Caroline Redman Lusher is an award winning musician and singer who founded Rock Choir in 2005. Since the remarkable turnout at its debut session in a local hall, this group has soared in popularity to become the country’s largest contemporary choir. Members based all over the UK meet on a weekly basis to sing their favourite hits, from Adele to One Direction. Caroline has united communities and given confidence to all types of people, regardless of their singing ability. She talks to us about her journey and how Rock Choir has inspired a nation.
In the 1990s, I worked as a teacher of music and performing arts at Farnborough Sixth Form College. I shared my passion for singing with the students and we often talked about their favourite artists and songs that inspired them. With a lack of contemporary choice on the curriculum, I devised weekly group singing sessions where students could learn to sing the latest hits and songs they loved through unique harmony arrangements that I created.
My aim was to help students develop their musical skills and gain the confidence to pass their singing modules. As a bonus, the sessions provided a lot of fun and respite from everyday lessons. More and more students joined our weekly choir, and not just those studying musical subjects. Rock Choir became a huge success in the college community over the years. I realised that if I could motivate teenagers to sing their hearts out in a choir, there was certainly an opportunity to open the idea up to a wider audience.
In 2005, I left my teaching job to pursue my dream of running Rock Choir full time. I borrowed £1,000 from my father, David, so I could buy some equipment and hire a space. I bought a portable piano, PA system and a head mic, and I placed an advert in a coffee shop in Farnham to hold the Rock Choir in a local hall. On the night, I put out 40 chairs and hoped for the best. When 70 keen amateurs walked through the door, I was delighted. From that point onwards, Rock Choir has grown on a scale that I never imagined was possible. It just goes to show how a simple concept can become something really significant.
One of the best things about Rock Choir is the emotional impact it has on people’s lives. Music is a powerful thing – we are all moved by songs, from their melodies to their lyrics. Through singing, people find inspiration and comfort, and that feeling is magnified in a choir. It is very rousing to hear a variety of voices singing in harmony.
Singing in public is some people’s worst nightmare, but we’ve had a lot of people convert to Rock Choir because it offers new challenges and allows them to break through barriers. Others so desperately want to sing, but feel they can’t or are too shy to sing in front of an audience, however small. Rock Choir has helped people overcome this through its friendly, open-arms approach.
We’ve heard some lovely personal stories from members who describe how singing in Rock Choir has allowed them to overcome issues such as social anxiety and low self-esteem. It also serves as a hobby that lets people express themselves, gaining a sense of freedom and release. Others enjoy simply listening to Rock Choir groups at their local community centres or churches, and find comfort in the easy-listening.
I think these days it’s important for people to feel involved in their communities and inspired by the people around them. Rock Choir provides camaraderie for everyday people.
We were fortunate enough to have our own documentary series on ITV – ‘The Choir That Rocks’ – which gave us great publicity and provided further opportunities to be televised on popular programmes like The One Show, BBC Breakfast, and The Paul O’Grady Show. Rock Choir has also performed at major events in some of the country’s most prestigious musical venues, including the Royal Albert Hall, the O2 Arena and Wembley Arena. We’ve sung for charities, businesses and variety shows – it’s hugely rewarding having so many opportunities for singers and members to showcase their hard work and passion. Over the years we have raised millions of pounds for local and national charities.
The response from the general public has been phenomenal, and not just from the members. We now have a great following, and an ever-growing audience. What’s great is that many people who hear us perform then want to become members of Rock Choir.
We like to sing songs that evoke emotion or make people feel uplifted – Labi Siffri’s ‘Something Inside So Strong’ and Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ are popular with singers and audiences alike. Singing something with real heart and meaning can be incredibly moving and uplifting. The unique arrangements and effective teaching allows all of us to release everyday stresses and emotions.
It’s amazing how we’ve grown, especially last year when we had 10,000 new members sign up. Rock Choir now has over 25,000 members singing across 350 locations in the UK, with new clubs forming on a frequent basis. We also hold regular workshops for people who want to improve their singing, available to both members and non-members. I have attracted over 70 talented professionals to lead the choirs and they each uphold the culture and ethos of Rock Choir as originally intended.
Rock Choir is a great place to make new friends, or sing with old ones. It has brought communities together, offering a safe place to socialise and be a part of something. We welcome everyone to the choir, whether you want to have fun or develop as a singer. We also offer free taster sessions for anyone willing to give it a go. There is no obligation to join and no pressure to perform – just relax and enjoy the experience.
I believe challenging oneself and being open to new experiences is incredibly good for the soul, regardless of age or social background.
I feel very lucky to have been a part of this journey and I am proud of all we have achieved so far at Rock Choir. If you have a skill or a passion you want to transform into something bigger, you might be surprised at how many people are eager to share this with you!