After decades of singing in the shower, I finally joined a pop choir this year.
And, like so many people who have been touched by Britain’s choir renaissance, it’s injected a major new source of joy into my life.
So when I heard about a Caribbean package trip that involved soul-singing in the morning and sipping cocktails on a beach in the afternoon, I jumped at the opportunity.
The Caribbean choir experience is a new element in an existing seven-night all-inclusive food, drink and activity Virgin Holidays package trip to Barbados.
But whereas most of the pursuits currently on offer – such as Caribbean dancing, Bajan cookery classes or rum tasting – are single events lasting an hour, the singing experience involves a daily two-hour session.
Led by inspirational vocal coach Mike King, who has worked with Boy George, Mark Ronson and Florence Welch, and his sonorous wife Carol, our aim is to put on a show for our fellow holidaymakers at the end of the week.
It’s day one and the atmosphere in the rehearsal room is a mix of excitement and nervousness, as the 15 of us don’t know each other and are unsure whether each of us can sing. But it’s amazing how quickly our early nerves evaporate and strong bonds begin to form as the feel-good endorphins and oxytocin released by singing start to flow.
Mike breaks us in gently, with wit and empathy – so that within 20 minutes we have lost our inhibitions and are having a great time.
Perhaps more surprising still, we are producing a pretty nice sound for a group of people who, by and large, have a keen interest in music but little in the way of singing experience, bar the odd bathroom or karaoke performance.
The four-song set list Mike has chosen for our mini-gig inevitably includes Bob Marley (“One Love”) and native singer Rihanna (“Stay”) as well as Michael Jackson’s “Rockin’ Robin”. The fourth song is Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”, which turns out to provide the highlight of my trip – of my year, in fact.
That’s because Mike also runs a community choir in Barbados and one evening he brings them together with us holiday newbies to sing the song at a local school near the Bajan capital of Bridgetown.
As the tenors, sopranos, altos and basses sing, many of us find ourselves moved to tears. There is something very moving about singing in harmony, as the intimate sound that begins inside each of us blends with those around us.
And so it is that two groups of people, who had never met before and with ostensibly very little in common, connect deeply through the power of song – communicating through singing before any of us has even spoken.
Sentimental as that may sound, we all feel it deeply. And there is plenty of science to back up all this emotional stuff. Last month, an Oxford University professor went so far as to suggest that the power of music is so immense it’s actually responsible for society itself – creating strong bonds between people, without which we would merely be a collection of individuals.
Meanwhile, if you’re after a scientifically proven metaphor for the binding power of song, a study from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that choristers’ heartbeats synchronise when they sing together,as the phrasing of the song prompts them to co-ordinate their breathing.
The rest of the holiday is all the more enjoyable for the sense of focus and fulfilment the singing brings to the trip and the bonds that have formed. Highlights include snorkelling with turtles, yoga on the beach and a tour of the 21 by 14 mile island, which throws up a few interesting points. Every bus stop, for example, has a female name – so we pass Linda, Cara and Arlene on our way around.
And we learn that Barbados is the biggest consumer of chicken per head, has one of the very highest literacy rates in the world – at 99.7 per cent – and is second only to Japan when it comes to living to more than 100.
The people are extremely friendly, the hotel is pleasant and the beaches magnificent. But, for me, the singing is undoubtedly the best bit.
One theme of the trip is that people are generally far better at singing than they imagine and with a bit of coaching – in a safe environment, while in liberated holiday mode – they can make rapid progress.
“Everyone can sing,” Mike tells me. “I’m not going to turn people into Beyoncé in a week, but everybody will feel uplifted, inspired. Coming in, expectations can be very low and people have no idea how they sound, but after half-an-hour they can be sounding quite good.”
If our group is anything to go by, he’s right.
A package from Virgin Holidays: Virgin Holidays offers 7 nights at The Club Barbados Resort Spa from £1535pp: Seven nights in Barbados with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled Virgin Atlantic flights from London Gatwick direct to Barbados, all inclusive accommodation at the The Club Barbados Resort and Spa, with transfers included. Price is per person based on 2 adults travelling and sharing a Garden View room and includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change.
Price is based on a departure on 7th May 2018.Start your holiday before you’ve even taken off in the v-room at Gatwick Airport… adults £20.00, kids from £12. Virgin Holidays is a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected.
To book:www.virginholidays.co.uk, 0344 557 3859 or visit one of their 110 stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide
The Caribbean Choir Workshop is free of charge (25 places) available at The Club Barbados on the following dates: May 1-11 2018. Then, that further dates are planned throughout 2018 and 2019 on Barbados and other Elite Island Resorts locations on Antigua and St. Lucia.