The Voice Project is one of the many good reasons to enjoy living in the Fine City of Norwich. Created by Sian Croose and Jonathan Baker this open access choral singing project celebrated a decade of performance with a characteristically atmospheric production.

The venue for this year was the wonderful St Andrews Hall, built with the kind of long and lofty acoustic that perfectly suits the human voice alone or in chorus. Many years ago when more raucous sounds were permitted in this ancient venue I remember seeing The Stranglers perform here. They were really quite perplexed by the way the sounds they created carried and kept coming back for some time, a bit different from the fusty pubs and clubs they were then accustomed to. While over-vigilant neighbours mean that we do not get to enjoy raucous rock music here much these days even the most joyless city-dweller could only be uplifted after a Voice Project performance in the Hall.

The open access arrangement brings a lot of singers into their element – about a hundred and fifty who file in and out along mysteriously predetermined lines as required by the programme. Many pieces use the full choir, but the Voice Project Quintet take the lead and also pop up all over this large and interesting space, one minute on a central podium, another high up behind you next to the mighty St Andrews Hall organ which also plays its part.

For this event they are joined by the poet Stephen Watts who wrote and performed ‘The Birds of East London’. While the music shares many of the tones and styles of religious music this is a show that could be considered spiritual but does not seek to promote any one person’s beliefs. The performance starts with a sung version of “All Shall Be Well” by the Anchoress Julian of Norwich and features the writing of many well known poets and writers including Coleridge, Emily Dickinson, Rabindranath Tagore and Norwich writer and poet Andrew McDonnell. Much of the music is composed by Jonathan Baker who also takes the bass role in the lead singing group. One impressive piece sees Jonathon and fellow conductor Sian Croose each simultaneously conducting half of the large choir which is split into two large semi-circles facing each end of the Hall.

The enthusiasm of the choristers is evident and infectious. When one chap suddenly collapsed, overwhelmed by the heat or atmosphere of the occasion, we might have expected him to sit out the rest but after briefly regaining his composure he went straight back to his place for the remainder of the programme.

For the many of us in this very secular city who find that we can not participate in church music this show gave a very pleasant opportunity to hear the same skills and tones that might grace a very good cathedral choir, in a varied, interesting, and inspired collaboration. The soprano and tenor saxophone pieces from Andy Sheppard as he moved around the Hall were a particular delight.

The Quintet is completed by Sopranos Lisa Cassidy and Sharon Durant with Tenor Jeremy Avis singing alongside Sian and Jonathan. The five work together confidently to give a remarkable performance that reaches every corner of this large venue. Dramatic minimal lighting and a minimum of instruments played ensure that true to the name this project highlights the human voice in perfect setting. I look forward to the next outing of the Voice Project choir, always a high point on the Norwich cultural calendar.

© Julian Swainson 2018

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