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Islington Chaps Choir founder talks male mental health

PUBLISHED: 12:01 16 August 2017 | UPDATED: 15:33 17 August 2017

Chaps' Choir. Credit: Wellcome Image Library

Chaps' Choir. Credit: Wellcome Image Library

Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons

Islington Chaps Choir will be performing with Joe Stilgoe at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre on August 22

Critically observing something you’re involved with is notoriously difficult, so it’s remarkable that musician and choir conductor Dominic Stichbury managed to distance himself from his profession long enough to spot an anomaly.

Though group singing is an inclusive activity, he says, “the one demographic that was missing was my own: men in their late 20s and early 30s. So I set a new choir up.”

And so, in 2012, the Chaps Choir was born in Islington’s Union Chapel. Five years later, they’re rehearsing for their biggest gig to date at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre on August 22, which will see them work with acclaimed musician Joe Stilgoe on his Songs on Film show.

Many studies prove that group singing has health benefits ranging from reducing the risk of clinical depression to lowering blood pressure. So why weren’t cosmopolitan young men – often health-conscious people who might watch their diet, run marathons or go vegan – signing up for it?

“There might still be some stigma around singing in a group, because it’s not a natural activity for men,” says Stichbury. “Often one of the few activities you do as a guy is sports, where your goal is going to be to win and triumph. A choir is cooperative, and you’re never going to have to be better that the chap next to you.”

He adds: “The guys need to temper themselves so they can sing at everyone else’s level. It also means those who might have stressful or toxic jobs have a place to come to where they don’t have to fit into this normal box of ‘maleness’ they’re used to.”

Joe Stilgoe, who has known Stichbury since university, says: “I am incredibly proud of Dom and his choir – they’re so brilliant. When we were planning the Songs on Film show I thought they’d be a perfect foil. Audiences warm to them immediately as their buzz and enthusiasm are magnetic.

“What Dom has brought together is a group of men from different backgrounds whose shared interest isn’t that they’re men, but that they’re singing in a choir – and that’s very powerful. They make a great sound, and they provide an incredible opportunity for expressing yourself in an emotionally liberating, and often bearded, way.”

The Chaps Choir will be performing with Joe Stilgoe at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre on August 22

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