Caroline Redman Lusher is the woman behind the British singing phenomenon Rock Choir. She spoke to LINE HILTON about her journey from disillusioned piano bar singer to business powerhouse.
The story of Rock Choir founder Caroline Redman Lusher illustrates how a music career can lead you in all sorts of exciting directions, if you’re canny enough to recognise potential opportunities and determined enough to turn them into reality.
As head of a singing empire with 30,000 members and 400 choirs, Redman Lusher is much praised for her vision and entrepreneurial skills. But her experience in the music business wasn’t always quite so rosy.
Disillusioned and burnt out
In fact, she quit the industry altogether in 2001. After years of gigging on London’s music scene, where she had fended off her fair share of boozy punters in high end hotel piano bars, she was fed up and burnt out.
She had asthma from singing in smoky surroundings and a growing sense of disillusionment and so, at the age of 27, moved into her parents’ home in Surrey.
Here frustration snowballed into an overwhelming feeling of failure. “I felt so bad I couldn’t even listen to music.
“I felt like I had let myself down. I had been so driven, I had worked so hard and I still didn’t have a career.”
Drive had never been an issue for Redman Lusher. She started gigging at 14 (lying about her age so she could perform in clubs and pubs). After school, she studied popular music at Salford University where her habit of turning up to class smartly dressed and fully made-up led to peers dubbing her the “Mariah Carey of the degree”.
Next came London but breaking through was tough. Without a network of contacts to draw on, she slogged away at it for years, making a comfortable living in piano bars but never enjoying the glorious recording career she’d imagined.
Putting London life behind her she asked herself: if not music, then what? The answer came when Farnham Sixth Form College got in touch. They were looking for someone with industry experience to teach singing. Was she interested?
Of course, she gave it a go – and had a light bulb moment. “It was like ahhhh I’m supposed to be a teacher. A second world opened up to me.”
After settling into this new world, Redman Lusher decided to hold a series of lunchtime singing sessions to engage with students outside the classroom. To her surprise 175 young people turned up.
She soon noticed that as well as helping her performance students pass their singing exams, the sessions improved pupil wellbeing, confidence and overall academic achievement.
When the college’s music department resisted her request to expand the sessions, Redman Lusher had a second light bulb moment.
She decided to strike out on her own and create a supportive singing environment where people of all ages and abilities could come together to belt out popular hits.
In recognising the transformative potential of group singing, she was ahead of the curve. (This was the early 2000s and choral singing was still largely considered a church-based activity).
Drawing on her savings and a bit of cash from dad, Redman Lusher found a venue, bought some kit and Rock Choir (her mum came up with the name) was born. Seventy people turned up to the first session which ended with singers on their feet, crying and cheering. That was all the encouragement Redman Lusher needed. Soon she had several choirs on the go, and requests coming in from other parts of the country too.
She recruited her first leader, music graduate Sam Enser, and the two nailed down the Rock Choir formula. Choirs sing contemporary, anthemic or upbeat songs and members learn by repetition (eliminating the need for music reading skills). Group leaders need a mix of music and people skills (Rock Choir can be emotional, it’s not uncommon for members to sob after a big performance).
“We have to be careful as leaders not to cross the line, we’re not counsellors,” she says. “There’s a fine line between supporting someone and meddling.”
Helped along by healthy doses of PR – including an appearance on BBC Breakfast – Rock Choir was on a roll.
There was, though, the occasional bump in the road. When a record deal with Decca turned sour, Redman Lusher sold her house and moved in with her parents (yes, again) to raise the equity required to market the album.
“The whole episode was exhausting but there was a huge reward at the end of it for me – I got to see choir members signing albums in HMV in Guildford. These women were in their 50s and 60s. They’d given up their careers in their 20s to be mums and wives and suddenly they’re signing albums in HMV.”
Redman Lusher speaks effusively of the “Rock Choir journey”. “It can change people’s lives. I’m honoured that so many thousands of people fall in love with Rock Choir and commit like they do.”
One of her proudest moments came last year when Rock Choir opened the BBC’s Proms in the Park in Hyde Park. Redman Lusher and her team of professional singers and Rock Choir Leaders sang on stage to a 40,000-strong audienceincluding over 10,000 members who stood up on cue, creating one massive flash mob.
Rock Choir is, she says, something she was born to do. “I’m very lucky to be working so successfully with music on a daily basis and helping the singing public to engage with such amazing songs and performances. I’m surrounded by joy and amazing people.”
RC are always on the look-out for inspirational musicians to lead their choirs nationwide. CLICK HERE to learn more about Rock Choir opportunities.