Monday, February 20, 2006

choral fantasies

The concert I went to earlier tonight was a young choir and orchestra from Germany - perhaps 40 musicians in all, all (seemingly) under 30. Many looked young enought to be university students or recent graduates. The sound of the choir - young but not children, musically expressive, in tune, and so earnest - brought me back to my college group. We were larger, around 60, but the fact that we were all young and didn't have fully developed voices allowed our conductor to treat us, effectively, like a chamber choir. No vibrato, or very little. Most importantly, he indoctrinated us with certain core musical principles: rhythmic integrity, stylistic flair, and an uncompromising musical idea that we may not have ever quite lived up to, but that came across in how he approached the rehearsal process. The goal was to serve the audience by serving the music; the individual singer's ego was (optimally) subordinated to the sound of the group.

That's partly what can make choral groups, at least good ones, so dangerously cultlike - the fact that you're entrusting your voice, instincts and intellect to a single person. In the case of my college group, that person was a slightly crotchety, semi-eccentric man, around 60 years old, who certainly played up his crotchetiness and eccentricity in rehearsals to increase the cohesion and devotion of the group. Oppose a strong personality with well-established opinions to 60 college (and some graduate) students, and you get a group that's unified around their relationship to that personality, whether they like it or hate it. Though there were certainly exceptions, in our case what resulted was a deep trust in his musical judgement, a willingness to follow, in concert.

That can be radically exhilarating, and more plainly just fun. I saw a similar combination of fun and really top-notch musicality in the choir this evening, and it made me wistful for the choir I left behind. I don't know if I'd be able to replicate the experience without some of the idealism that comes with being a college student, but it would be nice to believe in a musical undertaking that strongly again.


Jane Dark said...

If you are ever out on the west coast, I can direct you to a choir that sounds like the one you describe...

kermitthefrog said...

ooh, really? I'd love to know of it, even if I'm not actually living there... do you sing in it, or listen?