THE start of each school half-term involves our daughters coming back to tell us parents what project they (ie. we) have to complete. This can be anything on the Rolodex of random topics from the Great Fire of London to Holiday Camps, Norway to the Titanic. This week, my eldest daughter announced that her latest topic was whales. ‘Ah,’ I said, ‘Amazing creatures. Did you know that a blue whale’s heart can weigh as much as a …’ ‘No, Dad,’ Josephine rolled her eyes. ‘Not whales. Wales.’

Someone who has been given whales as their current topic, however, is the festival chorus of the Salisbury International Arts Festival – a mass choir open to singers old and new. Three years ago, I was lucky enough to take part in their Voices From No Man’s Land, a collection of First World War inspired pieces by composer Lucy Pankhurst, sung in two choirs across the Cathedral Cloisters, like opposing armies in the trenches.

I’m no great singer. I went along to the original workshop at a local primary school expecting to be politely pointed towards the exit. Instead, I walked into a room of people singing Silent Night in German and found myself carried along.

Conducting proceedings was the charismatic Howard Moody, a musical director with that air of unpredictability as to what he might do next. Over the following months, Moody pulled together a remarkable chorus from this assortment of 100-odd singers (and some, like me, were very odd).

It was hard work, but extremely rewarding: the final performance was extremely special to be involved in, and I came out of the experience having made many great friends.

Since then, the festival chorus has tackled market songs and Maori-inspired pieces. For 2017, the project is Voices of the Whale. Not, according to festival director Toby Smith, an actual attempt to get people to impersonate the creatures of the deep – ‘no whaling’ he joked when I spoke to him – but more along the lines of sea songs with a folksy and French Canadian flourish.

I’ve been lucky enough to hear a sneak peek of some of the potential music and it should sound fantastic as part of the festival finale, inside the Cathedral itself.

Festivals should be about celebrating the local community.

Projects like the chorus put the Salisbury into the Salisbury Arts Festival and help give the festival its heart – as much heart as that of a blue whale, which in case you were wondering, weighs as much as a small car.

The introductory workshop for Voices of the Whale takes place at 7pm on Friday, March 10 at Sarum Academy. For more details, email