The Stonegate Singers and friends performing live on BBC Radio York at the National Centre for Early Music. For the York in Harmony project.

The Stonegate Singers is a community choir that anyone can join – no previous experience necessary! The director Jon teaches the music by ear, one part at a time. We believe that singing is everybody’s birthright. For thousands of years, all over the world, people have sung — to express joy and grief, to aid healing, to accompany work, devotion and the rituals of life — without worrying about having a “good” voice or “getting it right”. Singing has been a part of life, a way of binding communities.

The Stonegate Singers performing as part of Refugium, a piece by director Jon Hughes performed at the Creswell Crags, August 2017

The Stonegate Singers has performed live on the BBC, and as part of community events such as The Great Get Together in Rowntree Park in June 2017, to celebrate the life of Jo Cox. In August 2017, they performed in the Creswell Crags limestone gorge as part of Refugium, a new piece by director Jon Hughes. Refugium was created in collaboration with archaeologists Professor Mark Edmonds and Dr Ben Elliott, and used an outdoor 8 speakers ambisonic sound system together with the choir to create an immersive experience.

The Stonegate Singers in performance at the Unitarian Chapel, York, June 2018

In June 2018, the Stonegate Singers performed at the Unitarian Chapel in York, in a concert to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of St Nicholas Field’s Environment Centre and Nature Reserve.


The Stonegate Singers and friend in Rowntree Park, July 2018


In July 2018, the choir performed in Rowntree Park, and we also ran a singing workshop in the park as part of the York Big Sing project

The Stonegate Singers was set up by composer, yoga teacher and researcher Jon Hughes (for more information about Jon, click here).

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The Stonegate Singers on a tea break during rehearsals at St Lawrence Church, York.

The idea of a community choir is that people will varying levels of music experience can sing together. Both experienced singers and people new to singing can come together in a supportive and positive atmosphere, working towards the common goal – to experience singing beautiful music!

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Recording ‘Through the Gate’ at the Rymer Auditorium, University of York, for the Refugium installation at the British Library in December 2017.

What’s a community choir all about?

The Stonegate Singers is part of the vibrant emerging community choir scene in the UK, and Jon is a member of the Natural Voice Practitioners Network (NVPN), an organisation that promotes community choirs and community based approaches to singing and using the voice.

“We are a network of people who work with voice and song, and who believe that singing is everyone’s birthright, regardless of musical experience or ability.” (NVPN)

Along with NVPN, The Stonegate Singers believe that singing is everybody’s birthright. For thousands of years all over the world people have sung — to express joy, celebration and grief, to aid healing, to accompany work, devotion and the rituals of life — without worrying about having a “good” voice or “getting it right”. Singing has been a part of life, a way of binding communities.

The Stonegate Singers recording forms part of the new book and CD, Refugium.

Each person’s voice is as unique as their fingerprint: the voice we are born with is capable of freely expressing a full range of emotions, thoughts and experience – this is what we mean by the “natural voice”.

Creating an accepting community is an essential element of this kind of approach: a community where singing together is a natural experience that is open and accessible to all.

Many people see themselves as ‘non singers’ because of previous experiences of criticism and judgment. Many are excluded from singing activities because they do not have music-reading skills or trained voices. In this choir we aim to counteract these experiences and give people confidence in their voices by providing them with a supportive learning environment and suitable repertoire.

You can find the NVPN website here: Natural Voice Practitioners Network website

Jon Hughes and The Shoreline Singers performing on the beach at Kynance Cove, Cornwall 2016. For the Shoreline project.


In terms of repertoire, for Jon the key words are simplicity and beauty. Music doesn’t have to be complex or difficult to be beautiful, and the human voice comes into its own with simple material that contains real emotional depth.

We are all the custodians of a rich global vocal music tradition, and so much of it is accessible, singable, and easy to learn. We can draw on music from many countries and traditions, connecting with artistic and vocal expression from diverse cultures. Our repertoire will include:

Songs from Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia & Macedonia

Spirituals and Gospel Songs

Songs from Corsica

Songs from Africa

American Shape-Note Songs

Songs from the Caucasus Republic of Georgia

Songs from the European Folk Tradition

American Folk and Civil Rights Songs

Songs from the English folk song tradition

Carefully selected modern popular songs

A selection of fun rounds and warms ups songs from around the world

Medieval and Renaissance songs, both secular and sacred