A choir consisting of farmers and their families has been formed to boost mental health and increase social opportunities within rural communities across Northern Ireland, writes Holly Crawford.
Initially established to encourage people from rural communities, and farmers, in particular, to get together through the medium of singing, the choir has now expanded to welcome anyone with a connection to, or interest in farming or agriculture.
The 35 members are delighted to be back in rehearsals following the Covid-19 pandemic.
Musical Director Barkley Thompson, himself the son of a dairy farmer said:
“It is a known fact that singing is good for our wellbeing and can lift our spirits, especially when you are in an environment where you work long hours by yourself, often lacking social interaction.”
“Therefore, this choir is vitally important as it brings people together from lots of different areas. It gives them the chance to make new friends and to have a bit of fun.”
“There is a cup of tea at the end of each practice which provides the opportunity for chat and a bit of craic.
“Most people come from a farming background, and we have several married couples who attend.”
“I have wives tell me that they enjoy the choir, as it is something they can do with their husbands, because in their type of work, it can be hard to find time to spend together.”
“We have many members who are not farmers but come from a rural community, or perhaps grew up on a farm or were involved with the Young Farmers’ Club.”
“My desire is that the choir is inclusive and that people from any background feel they can be part of it.”
“In our small province, we do not have to go very far back in our family trees to find some farming connection.”
Members of The Farmers’ Choir are busy preparing for their inaugural concert on Monday, December 19th 2022, at Ballymena Academy.
The programme includes traditional Christmas carols and songs and a selection of popular tunes.
There will be plenty of opportunities for audience participation. The performance will be followed by a seasonal supper.
Mr Thompson, who is a music teacher at Ballymena Academy and has directed music for several Arts Festivals for the Young Farmers’ Club in Randalstown, was approached by choir founders, Ivan Johnston and Yvonne Carson of The Northern Health and Social Care Trust, to see if he would like to participate in the initiative.
“I believe singing is for everyone, and making music together has a plethora of benefits. I believe that most people have a singing voice.”
“Yes, some may be slightly better than others, but I try to choose music that people are familiar with and enjoy singing, which is the most important thing.”
Research shows that people feel more positive after singing, especially in groups. Singing is a natural thing to do.”
“I am sure many of us find ourselves singing in the shower or along to the radio while in the car or tractor.”
“Coming together as a group can boost our confidence and help alleviate loneliness.”
He continues: “After two lockdowns and lots of isolation, we are now very much aware of the importance of social interaction.”
“There are many choirs in Northern Ireland, but it is good to find one where you have people with similar interests and particularly one which focuses on farmers.”
Relax and interact
Mr Thompson hopes the choir will continue to grow and flourish, with more members joining in the New Year, perhaps after making a resolution to take up a new hobby or participate in more social activities.
“My hope is that people across Northern Ireland will enjoy seeing the choir perform. Come and join us as members and benefit from the social interaction.”
“I believe the initiative has the potential to spread across Northern Ireland. Singing and making music is fun.”
“People have a lot of things to worry about and take care of, especially at this current time.”
“Taking part in the choir is a way to relax, meet new people and have a bit of craic. Anyone is welcome to join.”
“Just come along to practice. Current members travel from miles around and we always love to see new ones joining us.”
To buy tickets, please ask a member of the choir or contact Barkley Thompson on: 07709223111 or Ivan on: 07860653409.
They can reserve tickets which you can pick up at the door and pay for on the night of the performance.
Prior to performances, The Farmers Choir rehearses on the second Tuesday of the month at Tullygarley Community Hall in Ballymena.
For more information about joining the choir, please email Barkley Thompson via: [email protected] Alternatively, call him on: 07709223111 or visit his Facebook page: Barkley Thompson Music.