Pictured: The Mere Singers during a recent practice at The Hive, by Lyndsey Stevens
The Mere Singers celebrate 20 unique years of performances across Shropshire collaborating with artists, filmmakers and other creatives - choir leader Mary Keith explore the ethos of this creative and collaborative group that has been behind some adventurous massed singing!
I never intended to become a choir leader.
When I first stepped out onto the wildflower meadow at Walcot Hall, followed by a newly formed and costumed 'Mere Singers', the voices of the mere that featured so tragically in Pentabus Theatre’s acclaimed production of Mary Webb’s Precious Bane, little did I know that 20 years later many of those singers would still be willingly following me for singing adventures through mud, wind, rain, forest and field. Since then, we have sung at Fordhall Farm, Shrewsbury Castle, Ludlow Castle, in the trenches at Park Hall, on top of the Long Mynd, in the dark in Carding Mill Valley, in the woods on the Dudmaston Estate, with 1,000 other voices in Millennium Point - and more!
The Mere Singers helped form this large heart at Carding Mill Valley celebrating AONB in the UK - Credit Ben Osborne
This year, The Mere Singers celebrate 20 unique years. We are not a formal concert choir, instead choosing to collaborate with artists, filmmakers, sculptors, poets and writers to create and be involved in new work for site specific performances and theatrical productions. There is always a strong context to the music we perform, which creates a unique emotional involvement for the singers.
We become part of the scenery, and for me the special thing about the music we have performed is that it only really successfully exists in the spaces for which it was created. Put it in a formal concert venue and much of the power and magic is lost. Maybe this is why we have never become a 'concert' choir. Nor have we ever really recorded our output. It exists in the moment, in a fleeting convergence of time, place, geography and story.
The singers gather to sing at Nipstone Rock
Whether we are the voices of those lost to the Civil War in Peter Cann’s Play the Man at Shrewsbury Castle, the songs that might have been playing on the radio for the workers at Shrewsbury’s underwear factory in Chris Eldon Lees play Silhouette the West Gallery band that were replaced by the church organ in Evensong, creating atmospheric settings to poetry written in darkness for Darkfest Shropshire Hills, singing the physical shape of the frost-
shattered quartzite outcrops of Nipstone Rock in Heartland, deconstructing the call of the curlew in Curlew Country, or heralding the arboreal seasons in Benjamin Wigley’s Hart of the Woods, we become an integral part of the scenery.
Singing in the trenches at Park Hall
In between these projects we sing acapella songs from around the world, with an annual fundraising event for local charities with personal connections to choir members; Shape Africa, Friends of Conakry School, Medic Malawi, Climbing Out and Shrewsbury Ark, as well as joining forces with other local community choirs to raise thousand of pounds for Water Aid in “Sing for Water Shropshire”.
We survived lockdown with online sessions and created two original virtual choir pieces, one of which, River’s Rising, written about the Shrewsbury floods, was used as our Sing for Water fundraiser.
Where it all began - the Pentabus Theatre production of 'Precious Bane' - Shrewsbury School Gardens, 2004
We currently meet at The Hive on term time Mondays, with a core membership of around 40 and many more 'floaters' who join us for specific projects. We are open-access and non auditioned, all music is learnt aurally, and currently have two guide dogs in our ranks.
Not merely a choir - a true singing community!