Music May 2012

Strictly Singing—for Charity

Fancy sponsoring a concert, winning free tickets or auditioning? Try the British Embassy Choir Tokyo.

Singing, to some of us, is a pursuit closely associated with showers and karaoke bars. To others, it is a distant memory from their youth, days of Sunday school and campfires. Then there are those who sing along to their favourite music in their head, lest they embarrass themselves or others should they let rip.

Music can be at once a form of relaxation, entertainment, an expression of artistic passion and business. In Tokyo, there is an English-speaking choir that combines all of these and other elements of music enjoyment for singers in the international community.

The British Embassy Choir Tokyo (BEC) has, as its name suggests, strong links with the UK. It was formed in the late 1980s by Stephen Gomersall, who worked at the embassy, and was taken on by then-Ambassador Sir John Boyd in the 1990s. The choir flourished into an independent group outside the embassy and is now the premier international choral group in Tokyo, welcoming willing and able singers from any country, though the British choral tradition remains a source of inspiration. Ambassador Sir David Warren is the BEC’s patron.

The choir sings a wide variety of music from the sacred and secular choral repertoires, as well as ballads, light opera, folk and popular songs. Many members have a formal music background and hail from a wide range of countries across all continents and regions.

Their occupations are diverse as well, the current register of singers encompassing high school and university students, working mothers, entrepreneurs, bankers, teachers, self-made businessmen (active and retired), corporate executives, office workers and others.

Soprano Junko Sato, who works in her husband’s trading firm, says that singing with the choir brought a new dimension to her life.

“I am grateful that the BEC gave me an opportunity to get back into music after a long break. There is a lot to learn from putting together each season’s concerts with other singers who are all connected by the love of singing”.

One of the features that makes the choir stand out in comparison with others is that it performs strictly for charity. All members, including the musical director and conductor, Steven Morgan, and the singers are volunteers who give up their time and make every effort for this purpose.

Concerts, held twice yearly at Christmas and during the spring or summer, are put on at no cost to the audience, who are admitted free of charge. Donations are collected at the concert venue and passed on to Japan-based charities.

Over the years, the BEC has given money to many organisations and some of the recent recipients include Animal Refuge Kansai, Ashinaga, Caritas Japan, Family House, Oxfam Japan and the Tyler Foundation.

The choir provides corporate and individual sponsorship opportunities. For a modest contribution towards the operating budget (otherwise funded by members) and depending on the category, sponsors can receive:

  • Mention in concert fliers
  • Programme and website advertisements
  • Preferred seating (on request)
  • A souvenir from the choir
  • Mailed information about events
  • A mini concert at their private or office function

The BEC is scheduled to perform in two upcoming events. On 2 and 10 June, the choir will feature Johannes Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem and pieces by Elgar, Fauré, Morgan and Schumann.

Donations will go to School Music Revival and Sweet Treat 311, both of which help children in the quake-hit Tohoku region.

On 18 and 19 June, some BEC members will be part of a choir of 300 singers to perform Sir Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio in Tokyo.

According to Morgan: “It is a great opportunity for the BEC to take part in a project which offers us the chance to expand the scope of our music making. Whereas most of our repertoire is taken from the classics—by Bach, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Brahms and others—this event is exciting for two reasons. First, we get to sing a work by a living composer; second, we get to sing a work that is a sort of fusion of classical and popular music. Besides having broad audience appeal, it gives us a chance to stretch our musical boundaries a bit”.

The BEC is always looking for new singers, so if you are interested in being auditioned to join the choir, please contact us: