The “Siem Weep Singers” aren’t afraid to take the Mickey out of themselves.
“I say we’re the best a capella group in Siem Reap,” long-time member Deborah Saunders says with a laugh.
“We are [also] the longest-running a capella group in Siem Reap and the most successful,” she says, referring to the few occasions they have performed publicly.
They also happen to be the town’s only a capella group.
Part therapy, part friendship, but mostly joy – the choir gather every Wednesday evening at The River Garden, just north of town, bringing together an eclectic mix of people from all corners of the globe – their common tie a love of singing.
For the most part, they gather once a week simply for the pleasure of singing – they don’t aim to entertain a wider audience – but Saunders said they occasionally sing at functions for friends.
Founding member Dorette Bernath, said the group got under way about six years ago and has maintained a core membership of six to eight people, with others who drop in when they are in town.
Bernath, the choirmaster, said the transient nature of Siem Reap means members frequently come and go.
They include expats, tourists, volunteers and locals.
“We have quite an international group,” she said.
The group is open to anyone with a love of – and preferably a talent for – singing, and newbies are always welcome.
Members have hailed from Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Japan, France, Italy and Russia as well as Cambodia.
“We get a lot of tourists who come and sing for a short while,” says Bernath.
The international mix means they have a repertoire of songs from around the world.
Saunders, with her quick wit, has loosely dubbed them the Siem Weep Singers because “we’re so good that we’d bring tears to your eyes”.
They certainly don’t take themselves too seriously - they usually meet half an hour prior to singing for “an alcoholic throat gargle”, which she claims is part of the therapy and “helps loosen the vocal chords” – but she said they get a thrill when everyone comes together perfectly.
And while they predominantly meet to sing – not talk – many friendships have formed, and Saunders said the group also provides support for those who are going through various challenges.
“The group has given me the opportunity to do something that I’ve always wanted to do, and that is to sing out loud, sing out strong and have fun doing it,” she said.
The Siem Weep Singers meet at 6.30pm on Wednesdays. Participants pay $1 a week to cover costs.
Anyone interested can contact Deborah Saunders on 089 351 571. – Sam Walker