Secret life

On song

Optometry lead at the University of the West of England, Dr Rebekah Stevens, on her choir’s journey from rural Wiltshire to one of the world’s most famous concert halls

Rebekah at Carnegie Hall

I started singing lessons when I was about 12. I didn’t really do much after I left school or at university, but I found a couple of choirs after I graduated when I was working in Shropshire.

When we moved to the south west I joined a choir called The Village Singers. It has grown since I became involved and there are now 85 members. We have sung in Bruges, in Paris, in the Royal Albert Hall and then it culminated in our performance in a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall in New York.

It was a 75th birthday concert for the Welsh composer Sir Karl Jenkins. He put out a call for international choirs to come and sing. We auditioned, got in and were invited to perform. I was nervous but by the time we got to the concert we felt that had done a lot of work and we knew were ready. It is such a boost when you look out and you see a sea of people in the audience.

I use the same skills when I am lecturing that I would use when I am performing in a concert. It is role-playing confidence when everyone is looking at you and owning the space that you are in. With practise, it also gets easier.

Singing is such a joyous experience. I think it is good for the soul. It releases any stress you might have


I do get asked various eye health questions in the choir. Singing is quite a difficult visual task to do; to be able to look at your music close to you and then look quite a far distance to the conductor. It can be challenging for presbyopes. While we were in New York, one of the members of the choir was having an issue with her contact lenses. I gave her a bit of advice about using lubricating drops and taking the lenses out.

The choir itself is made up of so many different ages. The oldest member is 82 and we have had children in the choir before. At the moment our youngest member is 16. We’re thinking about what we can do to top Carnegie, but that is going to be really tough I think.

Singing is such a joyous experience. I think it is good for the soul. It releases any stress you might have. Every Tuesday night I come home from practise feeling incredible.

  • As told to Selina Powell.