How You'll Never Walk Alone became a lockdown anthem

Southwater-based singer and choir director Emily Barden has masterminded an inspiring mass rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Friday, 12th June 2020, 6:55 am
Together in isolation

It comes from the newly-created West Sussex Sings Virtual Choir – a group which is helping singers cope with all the frustrations of not being able to get together in person. Emily, who runs the Horsham Schools Music Festival, brought together online singers from across the county including Bognor, Felpham, Chichester, Midhurst, Petworth, Pulborough, Horsham, Worthing, Angmering, Arundel and Rustington among others. You can enjoy the results at: https://youtu.be/B7akqaURKCI

“Before we were all not allowed to go out, I was making plans with Chichester Festival Theatre who had a really brilliant Rodgers & Hammerstein season they were going to launch alongside South Pacific (in the main theatre). The plan was that in July in Oaklands Park we were going to have a mass come-and-sing Rodgers & Hammerstein event, and we were going to sing Rodgers & Hammerstein’s greatest hits. I was going to put together a project choir of somewhere between 200 and 400 people.”

And then the shutdown came. Emily is very much hoping it might be possible to do something similar next year. South Pacific has already been confirmed for the 2021 Chichester Festival Theatre summer season: “But I had already ordered the music, a medley of 16 greatest hits, and I wanted to keep the notion of that alive. The last piece in the medley was a beautiful gospel version of You’ll Never Walk Alone. It is wonderful. The feel is really uplifting, and I thought it would be really fitting to do it – and this was before Captain Tom and Michael Ball did theirs!”

The piece was created through Zoom rehearsals, through sectional rehearsals which then came together, individually, for the eventual performance. More than 80 people sing in the choir; about 40 took part in the video.

“The whole You’ll Never Walk Alone thing is so important. It is so important for people to know that the people they saw in regular life are still there even if they are not able to be together as a physical choir in the same space right at the moment. I wanted them to know that the community still exists and that we are still together even though we are not.”

Inevitably, lockdown has been the strangest of times for Emily whose whole life is about music-making: “Everything about my life prior to this whole thing is about bringing people together. The theme that links everything that I do, whether it is in schools or at gigs or with choirs, is all about getting people together in the same space and doing something. And immediately that stopped. But fortunately, I foresaw it. I made a decision a couple of weeks ahead, before the official ‘Nobody do anything.’ A lot of my people fall into the vulnerable category. A lot of the people that come to my choirs are post-60 or are people who have had health issues.

“So I stopped it all two weeks ahead. I had two weeks to look at what I needed to do and also to think what I needed to do for me to keep me sane so that I was ready.

“The world is not a very positive place to be at the moment. I am really lucky. I am a positive person. I can make things and do things and I have got a garden.

“But if you are not in that position, if you are in a flat, or if you are shielding and you really can’t go out, then I am sure that the world can start feeling a bleak place to be.”

Hence the need to keep the music going.

“And I think perhaps people might stop taking things for granted. Joni Mitchell got it right. ‘You don’t know what you have got until it has gone.’ And it is funny… almost every song has got a lyric where you are now finding new meaning, where you are finding things that you hadn’t thought of until this situation.”

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