By Gareth Stevens
Juliet Russell’s music has been both heard and sung by over 40,000 people in over 30 countries. Closer to home she leads the ‘Gospel Soul Choir’ in Hastings, which I can testify sounds wonderful. This project seeks to develop the gospel form, but is wholly secular in purpose. She also runs Hastings Vocal Explosion, which is more genre-free, drawing on the music of indigenous cultures and different times from such sources as Eastern European folk, and traditions from the African continent, Central and South America.
A chance meeting with Juliet on Kings Road SL put paid to the fact that neither of us knew the other lived here. We go way back and used to play at festivals together. I have seen Juliet perform alchemy with over a thousand people, turning them from tired, over-indulged WOMAD-goers to a fully-fledged vocal unit individually flushed and joyous as they experienced the transcendental power of communal singing on a large scale.
Juliet has the vocal range, tone and ability to be a successful solo singer and composer in any context, instead she works with and for others. Brought up in a small minster town in the Midlands, she found herself getting involved in religion-based choirs despite traditional barriers. She cites Bessie Smith, the Cocteau Twins and Trio Bulgarka as major life-changing influences that helped develop her uncompromising and eclectic attitude.
The power of her work was harnessed at a recent International Women’s Forum conference in Barcelona where Juliet led over 1,500 delegates in a mass sing. The impromptu choir embraced over 30 mother tongues and yet within a short time the group cohered into a harmonious pan-national vocal ensemble. Wouldn’t it benefit us all, if all international diplomatic negotiations had a Vocal Explosion experience as a standard part of the process?
When you sing with others like this you lose your sense of self, your vocal contribution is lost in the overall sum of the parts and it can feel exhilarating.
Nowadays, we live in a God-shaped hole and the Sunday routine of local communal worship has withered and died. In some sense, the baby has been unceremoniously thrown out with the bathwater. Notably, popular philosophers like Alain de Botton are coming to realise this with a view that counterpoints the harshness of the new atheism. Communal, secular singing brings people together, it provides spiritual solace in a time when the firm grip of organised religion has loosened. Community singing is effective for bonding large groups, making it ideal for improving our broader social networks and contributing to neighbourhood cohesion. More than that, it brings untold individual health benefits, including endorphin rushes similar to those we get when we laugh or eat chocolate. Singing increases the depth of breathing and thus in turn blood flow. Recent research also suggests that increased feelings of connectedness felt when singing en masse can have a huge positive impact on mental health and even alleviate depression.
At the time of writing, I am pleased to reveal that a Hastings Vocal Explosion version of the Christmas carol ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanual’ has been shortlisted for the pre-season playlist on Classic FM. Whilst exciting, this is hardly surprising when you hear the quality of the composition and the depth of feeling expressed in the piece. As well as this, two of her choir compositions have been shortlisted to be part of an exhibition at the Barbican Centre in Spring 2019.
Get yourself into the blast
radius of Vocal Explosion, either as participant or audience member, as soon as you can.
n For more information about upcoming shows, commissions
or to participate go to vocalexplosion.co.uk
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