If anyone has ever doubted the joy of singing, then attending a performance by the Taunton Military Wives Choir will put that right. ‘Singing in choirs can have enormous effects on your physical and mental health,’ says the Musical Director, Edward Goater, who has worked with the Taunton group for eight years. ‘It is such a pure expression of the power of music to bring people together, to have fun and to increase their confidence and wellbeing,‘

To provide some context to the story: in 2010 a choir for military wives was set up on the Catterick Army base in North Yorkshire. The aim was to provide some support for those who were suffering the unbearable stress of seeing loved ones deployed on active service to Afghanistan.

The optimism and spirit of the Catterick choir was undeniable and two more choral groups swiftly followed, at Chivenor and Plymouth barracks in Devon, subsequently documented by Gareth Malone’s reality TV show in 2011, The Choir: Military Wives. A charitable Military Wives Choir Foundation was formed and Taunton joined in 2013, with some members joining other choirs to produce two hit singles and four albums. Meanwhile, a film was released in 2020, Military Wives, showing some of the Taunton singers in the ‘real life choirs’ reel at the end of the film.

Great British Life: Stronger Together, 200 members from different choirs came together at Exeter Cathedral. Photo: Military Wives choirStronger Together, 200 members from different choirs came together at Exeter Cathedral. Photo: Military Wives choir

Julie Way, a member of Taunton Military Wives Choir, explains a little about the set up. ‘We’re open to all women whose lives are impacted by their military connection. There are wives, sisters, daughters, mothers, serving personnel and veterans.’

Approximately 40 members meet weekly, with ages ranging from 21 to 72 years. ‘It provides a real sense of belonging,’ says Julie. ‘I don’t live on a base, so the choir has provided that sense of connection I was missing.’

Fellow member, Alex Whiteley, agrees. ‘It has been a lifeline to be with people who have the same experiences as me and understand my way of life.’ Alex joined two years ago when she moved to Taunton. ‘I was invited to join by my neighbour. I work from home, have young children, so for me the choir is my Monday night escape, babysitter permitting!’

Great British Life: 10th Anniversary Concert. Photo: Military Wives Choirs10th Anniversary Concert. Photo: Military Wives Choirs

It's not just the social aspect that is important. Julia Devine has been with the choir since it began in 2013. She’s a working mum, with a husband who is away for months at a time. ‘It has been a constant: through getting married, having children, during covid. It is an insurance policy of friends who prioritise you when you’re in need, providing practical and emotional support.’ And what of the actual music and singing? ‘We have an open-door policy. There are no auditions and all abilities are welcome,’ continues Julia. ‘And Edward manages to make us sound great!’

The music is varied, ranging from Dame Vera Lynn classics to theatrical pieces from Wicked. There are core pieces that all the choirs have in their repertoires so that when they come together at events they are singing to the same arrangement. ‘We can be asked to sing in very different environments,’ explains Edward. ‘Outside on bandstands during Armed Forces Day, large Cathedrals in big concerts, or in the recording studio for albums or film soundtracks.’

It’s been a busy celebratory year, with concerts, singing at public events and also private performances. ‘One of my highlights of the past year was singing for a group member's spring wedding,’ says Edward. ‘Looking ahead, we have some projects in the pipeline for the D Day anniversary next year, as well as some choice evening concerts around Somerset.’ For dates visit the website www.tauntonmilitarywiveschoir.com or facebook.com/TauntonMWC

Great British Life: An away day to honour the Kings Coronation, supporting a fellow Military Wives Choir -Photo Paul Brewer PhotographyAn away day to honour the Kings Coronation, supporting a fellow Military Wives Choir -Photo Paul Brewer Photography