Jill Hodge is founder and musical director of close harmony singing group Ten in a Bar, which is about to mark a quarter of a century of shows at Swindon’s Arts Centre. Jill, 59, lives in Chiseldon with her partner and has two grown-up children

STARTING on Wednesday at 7.30pm and for three nights afterwards, Ten in a Bar will mark 25 years of performances at the Arts Centre.

Audiences can look forward to music ranging from modern classical to Creedence Clearwater Revival, not to mention a comedy sketch called 15 Minutes in A&E, set to the music of Les Miserables.

There have been many musical trends over the last quarter of a century, but the ethos of Ten in a Bar remains much the same as it was when the choir coalesced around Jill Hodge and a small group of her musical friends in 1992.

“We expect our audiences to have a laugh, to have moments of pathos and to be stirred and moved by the music we do,” she said.

“People can get very snobbish about pop songs, saying they’re not very sound or musical or worthwhile, but what you actually have if you look at the lyrics of a pop song is quite raw emotions that describe the human condition. What we try to do with those pieces is communicate those emotions. It’s not just about slotting notes and lines together, it’s actually about communicating what the song is trying to say.

“That’s very important for us – the delivery of the song, so it touches the audience and they think: ‘Yes, I know what they mean, I’ve had that happen to me.’”

Jill is originally from Congleton in Cheshire, where her father was an export agent for pottery firms and her mother a housewife.

“I loved singing in the church choir, singing with my grandmother. She was very good – she taught me to sing alto. There were school productions and I took clarinet lessons, piano lessons – anything I could do, really, in the arts. I loved it.”

Jill took a music degree followed by a teaching qualification in Bath. She taught music in the Swindon area before retraining and teaching children with special educational requirements, including young people with dyslexia and Asperger’s Syndrome.

“I started to become more interested in the individual child rather than group teaching. I still loved music, but I became more interested in the psychological aspects of children, and just decided to retrain and see where it took me. It might not have gone anywhere, but as it happened I did then take on a job at the Ridgeway in the Additional Support team.

“Now I’m at New College. I’ve been there for 11 years in the Additional Support team.”

Almost as soon as she arrived in the Swindon area in the early 1980s, Jill became involved with various community music projects.

The genesis of Ten in a Bar was a suggestion by friends and fellow music lovers including Jane Kingstone and Steve Brain.

“It’s a very musical town and it’s particularly good for musical theatre. I wanted to do something more bijou and to stay away from musical theatre – even though musical theatre is actually a passion of mine.

“I wanted to get away from that and look at songs - popular songs – from the 1940s up to the present day. We’re doing Bruno Mars and Katie Perry now.

“We had no money, no rehearsal venue, no music! We had eight singers, one conductor and one pianist, which is where the name Ten in a Bar comes from. It cornered us a bit when we wanted to expand. The name was fine when we had 10 singers, but we haven’t let that stop us! It’s got a ring to it. In the early days people used to call us Ten in a Bed, Ten Men in a Barge… We did one concert venue and they got it wrong every time they introduced us. It was very, very funny.

“People ask: ‘What is Ten in a Bar? Are you barbershop? Are you a choir?’ We’re none of those things and it’s actually hard to describe, because we’re a bit of a hybrid of everything. We’re not a group that stands still like a choir but we’re not the full-blown show razzmatazz. It’s something in between. We’re a group that sings, that moves, that acts, that uses multi-media projection and also has comedy. But it’s the harmony singing that’s our passion.”

There are currently 13 members, and the choir is on the lookout for more male voices, especially bass voices.

The nationwide growth of interest in joining choirs makes Jill very happy.

“I think music makes you feel good. You can put your troubles aside when you’re singing. You’re totally focussed on that moment, in the song, and hopefully the audience feel that when they’re listening to us.

“It’s lovely that because with Ten in a Bar we’ve got such a small and intimate group, we share the same principles, want the same things. We want it to be as good as possible, to sound good and to create that atmosphere, whatever we’re doing.

“Every year I say to myself, ‘I’m glad I’m doing this.’”

Tickets for the Arts Centre concerts cost £14 and are available from the Wyvern Theatre or directly from the website www.teninabar.com