Library of Soul Choir: “It is important to connect even when we cannot meet”

Kaya Herstad Carney talks mental health and the importance of harmony in lockdown.

By Planet Slop
Thu 25 June, 2020

Kaya Herstad Carney – leader of Science of the Lamps and co-founder of Threshold Festival – consistently proves her passion and commit to the arts in this city, so it is no surprise that she has utilised her time so well during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Her Library of Soul Choir had been rehearsing for nearly a year before recent events took hold, and they had performed at a number of high profile events.

But as a community choir, they came into their own during this trying time, re-writing classic songs and performing them virtually. In doing this, they have been spreading a positive message of mental health and human connectivity.

We spoke to Kaya about the project and its purpose.

Threshold Festival: “Our programming has always represented us”

Planet Slop: What is the ethos of the Library of Soul Choir?

Kaya Herstad Carney: It’s a community choir open for all adults with a focus on community spirit and harmony singing. We welcome all and are a diverse group of people who all love singing. We would usually practice in the Liverpool Central Library’s Discovery Room and have been together for exactly one year today. Since the formation we have taken part in the Steve Levine and David Quantick celebration of the Abbey Road 50 year anniversary and Love Island, both internal events at the library, and were to take part in Threshold Festival and Light Night before the lockdown. We have kept on rehearsing at our normal time 6pm on Thursday, only now on Zoom, and that’s how the idea of That’s (Lockdown) Life happened.

PS: One thing that struck me about the videos is the amount of character in each member’s little square – I can’t tell if this is encouraged as part of the choir’s image, or simply a by-product of everyone’s strong personalities?

KHC: It’s a product of the people involved! We love our weird and wonderful participants, choir members and a couple of extra guests that I also work with, students or backing vocalists and a special feature from the un-pigeonholable Nana Funk. The diversity of the choir members are quite wide – particularly age-wise. How important is it to include people from all walks of life?

Although the choir welcomes everyone, the youngest two ones in the video are backing vocalists with my band, Science of the Lamps. The youngest choir member is only two years older though at 25 though, and our oldest member is turning 87 later this year!

PS: You seem to be choosing some pretty life affirming songs for these performances – is this a concerted effort to lift spirits during lockdown?

KHC: We tend to sing soulful pop also at the best of time, but the songs we have created virtual choir arrangement of uplifting songs.

PS: Obviously you’re re-writing the lyrics to fit our current situation. Is this delegated to one person, or is it done as a group?

KHC: We had a brainstorm during the choir rehearsal, and then some more through the whatsapp and then I structured it to the parody lyric.

PS: How do you go about putting the videos together from a technical perspective?

KHC: We have learned A LOT during these past couple of efforts, both in regards to instructing the members and in video editing. Chris [Carney, Kaya’s husband and Threshold Festival co-founder] and myself have literally learned how to edit videos through this process. I put all the audio together and mixed too many file formats to mention without the pulse going up, and Chris vice versa on videos.

Some of the members struggled technically, so there were times where we had to walk people through how to submit, but everyone wanted to be involved. Some of the members suffered some bouts of under-confidence and almost pulled out, but the group was so supportive to get everyone to join!

PS: There is an important issue with mental health during these trying times. So, with that in mind, what is the message you want to send with these videos?

KHC: You are not alone, it is important to connect even when we cannot meet.

PS: In what way does singing in harmony improve your physical and mental health?

KHC: Singing in harmony has literally been proven to improve mental and physical health by reducing the stress hormone cortisol and increasing the enjoyment hormone dopamine. It literally makes you feel good! Levels of dopamine, the chemical that is released in your brain at moments of peak enjoyment, is on average 9% higher when you listen to music you enjoy! Other biologically significant triggers are things like eating good food, sex and laughing.

In Britain there are more choirs than fish and chips shops. Spanish novelist Cervantes claimed that “He who sings frightens away his ills”, Ella Fitzgerald enthused that “The only thing better than singing is more singing” and Brian Eno believes that: “Singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness and a better sense of humour”. The latter is obviously more humorous, but still!

It’s not the same online, but it’s better than nothing!

PS: Besides this project, how have you been keeping yourself occupied during lockdown?

KHC: Chris and I have started a new company, HCHQ Ltd which is consolidating all of our various projects into one, everything from the festival booking and production services to artist development, songwriting sessions and singing lessons. It’s born out of Threshold Festival but combining that with all the other portfolio things we do!

I also have an original Science of the Lamps single, Nightmarine, coming out soon which is taking a lot of time in the meantime, plus I am lecturing on several degree programmes online, so have plenty of things to do and actually looking forward to July where things are quieter, although I am organising an international virtual voice conference with Vocology in Practice.

PS: Do you have any more videos lined up?

KHC: We are learning a new arrangement over the next few weeks, which we will probably also make a video of Jackie Wilson‘s Higher and Higher later this year.