Choir’s resounding progress will culminate in New York 9/11 concert

Andrew Russel, conductor of the the In Chorus and Lothian and Borders Police Choir.
Andrew Russel, conductor of the the In Chorus and Lothian and Borders Police Choir.

IT was a wet and dingy night in Peebles when 100 singers replied to a newspaper advert attempting to set up a contemporary music choir.

And less than three years later, InChorus are preparing to feature in a commemorative concert in New York on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

“It is a great story – from a shambolic group of people who met in the Eastgate Theatre on a wet night to representing Scotland in New York,” said choir manager Moira Pearson.

The advert in September 2008 that kick-started InChorus’ rapid ascent came from Andrew Russel, a police chief inspector in Edinburgh.

Moira explained: “The last of my children had left home on the Friday when I saw the advert for the choir and I attended the first rehearsal on the Monday.

“I remember being parked in my car wondering who would turn up when all these cars drew up with singletons in them.

“We had 100 people turn up on the first night and Andrew Russel stood in front of us speechless. He said in the advert that he felt there was a gap available between church and classical choirs for a contemporary version.

“But he never expected such a response.”

Now 75 InChorus members and 50 from Lothian and Borders Police Choir – also set up by Andrew – are preparing to take part in the September Concert in the Big Apple’s Central Park.

An appearance at the British Memorial Garden, which commemorates the 67 UK victims of the World Trade Centre attacks, is also being lined up, as is a performance with the Grammy-winning Brooklyn Youth Chorus.

Moira added: “I am so proud of what we are doing and to be representing Scotland on such a memorable marker.

“How we will control our emotions has been talked about in the choir. I cry at anything – weddings, funerals or sometimes when rehearsal goes well – so I don’t know how I will be able to sing.

“We will have to be true professionals and remember that the concert is about conveying a message of hope rather than what has been.”

She added: “The choir is emotional enough for people because it is passionate. Often people come in to a rehearsal after a bad day at work and feel much better afterwards.

“Police can have to deal with awful things in their job, but when they come along for choir rehearsal it is a form of relaxation for them.

“We have widows, divorcees and depressives in the choir. They all get so much out of it and, it may sound corny, but we are like a big, happy family. “When you are walking along the High Street in Peebles you are bound to meet a member of the choir.”

InChorus previously paid tribute to the 3,000 people who died in the terrorist attack of 2001 by hosting the September Concert free event in Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre alongside the Lothian and Borders Police Choir last year.

“It was a huge success,” added Moira, who is originally from Fort William. “Out of 2,000 seats, all were taken apart from two because of illness.”

This year’s concert, to raise funds for the 9/11 trip, is to be held in the capital’s Usher Hall on June 3.

Performing alongside InChorus, Tayside and Lothian and Borders police choirs will be Dougie MacLean, the writer of Scottish anthem Caledonia, and Mairi Campbell, whose version of Auld Lang Syne was used in the film Sex and the City.

And the show will once again be under the guidance of musical director Andrew Russel, who is attempting to persuade TV producers to put together a documentary of the choir’s progress from video footage he has taken.

Moira said: “Andrew is a very talented musician. He is very driven, extremely aware of what the choir is becoming and what it means to the community.

“He has never had a musical education, he just has a gift. He recognised the musical ability in Peebles and we have had great support from the community.”

The group even played a part in the run-up to the Scottish elections last week with a performance of Auld Lang Syne beside SNP leader Alex Salmond in Peebles.

“He was very good,” said Moira. “His people wanted him to move on, but he just said ‘I am enjoying myself’.

“Christine Grahame phoned me on Monday afternoon to say Alex Salmond would be coming down. I phoned Andrew Russel to tell him at 4pm that day and from there we managed to get 50 choir members to turn up on a Wednesday lunchtime.

“We would not have managed to have organised that amount of people at 48 hours’ notice a year ago.”

Tickets for the Usher Hall concert on June 3 are available from 0131 228 1155, or to donate to the 9/11 trip fund, visit www.justgiving.com/inchorus