Words Posy Gentles Photographs Lisa Valder and others
Anyone can join Faversham Community Choir, so long as they are a woman. There is no audition because Lissie Bayford, the choir’s musical director and its original creator, believes that anyone can sing – ‘If you can speak, you can sing! Singing is like a muscle, you have to exercise it and your voice will improve.’
Lissie is a practitioner of the Natural Voice Network whose mission is to take the terror out of singing in front of others, to remove jargon, elitism and self doubt. At Faversham Community Choir, there is nothing written down, no music, no words – Lissie sings it; the choir sings it back. ‘There’s a laid-back feel to it. I just want to get people singing,’ says Lissie. ‘So many people think they can’t sing and have been frightened off, often because a teacher at school told them they couldn’t when they were a child. We’ve all got our personality in our voice; it’s no good trying to be someone else.’
There are 36 women in the choir, ranging from 22 to 70. Lissie arranges most of the music into three-part harmonies – ‘Our range is from high soprano almost down to tenor’. There is no instrumental accompaniment which means the choir can rock up anywhere. And they do, singing their folk songs, world music, gospel and pop arrangements in the Market Square, in care homes or churches, even at Tesco’s. Lissie says: ‘Davington Church has adopted us. Its acoustics are fantastic and we’ll be singing our Christmas concert there on 14 December.’
For this occasion, Faversham Community Choir will be joined by Lowering the Tone, a choir composed solely of men, also run by Lissie. She explains how, in these binary-hostile times, this rigid separation of the sexes arose. Lissie started the Faversham Community Choir in 2012 in Bysing Wood (it moved to the Gospel Mission Hall in January 2017) with ten women and one man, who didn’t come back because he was the only man. Then another man arrived, and didn’t come back.’ Lissie, who says she does not plan but allows things to evolve, embraced what was so obviously being presented to her and the choir became women only.
Then, inevitably, the men who had been frightened off by being outnumbered by the women singers, started to grumble that they were denied a choir, and the neatly-named Lowering the Tone started. Lissie says: ‘I entice them to practice on Saturday mornings with bacon rolls.’
The Christmas Concert will be the first time that the two choirs have sung together. The music will be wintry and seasonal but not really religious, says Lissie, and there will be opportunities for the audience to join in.
Lissie’s musical energy evolved as a child growing up with a mother who sang with the BBC singers and gave music lessons in the house. Lissie did a music degree, then taught music in a primary school until she moved to Doddington in 2000. There was no church choir at this point so Lissie started one which became the Cantiana Choir. ‘We sang in my sitting room, then outgrew it and moved to Lynsted Church, then outgrew that, and now rehearse in Newnham Village Hall.’
As well as running three choirs, Lissie plays in a duo with Christine Adams. Their music is rooted in folk and they write some their own songs including The Ballad of John Tom, whose history Faversham Life covered in The Battle of Bossenden Wood in October. Lissie plays double bass and mandobass and Christine Adams the fiddle, accordion and the nyckelharpa, a Swedish bowed, four-stringed fiddle with 12 sympathetic strings – ‘They add an incredible shimmer to the sound,’ says Lissie. They are to be seen sometimes at Faversham Folk Club.
Lissie’s favourite quote is by the American philosopher, William James: ‘I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing.’ If you want to test the truth of this (and you’re a woman), turn up at 8 to 9.30 any Thursday evening at the Gospel Mission Hall in Tanners St.
For more information, go to lissie bayford.com