For many people around the country Christmas is without question the most wonderful time of the year – a season for joy and laughter and a few too many servings of mulled wine. Unfortunately, though, that joy is not universal, with significant sections of the public finding that issues relating to loneliness can often be exacerbated around the festive period.
That loneliness is something that choirmaster Mark De-Lisser has spent a lot of time attempting to combat, most recently with his new daytime show Meet the Street at Christmas, which is running on BBC One throughout this week.
The series sees De-Lisser travel to an assortment of locations around Wales to forge four small community choirs, made up of people who have been looking to form more meaningful connections with those around them, before he brings the choirs together for a festive finale.
De-Lisser, who was involved with Got It Covered for Children in Need earlier in the year, spoke to RadioTimes.com about the benefits he believes this kind of activity can have on people’s mental health.
“I’ve been working with community choirs for a long time now,” he said. “And I just see the benefit and the joy that people have when they come and connect with others within a choir setting.
“Things like that where people can come and talk and be themselves and develop a relationship with people, it’s just been within me for many, many years”
Despite the fact that the benefits associated with joining a choir can seem obvious after attending a couple of sessions, people can often be resistant to joining up. And this is something that De-Lisser found to be the case when he was recruiting for the show, with the choirmaster admitting that the process was “very challenging.”
“People generally aren’t singers, or they don’t see themselves as going ‘Oh I’m just going to go out there and sing,’” he explains. “So we were trying to find people who fit a little bit of the description, that they might feel a little socially isolated maybe, or suffer some periods of loneliness in their life… something where we felt that we could give them something that could change their scenario a little.”
And although some people were won over by this pitch, other members of the public still found it difficult to commit to joining a choir. De-Lisser claims that some groups are more resistant to others – and points to the fact that he found it more difficult to recruit men than women.
“I think men generally don’t want to talk about their emotions, so I think that’s a real key thing,” he said. “So, I think when they do sound uncomfortable doing something like singing, which is not something within their comfort zone, they just tend to be really resistant to it… We absolutely found that with this show.”
Another issue De-Lisser has found in his time working with community choirs is that people can be too concerned with the fact that they might not be the best singer in the world. He says that it is only natural for people to compare themselves to the greats and experience feelings of inadequacy, but he is a firm believer that everybody has got an individual and unique voice.
“When they get into a community choir like this everybody’s going to be in the same boat, there are no professionals in any of the choirs, they are all just normal everyday people,” he says. “And I always say that the singing is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that you come into a room with people that are in similar situations that you might be in, and you come in and gain a connection to them.”
De-Lisser continued that in the safe environment that the choirs create, people begin to feel more comfortable exploring different areas of their life, opening up about themselves and finding other areas of common ground with fellow choir members. And he says that he hopes viewers watching the show will be inspired to join similar projects in their local area.
“That is my absolute number one hope – that people recognise themselves in a lot of people that they’ll see on the show,” he said. “And recognise that actually just taking that step to go and do something – singing is my thing of course and if they do want to get into a choir then that’s brilliant – but just stepping out and doing something that they never thought they could do, what that does for their lives, and how transformative it is, that’s really what I want them to understand.”
Meet the Street at Christmas airs every day this week at 9:15am on BBC One, with episodes available on iPlayer shortly after broadcast