One recent Tuesday afternoon, at the end of a client meeting, I was asked about my plans for the evening.
“I’ve got a choir session,” I replied. Then, with a certain amount of glee, I added: “We sing polyphonic Eastern European folk songs. And one of our warm-up songs is a Finnish reindeer herding call.”
This was notable because, in the past, I wouldn’t have been so open and forthcoming with my answer. Feelings of uncertainty would have crept in; I’d have feared judgement from the people asking. I’d have said, “Oh, I’m just going to a thing” or “I’ve got to nip into Stoke for a couple of hours” and left it at that.
Up Men Sing
The choir is a new male voice choir in Stoke-on-Trent. It recognises the enjoyment we got from singing as part of Man Up in 2018. More generally, it recognises the benefits of singing as a group; the sense of connection, the release of stress, the potential mental health improvements.
We call the sessions ‘Up Men Sing’, as part of the wider ‘Up Men’ programme that’s received funding as a legacy of Man Up. The choir meets every fortnight. At the time of writing we’ve not even had three months’ worth of sessions, but we’ve made great strides learning some beautiful, uplifting songs.
And the best bit is that participating has nothing to do with how ‘good’ any of us are individually as singers. It’s about the collective power of a group of voices working together to create an amazing-sounding whole.
In the last few months of 2019 we’ll perform for the first time, sharing our progress with a wider audience.
We’ve already shared an excerpt of our journey. For one session we were granted the use of the stage of the Victoria Hall (one of the two big theatres in the city centre). Our voices filled the empty auditorium, and the wonderful Jenny Harper recorded us moving around and singing the joik.
The result was this brilliant short video.
View this post on Instagram
Up Men SING! (Sound on🎵) A quick clip of our warm up song with the new Up Men choir, singing for positive mental health. Meeting every other Tuesday at the Victoria Hall, Hanley 7-9pm. New comers always welcome, next session 20th August, and it’s FREE! Video by @jennyharperphotography More about the Up Men project on the website: www.upmen.co.uk #upmen #upmensing #masculinity #mentalhealth
Another part of sharing the journey was having the confidence at the end of that client meeting to talk about how I was spending the evening. When you begin to live an experience and feel the benefits first-hand, it makes it so much easier to share it with others.
Rather than talking about the theory, I can be an advocate. I can share what it’s like to have a broad smile on my face during every session. I can offer a glimpse of what it’s like to be there for the moment that happens during the learning of every new song, when we perform the different harmonies together well, and there’s a collective sense of achievement and satisfaction in the room.
When I shared these insights and proudly showed the video, my enthusiasm was reciprocated. Everyone said how good it sounded, and I was left to wonder why I’d ever been reluctant to share my passions in the past.
The Up Men Programme
The Up Men programme is a series of events over two years, promoting positive mental health through creativity and connection. The first event was a workshop, delivered by TOA Haka, exploring “the perfect embodiment of unity” that the Maori tradition of haka represents.
For the haka workshop, we were granted the use of the stage of the Regent Theatre (the other big theatre in the city centre). The wider support of the cultural scene in Stoke-on-Trent, even at this early stage of the programme, has been particularly heartwarming. The stage was an atmospheric space to use for learning about the origins of the haka, and about Maori culture more widely.
And the turnout was good for the first event in a new cultural programme, featuring a mix of Up Men regulars and new faces. You can’t force people to take part in things. We can only talk about the benefits we experience from giving these things a go, and from knowing we’ll be welcomed in a relaxed, friendly and inclusive environment - and through that we aim to encourage others to take the same leap we once took.
Keep in touch; get involved
Another of the early initiatives of the Up Men has been a redesign of the popular wellbeing cards. I talked a little bit about the wellbeing cards in a post about sharing advice. Seeing the cards have a positive impact on people when they most need it, but maybe least expect it, is just one reason for wanting to continue being part of this whole process.
If you’d like some for your business or workplace, or even to distribute by yourself, wellbeing cards are available to purchase on the website. To be kept up to date with the Up Men programme as it develops, click the ‘Stay in Touch’ button on the website. You can also find the Up Men on Facebook and Twitter.