Charlie Corkin: Directing a choir with a community purpose

By Simon Hart

‘It was a bit strange to record O Come All Ye Faithful and O Holy Night in the middle of October,’ reflects Charlie Corkin when describing the process of organising an online carol concert with the choir he directs at St Edmund of Canterbury Church, Waterloo. Strange, like so much else right now, yet successful too. ‘Something like 15 times the amount of people that would be able to fit into St Edmund’s watched the concert which is phenomenal and we were able to raise around £750 for the choir,’ he adds.

For Charlie, the choir’s director of music, that concert was the last challenge met in a year which ended with his recognition as a Liverpool One community hero – an honour that followed his nomination by a choir member for his efforts, during last spring’s first lockdown, to maintain the community spirit among this 60-strong group. He explains: ‘For me as director, the most important thing is the people as if we don’t have the people we don’t have a choir and it was important they were looked after. We created a “buddy system” for older members who might have been shielding or been more isolated to make sure they had somebody they could get in touch with if, for example, they needed food collecting or prescriptions. It meant the community aspect was still alive with them keeping in touch on a weekly basis.’

It was not just older members in his thoughts. For the children’s choir he ‘created a bank of music education resources and stuck them on our website for parents to use when home-schooling.’ Charlie also kept choir members active with a weekly online series, ‘Sundays with St Edmund’s’, featuring freshly recorded songs along with clips from old concerts. For one episode they performed a song, ‘Like a Rainbow Shining’, that its composer, Will Todd, had just released for the NHS. ‘We were planning an episode dedicated to the NHS and this piece came out the Thursday before and within three days we managed to get a few of us together to record a version,’ Charlie says. ‘We managed to raise nearly £1,000 for NHS Charities Together.’

Charlie, now living in Manchester where he works for the People’s History Museum, grew up in St Edmund’s parish and remains thankful for the support of former parish priest Father John Cullen in arranging organ tuition with Richard Lea at the Metropolitan Cathedral during his days as a pupil at Sacred Heart Catholic College. ‘When I got into secondary school I ended up stepping in and playing for a service and it just so happened that Father John was leading the service and he said, “Why don’t you have a go at the organ and see what you think?”. The rest is history as once I started, I’ve not wanted to stop.’

In time Charlie, who studied Music and Humanities, became assistant to Martin O’Boyle, the choir’s original director, before taking over in 2018. Running the choir with the support of assistant directors Sophie McQueen and Katherine Daly, the 26-year-old adds: ‘The key thing is that we’re able to remain free and that’s possibly the hardest part of what I do – being able to ensure we have a model that works in terms of covering our expenses and ensuring the people who visit us for concerts and events, whether in person or online, are still able to enjoy them. And balancing that against the idea that though we’re striving for a community group that’s accessible to everybody, we still have a really high-quality performance.’ A balancing act that, on the evidence of December’s carols, he is managing impressively.