What is Music in Offices?

The Oldie Article – December 2010

I’ve never been a fan of singing, but watching the Debenhams office choir almost converted me. Singing in a choir makes you a better citizen, according to Chorus America, who found that singers have greater civic involvement, discipline and teamwork.

Coming from a musical family, Tessa Marchington realised when she graduated from The Royal Academy of Music that people like her brother who works in a law firm, would benefit from music in the workplace to relieve stress. Since she founded Music in Offices three years ago, she has established eight new choirs in London workplaces, including Goldman Sachs, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Debenhams.

“Singing opens up new channels of communication, people see another side to their colleagues and choirs are great levelers with managers singing alongside their secretaries and IT staff” says Tessa. At the law firm Norton Rose, she has managing partners playing piano duets with young colleagues they wouldn’t usually haw anything to do with.
I went to watch the Debenhams choir practise at their head office. Chiggidy chiggidy. umcha umcha/ they sang to warm up before turning sideways to form three long massage trains for a group shoulder-rubbing exercise. The choir seemed to be made up of three distinct types: young girls (sopranos), middle-aged women (altos), arid camp men in their thirties (tenors, but only just). They were preparing for their Christmas concert: ‘looking a bit vacant but sounding good’ joked their teacher.

Bizarrely they were surrounded by a series of ladies’ outfits- dresses, jackets, scarves, shoes, dressing-gowns and saucy underwear, which had been set out in preparation for a TV advert. Pinned up beside the underwear a sign in large font read, ‘Vignette 6, Sadie comes out of Die bathroom to greet her husband and climbs onto the bed.

This choir, like many others, sprang up last year in time to compete in the Office Choir of the Year competition organised by Tessa, who is only 27 I can imagine it turning into the neat TV reality series.
Rachel Staunton is trying to get the HR team of sopranos to sing louder, but will they be good enough to win the competition?

One of the guiding principles of Music in Offices is that singing makes for happy workers, releasing endorphins, and this was certainly true of the Debenhams workers. They were a sea of smiles, and their conductor Rachel Staunton, who provides light relief after work teaching the choir gospel, religious, and pop songs, had more enthusiasm than a 5 year old

When I spoke to the singers afterwards. Alison, an HR Business Partner, said, “It’s an opportunity to completely switch off. No matter how busy a day, it helps release the tension”. We discussed team bonding and Alison told me in her own HR speak that it ‘gives that cross-functional element.’ A bubbly young girl Kirsty, who works in stock distribu¬tion, said. “I like performing and singing and it’s a nice way to meet new people in the company”. I asked her if she was usually this happy and she said. This is me at the choir. Outside of the choir I’m nothing. Others told me it gives them a buzz and that it has even improved their posture.

Tessa’s next project is to bring individual guitar tuition to the Debenhams workers. She has already set up one-to-one lessons for many of the London offices she works with, either in their premises or in nearby churches, cutting out long journey times.