Photo by Johann Karlsrud, Borealis festival for experimental music, March 8 2020
A journalist from the New Statesman got in touch with us at the beginning of March to write something about radical choirs in London and wanted to know some things about F*Choir and what I (Jenny) do as the musical director. Things changed rapidly as we watched a public health crisis spread internationally, naturally changing the focus of Jude’s story. Here’s what the pre-COVID19 version of me talked to her about:
* Tell me what you do as musical director – and your age and job, if that’s OK.
I founded F*Choir almost by accident in 2017 after being asked to lead a vocal / performance workshop for the artist-activist group Keep It Complex. They were super burnt out by the UK referendum and all the organising they’d done for the Remain campaign. A lot of artists and activists were exhausted and felt like their voices were muffled, fizzled, ignored or just totally non-existent. We were trying to find other ways of being together that would give us a break from community organising around a table or in the Google Docs and so I led a 5 hour workshop where I taught my song called “We Want Our Bodies Back” to a group of 25 singers and non-singers alike.
This is how I became the musical director of F*Choir. I started organising fortnightly, pay-what-you-can rehearsals, and learnt in public about what a musical director of a choir is.
Before this (and now), I was playing in a band called Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business and writing songs for multiple voices, thinking about communality, about chanting and ranting and how to think about singing itself as a feminist practice. It was super un-cool to talk like that in the contemporary art circles that I roamed with at that time but I was fucked off with art and tired of feeling like nothing I made or created meant anything. I had come to the UK from Canada to do a Masters in Fine Art at Goldsmiths and was left wanting, needing to re-incorporate my musical self with my art self. At the same time, I was playing in the queer feminist punk trio Charismatic Megafauna, learning to play drums in public so all of this music-slash-feminism was bubbling all over my life and in-with-around my peers.
Through the last 3 years, I’ve written new songs, made percussive, choral arrangements of other people’s songs, created mash-ups of protest and pop songs, and knowledge from everywhere and anywhere I could – anywhere from the DIY punk scene in London to the ONE instructive book by a female conductor I could find (written in the 70’s, held dusty on a shelf at the Barbican library), YouTube, and a plethora of peers and colleagues that I respect and admire. I play in a few other bands and so learn through doing. This is also a key component of the F*Choir methodology — it’s DOING not SAYING — it’s public learning! It’s embodied knowledge — feeling it out until the right notes and rhythms start to come out of your body.
(I’m 37 years old. This isn’t my only job, just one part of the hustle that it takes be an artist and musician in London today. I also teach a bit through workshops, produce large scale events and gigs for other people, develop long term community projects with institutions that want to connect with younger, queer and / or female artists and audiences. Sometimes I serve coffee. Etc.)
Now, as F*Choir musical director, my job is to find and arrange the music, make scores (we use primarily graphic scores, no traditional sheet music and no gendered voice parts), teach the tunes mostly through call-and-response techniques in our rehearsals, and sometimes lead extra rehearsals or workshops based on certain musical or performance things the choir (or I) want to work on. We’ve grown so quickly that we now have an informal ‘board’ which we call the Kitchen Table that anyone can sit around to talk about the inner workings of the choir and help make decisions, take care of money and make sure that many voices are heard in our planning and morphing.
* You state proudly that you practice intersectional feminism, and don’t assume anybody’s gender, origin or sexuality, on your site. Was this part of your original manifesto? If not, tell us why this is so important to you (I’d love to hear this in your own words)
This was one of the first things we agreed on when we started meeting together. I think feminism is a tough word for a lot of people and not everyone connects with it (probably because they’ve been historically or currently excluded from the rhetoric and practice of it). We knew we wanted to be a feminist choir — and to explore all the difficulty, inadequacy, trouble, power, emancipation, conflict, love and resources it has brought to us as women but also as people. It was important to me that F*Choir was open to people of all genders, not just women, because we’re frankly fucked if women are still the ones who are required to do all the work of equality.
It’s also very important to me and to F*Choir is that our feminism includes trans people and that trans women ARE women and included in our struggle. This is not shared by all feminist groups, especially in the UK right now where trans people are quite literally under attack by the media.
The sentence about not assuming anyone’s gender, origin or sexuality is like a challenge we set ourselves to change our own minds and stop thinking that we know things about people based on our socialised readings. We want to be free of this! We want folks to be who they are inside and this is complicated and layered. We want there to be space for more people in the practice of feminism so that it is genuine in it’s solidarity. It’s a statement for us, a mantra I hold in my own mind and try to live out all the time. Simple things but seriously takes away so much bullshit if you just STOP ASSUMING.
I wanted a place to not be afraid of getting feminism wrong. And a place to make badass music. And a place to learn about different voices. And to hear different voices. And to start accepting my own different voice.
* By singing lots of music by women, what do you hope to achieve together?
I want to delete the very boring myth that there isn’t any good music by women. I’m literally so bored by that I could weep. It’s just not true. People are lazy and the music industry listens to money. So! That’s one reason. I’m also interested in what my dear friend and bandmate, Georgia Twigg, calls ‘different forms of leadership,’ — by which I think they mean non-patriarchal. I want to centre female voices, authorship, production, composition. I want to live in a world where people hear music and not gender, and if they do hear gender it’s because 100 new sexes have grown from the earth* and changed the make-up of our ear drums.
I got really tired of people asking me what it’s like to be a woman in music (as if I had lived in outer space on my own for 40 years) and so I hope to make it clear that women and queer people are making transformative music every day. It’s not even a novelty, it’s just the reality!
Also, there’s loads of good music by loads of people but men have gotten a lot of press, like, forever, so….can’t hurt to look elsewhere for awhile.
(*This is a reference my song “Wild Mix” which was inspired by the Xenofeminist Manifesto who gave me this imagery)
* Tell me some of the work you’ve been up to recently!
We just played a wild and joyous gig at EartH in Hackney to a sold out crowd, joined by a few other bands that have members in the choir (Dance punk drum beats with Charismatic Megafauna, Soaring acoustic stylings by Rubie, radgy thrashy tunes from molejoy). This was a fundraiser for the choir and to send us to Borealis – festival for experimental music.
Photo by Sophie le Roux, EartH, February 2020
We’ve just landed back in London from a euphoric week of singing, workshopping, boxing, yoga, listening and a final concert, all which made up the programme for our residency at the festival. Different members of the choir led different parts, linking each activity with the idea of DOING not SAYING – what does it mean to physically do politics? What can we be, learn, do achieve when vibrating together?
This was a really massive trip for us — the first time we’ve travelled out of the UK to perform! never mind stepping into a week long residency that gave us so much time together and also in the public eye. It was totally amazing to put the community choir in a more formal setting and recognise the power of singing together especially when ‘good’ and ‘bad’ singing are not at the top of the agenda, but something more like magic is being sought after.
Photo by Thor Brødreskift/Borealis 2020