What is it that we choral folks do?
by Scott Anderson, President, Idaho ACDA
Many times, over the course of a long career, I’ve been asked by newly met acquaintances, “what is it that you do?” When I explain that I am a choral director at a university, the next question is often, “oh, so you deal with singers all the time – what do you all do together?” Usually, I give the standard rundown of my job responsibilities, while watching the expression on my new acquaintance become a combination of fascination and bewilderment. Sometimes (unfortunately during the conversation) my mind wonders off to those unlimited “behind-the-curtain” experiences with singers, or as a singer in a choir.
If an alien visitor from another world were to attend the random choir retreat or any other choir social activity, the visitor might think that choral singers on earth spend a lot of time eating, laughing, talking, drinking (age appropriate, of course), dressing up, camping, eating and some “sort of hard to describe activities.“ We do, of course SING, and we do, of course LOVE to sing, and we do, of course KNOW that we love to sing TOGETHER. But . . . why?
Think about some of your very first memories and experiences in a choir: in rehearsal, during a performance, that feeling when you finally get a tough interval or rhythm, reflecting upon a concert that was so fulfilling --- a flash from the past when your pores raised up the hairs on your neck and arms; that breakthrough moment when you thought: “AAHH!!”
Almost every instrumentalist is encouraged to play with a “singing tone”; the movie about the professional football players Brian Piccolo and Gayle Sayers was called “Brian’s Song.” The great American poet Walt Whitman’s poem, “Song of the Open Road” evokes the American spirit.
• Birds “sing”, they don’t play, dance, or yell.
• When our spirit soars, we “have a song in our heart,” not an explosion.
• We “sing someone’s praises” . . . rarely do we march or pout for this reason.
• To acknowledge a person’s successes, the saying goes, “she found her voice,” rather than “she found her foot.”
• Songs are sung near the crib, for love new and old, for no reason at all, for every reason, to remember someone departed forever.
So . . . we are singers from the cradle to the grave.
All of us have “sources” of this love of singing . . . the light through darkness . . . stillness through too much clatter. In my case, some of those sources include:
• a father whose natural singing and guitar playing was the background soundtrack of our family’s daily routine.
• church services in which an entire congregation and majestic pipe organ shook the walls to bring a seven-year-old child to goose bumps.
• practice sessions at the piano with a mother whose efforts to keep her son on the bench sometimes resulted in tears for us both.
• smiling, purposeful choristers filling a gymnasium with multiple parts and waves of sound.
• the ring of a four-part chord “locked in” during lunchtime in the high school men’s rest room during barbershop quartet rehearsal.
• rock and roll singers mesmerizing harmonies over a seminal “beat” that seemed vital, universal.
• an elite choir emanating sounds so sophisticated that words could not be formed to explain the wonder and aching sense of something beautiful.
• life-long friends with whom immediate understanding, awareness, silliness, sorrow, unity, laughter, grace, sentimentality, freedom, soulfulness were experienced together in song.
Each singer could make a similar list of experiences, memories, self-discoveries, and/or “leaps of faith” which help to explain how they came to be celebrating singing in a choir or conducting a choir, or teaching a company of singers. As choral singers, we are each individual parts of a “whole” . . . "We" is a less lonely word than “I” . . . because the treasures encountered on the road of music-making are shared, and then amplified in the faces, sounds, and presence of OTHERS.
That old riddle: “If a tree fell in the forest and no one was there to hear it fall, did it make a sound?” has a different version for singers in a CHOIR: “If a spectacular musical moment happened when you were alone, did it occur?” My answer would be: Not the soul changing and life making moment experienced when making such sounds with others.
During this time, in our country, in our technological world: musical community can be the difference between hope and emptiness. The sharing of song and the musical organism we become in a choir, can nourish our human spirits so thirsty for meaning, stillness, perspective, and self worth.
My mind refocuses on the conversation I’m having with my new friend and I say, “yes, there are a lot of things we do.”
You may contact Dr. Scott Anderson HERE