Thursday, February 24, 2005

First rehearsal of a new choir

On Monday, I witnessed history! at least, that's how it felt. A new, racially integrated choir, formed from the remains of two segregated choirs, had its first meeting, and I was there to record the whole thing.

I arrived quite early in the hopes of setting up my camera and tape recorder, but there was a concert going on in the next room, and so I couldn't go in. This did, however, give me the opportunity to introduce myself to a few choristers. And to my delight, I recognised, and was recognised by, several people from the Youth Choir I sang with for years in Highschool. I also noticed, as I have in the past with other choirs, that choristers who have sung together for a while form a tight-knit group, and are quite unwilling to to deal with newbies. I generally had to make the effort to introduce myself, and even then, people wouldn't want to stay and talk. I understand that people may prefer to spend the time with friends that they often haven't seen for several months, but I was interested in the impact this would have on the formation of the new choir. I noted that the members of the previous 'chorale' stood in a group on the one side, and the 'choir' members stood on the other. One, obviously new, white chorister stood between the groups, and spoke to no one. One chorister, who had previously sung in both the choir and the chorale formed a point of connection between groups, but there was little, if any, direct interaction.

When the conductor arrived, the choir committee gathered everyone together on the grass a little distance away from the still ongoing concert, and the choir sat in roughly the same groups in which they had been standing. The director introduced the choir, and her plan for the year, followed by the chairman, who is a delightfully enthusiastic and energetic young man, and really eager for the combined choir to be a success.

The choristers then collected files, and we moved into the rehearsal room. As I was setting up my camera, I was immediately struck by the arrangement of the choir. New seating arrangements will be made at the choir camp this weekend, but in the interim, choristers sat in their voice groups, but in any order they chose. As could be expected, they sat in similar groups to which they had hitherto gathered. little intermingling.

The warm-ups were an education for me both as an aspirant conductor, and as a researcher. Some exercises, like those involving semi-tones, were not immediately correct, but were corrected rapidly, and the blend, and overall tone of the choir, sounded similar to that of the old choir's 2003 recording in a fairly short amount of time. I listened carefully to try to detect differences, but think I will have to compare recordings to be able to really hear anything significant. I did notice a more vibrato-laden soprano sound than I had previously heard, and, being aware of a common distrust of vibrato among a particular school of South African choral conductors, was interested to see how it would be approached, but no direct comment was made, and I will have to compare this recording to previous ones in order to describe the difference better.

The chairman had mentioned when we were outside, that the choir would be using the well-known South African carol[anthem?] Come Colours Rise as its theme song for the year, and so I noted that the first song they began working on also had a colour theme. It was an arrangement of Sting's Fields of Gold. This juncture in the performance brought about a significant change, in that when choristers who had hitherto read mostly tonic solfa were faced with staff notation, they suddenly found themselves in need of assistance, and the choir seating was rearranged in order to place strong sight singers between weaker ones, where they could offer assistance. The result was that the choir sight-read through the entire piece of music, and then performed it.

The rehearsal ended with everyone introducing themselves (and this included me), and with party packs and cake being handed out before some choristers went out together for drinks.

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