Sydney Street Choir founder reflects on 20 years of joy

One of the biggest smiles at the recent Sydney Street Choir 20th anniversary concert belonged to founder and choirmaster Jonathon Welch who was delighted to meet new choir members and reconnect with many old friends to see just how far his vision has grown over the past two decades.

“It’s not for the faint hearted running any community choir but particularly a choir with special needs like Sydney Street Choir is a great testament to everybody’s dedication and their passion and also their belief in what the music and the singing can do for people,” Jonathon said.

Reflecting on the humble beginnings of the choir, he is still surprised it has grown from strength to strength over 20 years. In 2001 when he formed the choir it was with a vision to support people dealing with homelessness, mental illness and addiction through the power of music.

“It was unknown territory,” he said. “We had to create new methods to build their confidence and their personal skills and their self-esteem. I am very proud of the legacy of this work and the ripple effect around the world for the singers and families and friends to connect the universal language of music.”

Jonathon is enormously proud to see the growth of the choir not just in member numbers but with the addition of services for them including a social worker now on board three days a week to help choir members when needed.

“Often because of people’s personal circumstances it means they fall to the periphery of society and ‘community’ falls away. Being able to perform with the choir and rehearse regularly gives them that sense of having a musical village. The music really helps us to see the people not the problem.”

The song ‘You Raise Me Up’ proved to be a particularly moving selection for the Sydney Street Choir to include in their 20th anniversary concert, especially for Jonathon.

“They’re the ones who have given us so much, through their courage to stand up in front of people and to step forward and to be acknowledged for their contribution,” he said.

“I think that’s what everybody wants in life – everybody wants to feel valuable and to feel valued and singing in the choir does that. It helps you to personally feel valuable and to be able to make a contribution back through your singing.”

The Sydney Street Choir members who were lucky enough to perform at the 20th anniversary concert were not shy in showing Jonathon how much they valued his contribution to their own lives and were keen to share with him just how much this musical village meant to all of them.

“The most wonderful thing about the choir is it allows the choir members and everybody that’s involved to feel that they’re valuable and they can be valued as well too. It gives them that sense of value that they can make a contribution back to the world through their singing and that’s so valuable,” Jonathon said.