Our story starts long ago, in 1862......
When the medical Superintendent of the Norfolk Mental Hospital, (the old St. Andrews Hospital in Thorpe, Norwich) formed an orchestra of staff and patients. They played regularly, often with specially scored music until about 1930.
St. Andrews Hospital -
Thorpe St. Andrew, Norwich
Then in 1988........
St. Andrews Hospital was being closed down. Among the things found in the clear out was a pile of the same music used by the orchestra. Local theatrical lighting engineer Jim Lawes felt this was too important just to dump, and so it found its way into hands of David Juritz, lead violinist of the London Mozart players.
David Juritz - Winner of the Tagore Gold Medal of the Royal College of Music
David had formed a part time "Asylum Band" playing some of the specially scored pieces. Dr. Steve Cherry, a lecturer at the University of East Anglia with a particular expertise in the history of health and medicine had written a history of the Norfolk Asylum and learned about the music.
UEA - University Of East Anglia
Through him. David Juritz found his way to Maggie Wheeler, Chair of the local NHS mental health trust, the successors to that old asylum.
Maggie told the story to her colleagues and challenged them to form a Tribute Band.
The challenge was taken up by Psychotherapist Tracy Morefield, herself a keen singer who believed that being involved with making music has a very direct theraputic benefit.
And so began, Sing Your Heart Out.....
SYHO really started to get going, weekly sessions, were held at Hellesdon Hospital, choir leader and singing tutor Chrissy Parsons West started leading the workshops.
Already we were hearing about successes, with former SYHO members joining community choirs, starting to talk about how singing improved their self confidence and sense of wellbeing.
SYHO attracted the interest of the local press, and the department of health invited SYHO to be part of a study on the benefits of the arts for health.
Penny Holden became involved. The workshops gained in popularity. Money was tight, but more and more people had heard about the project.
The local press were supportive and interested, and the BBC made a Radio 4 programme “The Asylum Band” featuring Sing Your Heart Out and the London Mozart Players. SYHO at last met David Juritz!
At the end of the year SYHO won its first award - £5000.
By now SYHO was clear what it wanted to be – inclusive (no one who comes needs to identify themselves as a service user or carer or declare any or no diagnosis) workshop based with sessions you can dip in and out of as you feel) and above all….FUN. It was also starting to be led by mental health service users.
Then in 2007…..
SYHO really got on the map. Conversations had been going on for some time with the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, who commissioned both SYHO and the London Mozart Players to perform.
Workshops turned into rehearsals, as SYHO remained faithful to its roots of inclusion and openness, while putting together a performance worthy of such a prestigious event. Members of one of Chrissy’s choirs, Hearts and Voices joined SYHO for the festival programme. Composer Fraser Trainer worked with SYHO to develop a special piece. Amid great nervousness SYHO arrived at the venue, meeting and rehearsing for the first time with the London Mozart Players on the day of the performance itself!
The concert went down a storm and was well reviewed. Families and friends were proud and amazed to hear the beautiful music that SYHO made.
It was huge fun, but it helped us clarify that we needed to focus on workshops not performances, as not everyone wanted to be part of a public event, and the stress of rehearsing was a step too far for some singers.
Tracy Morefield, still the driving force behind the project was invited to Downing Street, SYHO sang in public with Rick Wakeman, the BBC commissioned a short TV programme and SYHO started to be invited to conferences.
SYHO was ready to take flight. It had always met at Hellesdon Hospital, but now a grant from Norfolk Community Foundation meant there was money to rent premises in the community, so SYHO moved to the Phoenix Centre in Norwich.
By now SYHO had attended conferences in Folkestone, been in the Evening News, on the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2 and in the Independent Nurse.
Saw us extending our boundaries. A second SYHO started in Kings Lynn. Our first “Big Sing” happened in Fakenham, attracting SYHO regulars from West Norfolk and Norwich as well as many more local people – the church hall we had rented overflowed with song and laughter.
SYHO also presented at the mental health trust’s AGM, where over 300 people including the Trust’s directors and governors found themselves joining in the singing.
Was the year SYHO South started. The third group made us realise we needed each group to be consistent, but also independent, thus able to access local funds. A large social care conference saw the director of social services joining in the singing. We knew we were on to something – we could get anyone to sing!
SYHO went from strength to strength. We sorted out things like committees, and policies and financial procedures - boring but necessary to prove we were keeping people and their money safe.
We had long set our sights on Great Yarmouth, and this year we made it. SYHO East emerged as part of our ever expanding portfolio, and we held one of our annual “Big Sings” there to welcome them in. Big sings are annual events where we bring all the SYHO groups together for tea, cake and singing
SYHO West Norfolk won a West Norfolk Equal Opportunity Award for demonstrating innovation, imagination and commitment for ensuring equality of opportunity for people with disabilities
This was also the year we were awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the ultimate accolade for a voluntary group, and the equivalent of getting an MBE! SYHO members were also invited to attend the Sandringham Royal Garden Party
2014… and suddenly we were getting ready to celebrate our 10th birthday which we did in style at a really Big Sing at Hellesdon Hospital, where it all began, with over 100 members from across the county singing their hearts out, and being joined by old friends, funders and supporters, not least the Mayor Of King’s Lynn, the Sheriff of Norwich, Chairman of Broadland Council and Vice Chairman of Norfolk County Council.
As we celebrated with a fabulous tea party (lots of cake of course) we reflected on how far we had come, and what a difference SYHO has made, and continues to make to so many people.
In 2017 we achieved a long held ambition and set up SYHO North in Sheringham. Previous efforts to do this had come to nought, but finally we had the people and the premises keen to expand to this part of the county. A further grant had enabled us to try taster sessions in several venues asking for feedback. Local singers voted for Sheringham, and we were off.
So, there we were, SYHO in the north, south, east, west and centre of Norfolk. SYHO was going strong. Over the years we had been on the radio, the TV, and in the papers. We had spoken at conferences across the country, won awards, met the prime minister, and attended endless local events promoting singing as an inherently therapeutic activity. We had held events at church halls and village halls, and we had been supported by The Rotary Club, Goldsmiths, The John Jarrold Trust and Theatre Royal among others.
We had been the subject of some rigorous academic research by the University of East Anglia, we had attracted interest from academics and musicians from as far apart as Tasmania and the US. Two of our founding members had been invited to Japan to talk about SYHO. In 2018 The Norfolk and Norwich Festival invited us back to run a SYHO session in their fabulous Spiegeltent in Chapelfield gardens in Norwich, attended by the Lord Mayor.
By 2018 we also knew we had grown to the stage where we needed to do something about how we were organised, and encouraged by Norfolk Community Foundation who have always been a tremendous support we made the decision to apply for charitable status. Keen to keep our “local” feel we set up a committee to take charge of the day to day organisation of each SYHO group, and appointed trustees representing the whole of Norfolk.
We reviewed all our policies and wrote more, looked at our governance, rationalised our finances and got ourselves an accountant and in September 2019 we became a charity
And then 2020…….
Live singing indoors in a group was one of the first things to go and the last to come back during the Covid19 pandemic. We knew many of our singers were vulnerable and how much attending SYHO had been part of staying mentally healthy. We started by putting songs online to join in with, then soon graduated somewhat nervously to live online sessions on Zoom.
At the peak we had about 60 people joining in – it wasn’t the same, but it did enable people to see one another and share at least a some of the joy of singing.
By late 2021 we felt confident enough to return cautiously to real life sessions. We made some changes in our venues so we could be suitably distanced, and supported people in gaining confidence by running some outdoor sessions.
A blip in late 2021 with a new coronavirus variant saw us briefly back online.
By February 2022 we were back in full swing.
Watch this space...