The Future of Polyphony Down the Pub (no less)

This evening, many of us will be getting together to celebrate the last 5 years of Polyphony Down the Pub, so now is probably as good a time as any to think about what the future may hold.

I want to start by saying that I have absolutely loved every minute of running this madcap event. I never dreamed it would take off in the way it has and I hadn’t anticipated that I would meet so many wonderful people through it. (Over all the events over all the years, I estimate I’ve had the pleasure of seeing around 400 of you pull up a chair, raise a glass and warble away alongside me.)

It’s been a real privilege for me to be able to choose some of my favourite pieces of music and somehow convince a bunch of you to come along and busk through them with me. It’s also given me the chance to research some superb composers and works that I never would have come across if it hadn’t been for your insatiable appetite for an ever-fresh, ever-challenging repertoire.

I’ve even loved the particularly demanding tasks of creating our themed sessions, from our composer spotlights through to our double-choir specials – and that last-minute European session back in 2016 (now, what could have inspired that…?).

It’s fair to say it has been a huge part of my life and I thank everyone who has come along over the years, whether at our flagship PDtP event in Waterloo, our Counterpint spin-offs around London, our Brighton residency or our brief sojourns to Sheffield, Manchester and Cardiff. (I know many of you around the country are very keen to have your own regular Polyphony Down the Pub sessions, which is something I’d very much like to see myself – a nation of Renaissance pub-singers!)

Huge thanks also to those of you who have never managed to make it along but have still shouted about us on social media and the like – what a wonderful network you are!

I feel we have a good thing going on here and I would love to keep it going just the same way for the next 5 years. But (come on, you knew there was a but coming) it’s become increasingly clear that it’s not sustainable in its current structure.

Each session takes an average of 12 hours to research, set up, publicise and run, which is quite a chunk of time, and that’s before we take into account our intermittent Counterpint/Brighton sessions.

As you know, having run a PDtP session every month without fail (barring a regular summer break) between 2014 and 2018, this year I’ve had to drastically cut down on the number of sessions, principally owing to my day job commitments – and these commitments aren’t going to change anytime soon.

So I feel we’ve reached a fork in the road: find a way to make it sustainable or start to wind down with a view to calling it a day probably sooner than later, which I think would be a terrible shame, given the momentum we’ve built up over the years.

Many of you have kindly volunteered to help out in general and there’s no doubt that extra help will be needed if we do carry on. Ultimately, though, to keep it running it (in the way that seems to have been working) is really going to require some investment.

With a bit of money behind the project, we can start to lay some foundations to keep it going whilst giving me a bit of breathing space. It could also help cover the expenses of setting up sessions outside of London. Regardless of my other commitments, I was of course never going to be able to carry on doing it forever anyway (apparently), so I like the idea of setting up something now that could be replicated in other parts of the country and that might out-last my involvement.

I’d also like to give a bit back to the amazing online choral community by donating to CPDL but, even more importantly, it would allow me to make a greater contribution to the charitable causes that we have been proud to support over the years.

I’ve looked at several options, from arts fund applications to sponsorship, but by far and away the easiest, fairest and most sensible way of doing things is to start to charge a small participation fee.

I completely acknowledge that charging for PDtP would inevitably alter its dynamic, even if only in a small way, but I genuinely don’t think there’s any other way to keep it on track – and the potential benefit of regularising the sessions again might be worth it to some people.

It would also possibly help us manage numbers a bit better; we average around a 15% cancellation or no-show rate each session (which really does add to the administrative burden) so I’m hoping that a nominal charge might reduce this figure.

Ultimately, I want to leave it to you guys to decide whether or not we keep going, as I’d quite understand if you felt that introducing filthy lucre into the equation would be beyond the pale. I’ve therefore put together a very simple survey which takes a minute to complete and will help me gauge whether or not it’s a viable option: 

The survey will remain open till midnight on November 30th so if you have any interest in seeing things continue, please do fill it in.

In the meantime, thanks so much once again for your support and I look forward to seeing some of you at tonight’s special session.




Published by

K O'Neill

I am a classical music enthusiast and a lover of choral music in particular. I run the Polyphony Down the Pub social/singing night, probably the most thrilling singing-Renaissance-motets-in-the-backroom-of-a-pub experience you could ever hope to have.

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