Serenading the Celebrants

November 13th, 2014

By Rupert Morris

When I became a celebrant 13 years ago, I soon became aware of the dearth of suitable songs for humanist ceremonies.  Yes, we might sing Jerusalem, as much a national anthem as a conventional hymn, and occasionally other songs known by a particular family or group of friends, but otherwise we lacked songs that everyone knew – in the way that churchgoers sing hymns.

So when I joined the BHA Choir about five years ago, it was always in the hope that one day we might get to perform at humanist ceremonies and gradually, perhaps, establish a repertoire of secular songs, either recorded by our own choir, or suitable for live performance at weddings, funerals or namings.

Over the past few years, with the help of various choir colleagues, I have sung at two funerals and joined in communal singing at weddings, while this past summer the choir performed several songs live at the wedding of one of our members, Stewart Dean.  In between, the choir performing at a variety of gigs in and around London, including the Darwin Day Lecture in the spring and the World Humanist Congress in Oxford in August, and been featured on Radio 3’s ‘Meet My Choir’.  The choir’s performance at this year’s Ceremonies Conference, when we provided the traditional Saturday evening entertainment, felt like a real breakthrough.

Under the leadership of musical director Laurel Neighbour, we sang three funeral songs – beginning with Here in My Heart, a touching song of lament and affirmation that William Morris composed specially for the BHA, and concluding with the Eric Idle classic, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, with celebrants joining in the chorus. Songs for weddings and other celebrations included: Perfect Day, Wonderful World, Feeling Good and Stand by Me. One Day Like This, the pop anthem by Elbow, provided another opportunity for communal singing.

As the choir made their way out singing a capella Goodnight Sweetheart, they received an unmistakably enthusiastic reception.

So what next?  Plans are afoot to record a selection of funeral and wedding songs, with the intention of making these available to celebrants via the BHA website.  But it may be a few months before we can raise the funds and make arrangements for a recording session.  In the meantime, the choir rehearses every Tuesday between 7 and 9pm at the Doreen Bazell Hall NW1 1UG, a short walk from St Pancras Station, and is gearing up to go busking in the run-up to Christmas.

If you would like to come along to a rehearsal or find out more about the choir, send an email to bhachoir@yahoo.com, or to me at Rupert@claritywritingexperts.com. We hope that you will be hearing more from us one way or another over the coming year.