The Climate Choir Movement in the UK is gaining momentum, delivering a strong message through music.
Melodies can be heard throughout the entire hall as a cluster of elderly women gather in one corner and perform a modified version of a Spice Girls song, with lyrics such as “Stop right now, you immoral financial institution.” In another part of the room, a group of younger singers casually walk and sing a protest song to the melody of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.
An octogenarian places his collapsible bicycle next to the wall. A teenager shuts down her mobile device. The vocalists gather under a sign displaying a quote by Kurt Vonnegut: “Dear future generations, please pardon us. We were heavily influenced by oil.” The London Climate Choir has started their monthly practice session.
The choir of 40 voices sings, accompanied by a traditional Zimbabwean melody, questioning our actions in the face of a changing climate. The conductor raises his baton and remarks, “This song has no conclusion. I’ll simply wave my baton when we finish.”
Jo Flanagan, one of the co-founders of the Climate Choir Movement, takes great pride in their progress. She explains, “Our movement is expanding the more moderate side of protests by following the actions of those brave enough to take a stand by gluing themselves to bridges. When others hear about these types of protests, they are inspired to take action without the fear of being arrested, and that’s where we come into play.”
The Climate Choir Movement has experienced swift growth since its establishment in the fall of 2022. Starting in Bristol, there are currently over 600 participants in 11 climate choirs across England and Wales.
Their demonstrations thus far have been attention-grabbing: during the month of December, the vocal groups wore black formal attire and bowler hats as they sang to financial executives in London’s City district.
In October of last year, a group organized a flash choir of 100 voices at the Science Museum. Their goal was to bring attention, through song, to the sponsorship money being received by the museum from the coal and gas company, Adani.
In September, there were performances dedicated to Gaia at Bath Abbey. In May, a group of singers from London, Bath, Stroud, Oxford, and Southampton disrupted the Barclays chair, Nigel Higgins, and his directors during their AGM by singing a modified version of a Spice Girls song. (A video of the performance can be found on the group’s website, featuring the bank’s sign language interpreter dancing while signing the lyrics.)
According to Flanagan, the power of harmonious singing can break through people’s defenses more effectively than aggressive methods. She believes that by delivering a serious message through sweet melodies, they can evoke a strong emotional response in listeners.
“In multiple instances, I have witnessed CEOs struggling to hold back tears or openly weeping in response to our actions. I have also participated in non-singing protests targeting similar audiences and observed them becoming unresponsive.”
Gabriella Roe, a University College London student, became a member of the choir for the Science Museum event. She stated, “Climate protests have received negative attention for causing disruptions, but this approach conveys a strong message through the enchanting form of music.”
“This peaceful method makes it possible to reach those at the top who are making the decisions without risk of arrest,” she added. “My mother is still nervous because of the new anti-protest laws but she’s relieved that this is the path of protest I’ve chosen.”
According to Kay Gilkes, a member of the Bristol Climate Choir, shouting does not attract people’s attention. However, singing invokes a sense of harmony and allows the words to subtly permeate into their minds while they listen to the music.
She mentions that the police had varying reactions. She states, “The officers we encountered in the City of London were particularly helpful.” She also shares that one officer even requested to record our interaction.
According to Kate Honey, the musical director of the Bristol choir, while social media may contribute to political divisions, music has the power to bring people together.
She stated, “Protests often involve shouting and chanting which can harden hearts, but our goal is not to create hardened hearts. It is crucial that we do not become divided if we truly want to bring about change.”
Sally Davies, who is both the co-leader of the London Climate Choir and a composer, shares the same viewpoint. She believes that a large group of people singing together has a powerful effect. Regardless of one’s political beliefs, hearing the lyrics being sung can lead to self-reflection and questioning why one is emotionally affected. This moment of realization can be the catalyst for change.