Text Box: Choir strikes a chord with its elderly fans as care home gigs prove a big hit
WITH one final note of harmonic perfection, the 30 singers bring their rousing hymn to a climax and bow to an equally show-stopping round of applause.   Cheers and clapping ring in from the audience while the choir readies itself for its next song in front of a capacity crowd.   But this wasn't a concert hall or a theatrical performance  it was a visit to a care home's communal lounge by a choir which dedicates its time to performing at such venues.
The Breakaway Singers is comprised of more than 30 choristers who, united by a shared love of singing, decided to start touring South Derbyshire's care homes to perform for free.
It has been four years since the choir was formed and the Breakaways have built up a solid reputation, performing every other week and earning an enthusiastic following from their audiences, who always demand to know after every performance when they will be back again.
Members are aged from their early 50s to 87 and sing just for the fun of it.
Among them are husband and wife Stuart and Judy Ride, who said being part of the Breakaway Singers had changed their lives.
Judy, 77, said: "I'm a supporting singer and I also make the tea, wash the pots, send the birthday cards  things like that, and it's great, I absolutely love it.   "It's changed our lives in many ways  it's such a social event, even just getting together to rehearse, not to mention when we head out and sing, which is about every other week."
For Stuart, joining the choir was a chance to get him up and about  something he had not been able to do as much in recent years after he developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which affects his breathing.   He said: "It doesn't stop me singing at all but it does mean that I can become short of breath when doing jobs in the garden and things like that, which I have always enjoyed.   "Joining the choir gets me and Judy out of the house and it's great to have something to enjoy like that, something creative."
The Breakaway Singers first started life as the South Derbyshire Over-50s Choir but, as their popularity surged, they evolved.   "The founders of the group had been to see a show," said Judy.   "They'd travelled down to London on a coach and seen this lavish production with all its great songs and show tunes.   "On the bus, one of the guys started singing and the others joined in  and then eventually one of them said, 'why don't we start a choir?'   "That was how it started  but it was all just for fun, of course."   Those first months saw a few budding singers get together and start practising informally, picking out a song and testing their voices to keyboard music from another interested musician.   It was a resounding success  so much so that, as time went on, friends of the singers, and friends of those friends, started to take an interest.   Before too long, the choir had swelled from little more than a dozen to its present number and its spiritual home became Pear Tree Court, in Etwall, where members started meeting every Monday.
For Judy and Stuart, from Etwall, the introduction to the Breakaways came after one of its early members approached Stuart and asked him to join because she knew he had previously been in a church choir.   "Stuart went along to see what it was all about and he really enjoyed himself," said Judy.   "Then, a short while later, I went along and was asked if I wanted to join, too, and we haven't looked back."
Stuart, 79, said: "I was in the church choir a fair few years ago but I've always loved singing  I'm always singing when I'm pottering about the house. So, when I was asked if I wanted to join the Breakaway Singers, I leapt at the chance.   "The thing that struck me straight away was how much fun it was and how great the group of characters was.   "Everyone enjoys it and it's really good fun. It gives us all a creative outlet."
From its roots as just a bit of fun, the choir soon started to branch out and perform in care homes across South Derbyshire.   Now, they are a regular feature, entertaining the crowds with a repertoire full of hymns, religious songs, show tunes and choral twists on pop music.
The Boyzone song No Matter What is a favourite, as is the hymn Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah and the occasional Elvis track  all of which are included in a book boasting about 50 songs.   "I'm a hymn man, myself," said Stuart. "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah is one of my favourites but what I like is that we have such a variety of songs.   "Musical taste varies from person to person so we try and keep as broad a repertoire as we can  and of course, when you sing them in the style of a choir, it always adds something new."
When the Breakaway Singers head out to perform, they take with them a selection of those songs, spreading them out over roughly an hour and a half at each show.
Judy said it was heartwarming to see how much the audiences in the care homes and sheltered housing complexes enjoyed the music, making it even more enjoyable for the singers themselves.   "It's special when you see their faces  sometimes it makes you want to cry because they enjoy it so much and give you a rousing round of applause and join in," she said.   "They always ask us when we're coming back and that makes it so much more enjoyable for us. We do this to entertain those people and when they clearly enjoy it so much, it's a great feeling."
Performing at care homes and sheltered housing isn't the only remit of the Breakaway Singers, though; just a few weeks ago, their voices filled Derby Cathedral as part of the annual Carers' Service.   And earlier this week, they entertained an intimate audience at Cedar Tree Care Home, in Littleover.
The carers' service, which celebrates the work of people who give up their time to care for others, saw the choir perform to hundreds of people  a daunting prospect, but one the singers relish doing.   Stuart said: "This year was the third year we have performed there and we always look forward to it because it's such a fantastic place and for a great cause, too.   "The acoustics in the cathedral are breathtaking and it really is an inspiring place to sing; it lifts you up and gives you an extra voice.   "And singing at care homes has given us an insight into how hard those carers work. Being able to celebrate and thank some of them is another thing the Breakaway Singers are proud to do."