SINGING OUR WAY TO UTOPIA
A national scratch choir brought together for one performance
Created by Boff Whalley, Sarah Punshon and Daniel Bye in collaboration with Rachel Thomas and Professor David Green
Commissioned by the Cultural Institute at King's College London as part of Utopia 2016
65 people from cities across the country came together to sing, without rehearsals, an original piece of music together. Mostly they had never met each other.
Phil Moody's film of the inception and creation of the Utopia Choir, 2016
We're here: Singing our way to Utopia was a bold experiment, a national scratch choir selected to roughly represent the UK's demographic make-up. Each singer was asked learn their part alone, and in a fragile Utopian moment, came together for the very first time to perform the piece live at Somerset House on 27 August, 2016.
The new choral work was a miniature epic about what it's like to live in Britain's cities today, composed by Boff Whalley, Daniel Bye and the participants of the workshops.
We're Here was created and devised at these workshops across the country, where we invited local people to sing together, to discuss a few of the things that we love and that drive us mad in our cities, and try out some ideas.
The UK population is overwhelmingly urban: more than 80% of us live in cities. In the city’s public spaces and in the streets where we live we rub up against people of whom we know nothing; whom we may glimpse once and never see again; whom we may see every day but never speak to. But the simple fact of sharing the city somehow, despite all our differences, can foster a mutual tolerance and understanding.
In the face of the jarring differences in our circumstances, wealth and attitudes, somehow we get along. Mostly. And it is here, in the (seemingly random, but refreshingly commonplace) everyday acts of kindness and tolerance that we discover utopia.
We’re Here tapped into this everyday understanding by asking people to do something extraordinary together: to sing in public and in harmony with 49 other total strangers – and in the process of singing to create a fragile utopian moment in space and time. We’re Here took 65 singers from across the UK, representing the different and varied make-up of the population as a whole. They had never sung with each other. They told us, individually, about their lives, their loves, their fears, their city and their world.
The resulting mass of ideas and thoughts was turned into a piece of lyrical choral music; a melodic 13-minute distillation of what it means to live in our cities today, for better and for worse. The singers were given their parts to sing and to rehearse; they mostly did not meet until one day in August 2016, where, in the extraordinary surroundings of Somerset House in London, they gathered together. The 65 singers performed their piece on one day, during Utopia 2016, Somerset House’s programme celebrating the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia.
Somerset House was the first purpose-built government building, home to the bureaucracy of the nation: the stamp office; income tax; the national depository of births, deaths and marriages; the census. What better place to gather together a representative scratch choir to sing of the everyday empathy and discord of urban living?
This was an ambitious experiment, a daring investigation with an unpredictable outcome. We believe it worked because singing with others – even strangers – is a physical and emotional short-cut to forming community. Singing together is a utopian act.
Thank you to all our singers!
We're Here was commissioned by King’s College London as part of Utopia 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility
Produced by The Courtauld Institute of Art, King’s College London and Somerset House