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The Tonic Ska Choir and me

Tonic Ska Choir member Philippa Reece writes about what the ska choir means to her, and of her experience busking in London just twelve hours after returning home from Australia.


Philippa enjoying herself at Tonic

The Tonic Ska Choir and me


I wouldn’t call myself a singer – nor would anyone else for that matter. Until I joined the Tonic Ska Choir, I believed what I had been told, aged 7, that I couldn’t sing. But that didn’t stop me in the privacy of my own home, or in the car, belting out the odd tune along with the radio. And what a joy there is in that.


I had always hankered after joining a choir, but the memory of that childhood putdown, and the fear of making a fool of myself, had held me back. When I saw the Tonic Ska Choir advertised, and that it was being run by a mental health charity, I figured it would be a safe place to challenge the fear and anxiety I had around singing in public. So I decided to give it a go. After all, I didn’t have to go back if it was too scary.


Walking into the hall for the first time – well, it was second time actually, as I had walked into the Slimming World class first – was terrifying, but I was reassured that everyone was in the same boat. It was really scary, with all those new faces, and I felt so uncomfortable about the idea of singing in front of them. I spent the first half fighting the urge to run, and thinking that I wouldn’t go back.


Then we started to sing. The sound was joyous as we belted out ‘A Message to you Rudy’ and stumbled through ‘Ghost Town’! It felt so good and lifted my spirits no end. Fear? What fear?


There were a couple of people I spoke to on that first night who have become the most amazing friends. Whatever happens in the future with the choir, I will always be grateful to it for bringing such wonderful people into my life.


It was rather a shock to hear that we already had two gigs booked – a Tonic fundraiser in June and Victorious Festival in August. At that point, the thought of performing just made me giggle – it seemed impossible. I had no idea how wonderful it would feel to be on stage and singing with this amazing group of people.


Roll on eight months, with more gigs under our belts, and what do you know? Singing with other people is the most joyous thing to do, and performing in public isn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be. Why? Because we’re all there together and we have each other’s backs. There are no egos or prima donnas – just people who love music, and people who love and support each other. And we sound pretty amazing too!


December found me coming to the end of a six week trip to Australia – an amazing experience, but I had such a bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out). I had been reading ska choir messages about the practice and gigs I was missing out on, and friendships were developing without me. So when the London busking gig came up for the day after I was due back, I tried so hard to be sensible and say no – I would be tired, I would be jet lagged, I hadn’t sung for six weeks, and there were new songs I hadn’t sung before... the reasons not to go were endless. But I just couldn’t get the idea out of my mind.


So twelve hours after I got back from Australia I was on the bus to London! I was afraid that I had been away so long that I would have been forgotten and the budding friendships I had enjoyed before I left would have withered in my absence. I could not have been more wrong. I was totally blown away by the welcome I got.


All my fears evaporated in an instant – well, all except the fear of actually singing again… but again, the support I got made this all seem possible.


What can I say about that day in London? It was the most amazing experience. Two performances inside Soho Radio, one outside, and then a final performance outside a pub! It was such fun watching people walk by – some were unashamedly videoing us, some were doing so discreetly, but what was so lovely were the smiles on their faces and their generosity adding to our collection buckets.


The beauty of ska music is that it is not only a joy to sing, but it is also happy, uplifting music. I like to think we brightened up a damp, cold winter’s evening for a lot of people on their way home from work.


The bus ride home was full of happy, smiley, if a little tired, faces. It had been such a great day and we couldn’t wait to do it all again. Fortunately, we had plenty of performances coming up over the festive period and excitement building about the plans for the year ahead.


So what does the choir mean to me?


It gives me a sense of belonging, a sense of community, and a safe place to go where my anxiety and mental health problems are accepted as a part of me – they are nothing to be ashamed of.


It gives me confidence. Not only do I sing in the choir, but I have also joined the vocal group, where there really is no place to hide.


It gives me a sense of purpose as I raise money for Tonic, helping them to continue the fabulous work that they do.


And most of all, it has brought me fun, laughter and lasting friendships that will never be broken.


Thank you Tonic from the bottom of my heart for bringing so much positivity into my life.


Philippa Reece



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