Borough Market Choir is five years old this month. Esmeralda Conde Ruiz talks about the choir, its members and its special spirit
How was the Borough Market choir born?
It all started with Shakespeare’s Globe looking to put on a community concert for their winter season in 2011. They contacted all the institutions in the surrounding area to see if they had a community choir, but of course Borough Market didn’t at the time. Two of our founding members, who worked in the main Borough Market office, were in a meeting discussing it and thought it sounded like an interesting idea. The contacted me, a freelance choir conductor and composer, to help set it up—and I became the third founding member. We got the most amazing response from people in the Market wanting to sing. I was quite overwhelmed. It was brave of them, I thought, to want to come together and perform like that, on stage. The concert was such a success we decided to keep the choir going.
What kind of people sing in the choir?
At first it was just traders and staff, then we opened up to customers, and people working locally. Now we’ve so many there’s a waiting list! I’ve decided to stop at 50 because it’s too much otherwise, with all those faces and names, but people do drop in and out. There are people of all nationalities and backgrounds, and of every age—there is no such thing as a typical singer. We have people from across the Southbank—the Globe, Tate Modern, local shops, theatres and galleries and so on—and it is just so sociable, which has been lovely to see. After the rehearsal, everyone goes to local pubs—different groups have favourite locals—and in fact, a number of people have ended up collaborating on work projects, too. It’s a real community.
Where have you sung?
We’ve had concerts in the most amazing places: Royal Festival Hall, the Barbican, the Southbank Centre, the turbine hall of the Tate Modern. We were part of the opening of the Tate’s new exhibition space earlier this year. We’ve even been in a performance at the Globe: 20 of us singing with all the actors in period costume. That was great fun.
You don’t make people audition. Does the disparity in people’s singing abilities matter?
You’d think that, and at first, when there was a small group, it was a harder—but with a group of 50, when everyone is together they drag each other along and encourage each other to create this sort of singing explosion. And of course, people get better as they go. That’s been lovely to see.
Any previously undiscovered singing talent?
There are people you look at and think, no way—no way are they singers. You just wouldn’t imagine it if you saw them in the street. Then come Thursday evening, such a surprise! The men in particular: we’ve some beautiful male voices. But I’ve been amazed by everyone’s talent really, and how it’s improved over five years.
How closely connected are you to the Market these days?
We still have great support from everyone at Borough Market. That’s been an inspiring thing, actually. Since we first launched, everyone has wanted to be a part of it. Even today, those traders who don’t sing still contribute in other ways: supplying food for concerts sometimes, helping to promote concerts, coming along to support—Turkish Deli even helped with our website.
What do you have coming up?
We’ll be doing the fifth anniversary concert on Saturday 12th November at St. George the Martyr church, near Borough tube. There’ll be food from the traders, there’ll be singing—I’d really encourage everyone to come. We don’t normally do our own concerts, but I thought: five years is worth celebrating, right? Then on Saturday 17th December we’ve the Christmas carol performance in the Market Hall—we hope to inspire Borough Market customers to have a little break from their shopping and sing a carol or two with us. We’ll be singing at the Barbican again in a few weeks, too.
You must have worked with dozens of choirs in your time. What makes Borough Market Choir different?
I often ask myself this. I’m a choir director. That’s my job. I work with loads of different choirs, but Borough Market’s is special because everyone is so interested in each other and so enthusiastic. There is such dedication: to the rehearsals, to getting to know each other. I feel very lucky to be part of it.