Singing Cities

Co-Innovation project for the advancement of singing science, the advocacy of music education, and the re-generation of cities through community singing.
Co-Innovation project for the advancement of singing science, the advocacy of music education, and the re-generation of cities through community singing.

The goal of this co-innovation project between singing organisations, concert halls, music educators, researchers and local communities is the advancement of singing science and practice, and the advocacy of music education through singing. The project covers two actions for a systemic resurgence of singing:

  • science-based advocacy of teaching singing effectively and the benefits of singing for the community
  • the Singing Cities initiative to share best practices from experiences as well as data and papers from research.

Science-based advocacy aims to advance singing science and the advocacy of music education, through singing. It fosters the study of singing – an art form – through medicine, neuroscience, physics, and social sciences; it considers that education and knowledge are culturally and socially located.

Singing Cities offer everyone regular opportunities to sing together culminating in yearly celebrations of voices. The initiative aims at an innovative and sustainable advance of singing within and across cities, towns and villages, through a focused cooperation between singing organisations, concert halls, music educators, researchers and local communities.

With the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union, the Aarya Foundation developed 4 Singing Cities with partners in Berlin (Germany), Brussels (Belgium), Gateshead (United Kingdom) and Namsos (Norway).

Process Main Stages: 

The provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for singing activity is a long-term endeavour which takes several years.


The 4 Singing Cities (Berlin, Brussels, Gateshead and Namsos) researched existing singing education and performance facilities through analysis and surveys, and reported on the singing status quo.


Then, the 4 Singing Cities formulated the objectives of continuous activities in collaboration with existing education and performance organisations, non-singers and non-singing communities – mainly through brainstorming and workshops – and developed singing strategies.


The object of this stage was to increase the scope of strong offers, strengthen weak facilities and build new capabilities. To this end, the project designed, developed and piloted 8 voice events in the 4 Singing Cities. Music managers and singers from each Singing City participated in the celebrations and workshops organised by each of the 3 other Singing Cities.


The co-innovation partners scaled up efforts and deployed full singing strategies, for each Singing City at its own pace and with its own approach. The Singing Cities project continued to be promoted through festivals and a web platform encouraging other European cities to join the initiative. Singing Cities aims at reaching cities in up to 30 European countries to trigger the emergence of a European movement of Singing Communities.

Touchpoints & Bottlenecks: 

Yearly voice festivals

These events promote local music education through singing creation and performance. They are inclusive, not exclusive, and operate across generations, gender, diverse ethnicities and cultures, faith and non-faith groups, affluent and deprived neighbourhoods, different abilities and disabilities, professionals and amateurs. They respect the moral and material interests of authors, songwriters and composers.

The grassroots events are organised around three concentric circles:

  • a singing consortium organises a lead event in a core venue with their ensembles and guests, concurrently…
  • several concert halls host singing events where professionals (singers, choirs, bands, etc.) perform, and simultaneously…
  • the local community (schools, hospitals, retail centres, offices, congregations, stadiums, railway stations, etc.) open their doors to amateur and professional singers

Singing Cities Web Platform

Singing Cities share a collaboration suite and website publishing advocacy documents, best practices about yearly events and continuous activities, directory of singing facilities for training and performance, and the promotion of yearly voice festivals. The platform provides guidance and facilitates the dialogue between the users and the researchers through scientific evidences and advocacy documents about the effects of singing on individuals and communities. It is built on top of the collaborative innovation platform CogniStreamer.

Success Factors / Barriers: 


Successfully offering continuous singing education and performance activities to any and all citizen requires advocacy and guidance.

Advocacy – Deciders need convincing to allocate time and even more to invest money. Adopting Aarya Foundation’s Unique Scientific Proposition for evidence-based singing advocacy, two scientific reviews have been completed in the scope of this project:

  • Singing, health and well-being under the direction of Professor Gunter Kreutz at the Institut für Musik, Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg (Germany).
  • Development of singing across the lifespan under the direction of Professor Graham Welch at the Music Education SIG, UCL Institute of Education (United Kingdom).

Guidance – Most people are willing to share and learn from best practices. The scientific reviews have been brought together with the generic principles of education by Katherine Zeserson, from the North Music Trust (United Kingdom), who developed a framework for effective teaching and learning of singing in communities.


Establishing a Cooperation agreement

We faced conflicting views on how the cooperation should be formulated. Some partners were focused on very detailed wordings limiting the liabilities of the various parties, others on the processes to tackle challenges along the way. The solution to the deadlock was to provoke an escalation of the matters at hand above the project managers, i.e. at the executive level of their institutions, to move forward on a pragmatic basis.

Conflicts of egos between some co-organisers and their associated partners

Some unforeseen conflicts of this kind arose and created major problems in some cities. The establishment of an advisory body to the coordinator (“The Constituting Group”) proved to be helpful in handling them. Members of this group mediated when convenient. Occasionally, solutions were found outside the project management. Sometimes, associated partners left the project.

  • Establish an advisory board assisting the coordinator to keep a continuous focus, commitment and overview over the mission-critical processes that are instrumental in securing the constructive development of the co-innovation project.
  • Check expectations and capabilities of potential partners early in the planning process, and ensure actual involvement of their top management.
  • Do not start a co-innovation project BEFORE a written cooperation agreement between the coordinator and the co-organisers is signed.
  • Do not get side-tracked by “speakers” but empower “doers” to try new practical approaches, ride the learning curve, and scale up confidently.