Meet the Surrey choir helping people cope with cancer

We’re delighted to read about our choir, ToC Voices in this weeks Get Surrey (3/1/24):

Those diagnosed with cancer experience a lot very quickly. Dealing with all those appointments on top of a rollercoaster of emotions leaves many patients looking for support. One charity in Guildford has been offering just that, but in a rather unconventional way. The Topic of Cancer choir is helping patients bond through singing. And the group’s Chair says it’s having real results.

ToC Voices came together in 2018 to be a support group for anyone dealing with cancer. The 30-strong group meets in Merrow every week to sing songs and have a chat. One of the choir’s members is the charity’s Chair, Anne Powell-Evans who said the group were “terribly supportive.” She told SurreyLive “you don’t have to be able to read music, you don’t have to have any music experience. I mean I can’t sing but I join in very quietly, they are an incredibly inclusive group.”

For Anne the benefits are obvious. She said: “Singing is very good for well-being because it releases endorphins.” The group is open to anyone either with cancer or caring for someone with the disease. The nature of the group means everything is very flexible. The group are aware that members may not always be able to turn up because of illness and make sure that singers can join by Zoom if they feel they are unable to go out.ToC Voices in another prefromance

Anne told SurreyLive that the joy the choir creates brings her to tears. A member added: “Whenever you sing, you smile. Whenever you smile, someone smiles back. That’s the power of ToC Voices. ToC Voices has a place for you, all you have to do is jump in.”

Despite practising at Merrow C of E Infant School, the group attracts men and women from all over, some in couples, and even one family.

New participants are greeted and the door and ushered in with great excitement. “Everybody would then come up to say hello, you new? Are you an alto or are you a soprano? Or are you a baritone or a bass? And then the choir leader would always come up, have a chat and then put you in your particular group depending on what you’re singing” according to Anne.

Aside from the music, there are biscuits and plenty of time for a chat. Anne said: “It’s very, very welcoming and they are a really lovely, warm group. No one is stand-offish.”

This convivial atmosphere means that once people join the choir they tend to stay, which can create awkward situations. In a choir centred around cancer those who enter remission or are ‘cured’ are a tricky subject. Anne told Surrey Live, “It’s very difficult to say to somebody, right, you gonna leave the choir now? Because you never know when it’s going to come back. People tend then to use their common sense and sort of leave of their own accord, if they feel they no longer need that sort of support because, you can join a choir anywhere if you want to sing.”

The choir does a lot of their own fundraising to raise the £9,000 needed to pay for their choir leader and rehearsal space. However, the £2,000 they generate themselves is supported by a community grant as well as the Topic of Cancer charity. This continued support means that the choir is completely free to join.

There are many ways to become a member. Some are referred to the charity by oncology units, while others are just friends off currents members. To ease newbies into the group the charity has an ambassador who will not only walk them into rehearsal but also give them a call before hand to have a chat. The choir meets every Monday.

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