Classic rebels: Stoke Newington youth choir sells out town hall

A sold-out Stoke Newington Town Hall celebrated the unlikely union of Abba and Mozart through the voices of youth choir the Young Dissenters on Saturday.

“We’re the only people that fill the town hall,” said the choir’s founder Ruth Whitehead.

She established the choir to bring classical music from an elitist sphere to an inclusive experience. While declining sales of classical recordings have provoked criticisms of the genre as outdated and losing its social relevance, Ms White remains optimistic about its future.

“Young people come at it with an open mind,” she said.

The Young Dissenters’s unorthodox blend of classical and pop is a key attraction to both its singers and audience. In addition to Abba and Mozart, the programme also spliced a Shakespearean monologue with a nursery rhyme. Previous performances have mixed Elbow with Beethoven and Bach.

Their radical approach reflects the long non-conformist history of Stoke Newington that gives the choir its name. The district plays home to Abney Park cemetery, the principal dissenter’s burial ground in Victorian London. The cemetery was named after leading non-conformist spokesman Sir Thomas Abney, who himself inspired another noteworthy dissenter from the area, author Daniel Defoe.

“Dissent is part of the ethos,” said Ms Whitehead. Her objective for the choir is “to bring classical music to the heart of the community and attract a new audience.”

With 340 seats filled and 120 performers on stage at their first town hall concert, it seems the choir has already fulfilled it.

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