” says Ms Sheridan. “But the regular community events are important and a lot of people are very upset and feeling discarded. They’ve said that it’s had a really big impact on their mental health.”

She added that another reason is that the choir is not considered representative, which choir members dispute. “There’s a 96-year-old who has been in the choir from the beginning, someone who comes to choir for her mental health and wellbeing and to relieve loneliness and a group of bass singers who joined the choir after being part of a Guildhall programme for people considered tone deaf”,” says Cohen. It has also been of great importance to members such as Daphne Alexander, 80, who “found strength in the choir after having cancer”. As Sheridan puts it, “People are feeling quite hurt and want to do something to celebrate the choir and its achievements. It would be bad to end like this.”

A spokesman for the LSO said that the choir is “not being disbanded. There are changes to how the LSO will run its singing programmes, and the Community Choir moves from the current termly year-round operation to a project-by-project basis,” he said. “This means that the LSO can continue to engage the choir members with the Orchestra’s future artistic plans, and also means we can involve a greater number of people.”

It is also because of the difficulties of finding funds in the arts since the pandemic. “It’s no secret that the pandemic has had a profound effect on the finances of all performing arts organisations, and there is a need to look at savings across the LSO’s operations if we are to recover,” he says. “We hope that members of the choir will continue to be involved in future LSO singing projects, and plan to work with the membership to find a new business model to support the costs of running a year-round community choir independent of the LSO and not financed by the organisation as is currently the case – if they so wish.”

“The LSO is aware that this evolution of our community singing programme will be disappointing for some, but in the long-term we hope that we can engage with even more local people with our new model, and continue running our wide-ranging engagement programmes for children, young people, adults with learning disabilities, and isolated older adults in our local community.”

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