Stand On The Word: 10 of the best choirs on record

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shoulder to shoulder

South Wales Striking Miners Choir / Test Dept.
Shoulder To Shoulder
(Ministry of Power, 1985)

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Although the tradition of male voice choirs in Welsh mines goes way back to the end of the 19th century, they were perhaps never as powerful as when they sang in solidarity against Thatcher to release Shoulder To Shoulder to raise money for striking miners and their families. There’s a real end of days quality to this, first introduced to us by JD Twitch on his brilliant mix earlier this year. In the end, Twitch says it better than we ever could: “This one puts a lump in my throat… it is a phenomenal document of that time and still stands up as a great record. It evokes that era to me when new town optimism was at its peak yet a big part of the soul of UK was being forcibly killed off to satisfy a long held vendetta against the miners by Thatcher.”


steve reich

Steve Reich
The Desert Music
(Nonesuch, 1985)

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Stirring stuff from the minimalist master, who composed The Desert Music for a chorus of 27 voices to carry the pulsing orchestra across over three quarters of an hour. Based on texts by the great American imagist poet Williams Carlos Williams, The Desert Music shares the feel of his more popular Music For 18 Musicians releases several years earlier.


bjork-medulla

Björk
Medúlla
(One Little Indian, 2004)

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An a cappella record constructed almost entirely by live and processed human voices, and probably the only one to pair beat-boxer Rahzel with some pretty tasty Inuit throat singing, Medúlla is not obviously a choral record, but is at its most powerful on tracks like ‘Vökuró’, which makes great use of the Icelandic Choir for what is Bjork’s own peculiar brand of Pagan chamber music.


classroom projects

Various Artists
Classroom Projects – Incredible Music Made By Children In Schools
(Trunk Records, 2013)

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Vintage Trunk here, on this unique collection of music made by children in schools in the golden age of pedagogic eccentricity in the UK before the stifling introduction of the National Curriculum. The Capital Children’s Choir of their day, the “naïve and boundless enthusiasm” of the likes of The Nick Nack Kids – a group of London-based primary school children brought together to sing on Malcolm Arnold’s classic 1958 score to The Inn Of The Sixth Happiness – sets these recordings apart from the interminable horror of the end of term flute recital. Along side the haunting choral numbers there are also a curiously complex set of compositional aids devised by John Paynter and Peter Aston with child-friendly titles like ‘Musique Concrete’, ‘The Lyke-Wake Dirge’ and ‘An Aleatory Game’.


nepenthe

Julianna Barwick
Nepenthe
(Dead Oceans, 2013)

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“We would always sing a cappella”, Julianna Barwick remembers of her childhood growing up as the daughter of a preacher in rural Missouri. In many ways Barwick ties together the disperate strands of this list; a spiritual upbringing, a minimalist sound that has drawn comparisons with Steve Reich, and an album that was conceived in Iceland (albeit with Sigur Rós collaborators rather than Bjork). It’s a deft and crystalline record, made all the more brittle and atmospheric by the fantastic Icelandic Teen Girl Choir that define it.


Capital Children’s Choir – Untrust is out now in limited and standard 12″ editions.