Over the 2 decades I've led East Lancs Clarion Choir, the repertoire has changed - we were devoted to South African anti-apartheid songs in the late 90s, and songs in Xhosa were popular. We sang songs from all over Africa too, and then got interested in Eastern European songs, especially from Romania and Bulgaria, as many choirs did.
Political issues changed, and we sang for Palestine, and did a project for the Chartists.
This led to an annual trek up to Blackstone Edge to commemorate a special Chartist date in May. The choir also remembers those who fought in the Spanish Civil War, and marks Menwith Hill's annual Freedom from America day with anti-war songs, amongst others.
My framework for the sessions has been learned from my own teachers - Sandra Kerr and Frankie Armstrong in particular, and other NVPN colleagues who have taught for longer than I have. We start off with a "body, breath, voice" warmup, followed by something short - rounds are good, four-line multi-part harmonies are good too. The Natural Voice Practitioners network has brought out two songbooks which are a fabulous source for these warmup pieces.
Generally, I work from my folk background, or with old pop songs, but there are some great modern composers now composing specifically for community choirs, and political choirs. We all have our favourite songwriters - I often go to Leon Rosselson, Robb Johnson, and Sandra Kerr, Jim Boyes, Lester Simpson, Karine Polwart, and colleagues such as Alison Burns and Penny Stone. I occasionally write and arrange my own, too.
Seasonal songs in the folk idiom are great, and especially for midwinter, I plunder the pub carols repertoire from Sheffield, Devon, and Cornwall and also do things like Winter Wonderland, Catch a Falling Star, and Rudolph.
There are also choirs like Strawberry Thieves in London and Liverpool Socialist Singers who keep a fabulous resource of political songs on their websites. It's important for me that the songs matter, for both me and the choir, so my choices will always reflect that.
Janet Russell, November 2021