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MORE than 40 singers from Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, United Reformed, Quakers, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Independent Methodist churches throughout South Tyneside and Washington have long enjoyed being members of the SALT – Sing Along Together – choir. The choir includes men and women ranging in age from their 30s to their 90s – but all are young at heart and thrive on the joy that singing hymns and a range of other songs can bring.

Since March 2020, they have met online and continued to raise funds for local charities.

Here Annette Thompson, Zoom host, and other choir members, tell their story. "I remember the first time I walked into the Independent Methodist Church in Hebburn, some time before 7pm, for choir practice. The experience of warmth, welcome and hospitality of our musical director, Peter Kennedy, and members, has stayed with me. Our members are largely drawn from the Christian churches in the town, or nearby, and we sing hymns as well as songs from the shows plus classical, folk, modern, pop and old-time numbers.

We also hold concerts periodically in different churches to raise funds for charitable causes. Many members comment that they feel better when they leave choir practice than they did when they arrived. Peter engenders a relaxed and accepting atmosphere, whilst getting the job done. It feels like family, it is often said, and everyone is welcome at any time.

This feeling of family, and therefore loss, was uppermost when the Covid-19 virus stopped play on March 16. There were lots of tears and sadness that evening as we said our goodbyes. We prayed for a solution. Within a couple of weeks a member found out about Zoom – and the SALT virtual choir was born.

Our musical director and a choir member produce a programme and set up the Zoom sessions. It is so much fun seeing each person arrive online for our choir session. There’s a real buzz at the beginning of the practice. Each individual has to be muted whilst singing, due to latency, but our director prepares backing tracks, some from recordings of our previous concerts, so the feeling of singing alone is diminished. There were teething troubles at first, but we are all comfortable with it now.

We held a VE day celebration with songs such as We’ll Meet Again and The White Cliffs of Dover. Our eldest member led a toast to heroes past and present and a moving poem was read. For the grand finale, we ‘joined’ promenaders in the Royal Albert Hall for a rousing rendition of Land of Hope and Glory – flag waving and all!

So, whilst Covid-19 has been the cause of much distress, there are blessings – for us the virtual SALT choir where we continue to grow in love and thanksgiving for one another."

Members Liz and Jen added: “The choir has been a great comfort to everyone, particularly those who live alone. We recently sang 26 of our favourite songs for the 2.6 challenge – to mark the London Marathon not taking place. It raised £430 for the local charity Hebburn Helps, which does wonderful work to provide food parcels and help for the needy.”

Choir member Irene said: “From the beginning we set out to make the choir a place to come for friendship and fellowship. It was open to anyone who enjoys singing – no auditions, no pressure.

As we are a group of mixed denominations, local churches started to invite us to sing at fund-raising events. Our first concert was in November 2015. Just the original 18 of us – we were terrified!

We have grown in numbers and personalities since then. We also have a very strong male section now. When Peter started the choir, I don’t think he had any idea of the impact it would have. The Zoom group is joyous. We can meet up with our choir ‘family’ again and keep in touch during these uncertain times. SALT means everything to me. There have been some evenings when it was dark and cold and I would rather have stayed at home in the warm, but I made the effort to attend the practice. Singing lifts my spirits. Every week we come out of choir smiling and thankful to God that He inspired Peter to create this wonderful choir that we all love so much.”

Choir director Peter Kennedy added: “The first song we tried was Climb Every Mountain. It was as if they had been singing together for years. We love to welcome new members – just come along and get a warm welcome. We are like a close family.”

Muriel Fairhurst concluded: “Our choir was born with a handful of church members that Liz Harkness gathered together, including three men; John Coe, Keith Sumby and Joe Wilson. Sadly, two have passed on, but we now have a grand group of men with a much larger group of ladies! If Liz hadn’t had that yearning in the beginning – and the help of Peter – we might never have had SALT. Thanks must also go to Jen, who sorts out the music for master files, as well as scarves and ties. We hope it will continue long into the future. People might flock in their hundreds to see us! “I say thank you for the music – and the joy it has given to me.”

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