Monday, March 07, 2005

A ceremony and a concert

Friday saw an interesting field 'outing', in that it was the membership ceremony and first concert of the recently combined choir. It was held in the art gallery of the university, which, while a popular concert venue, is perhaps not ideal as such. there is no space for chairs, and so the friends and family of the choir who attended stood around in a huddle, trying no balance a good view with the need to not jostle or damage the artworks. The room is small, which is great for sound, but affords all but the luckiest audience members little more than a bad view.

But despite the surroundings, the concert and ceremony were a success. The ceremony involved each chorister collecting a candle, and lighting it from a larger candle held by the director, and then placing it on a stand in the general arrangement of the choir benches on which they stand. They were also each given a pledge, and their names, fields of research and hometown were read out. It was a lovely ceremony, and has the potential to be quite touching. It made me think about the way in which loyalty to a body like a choir is actually constructed. Certainly, the element of music plays a role all its own, as the use of, for example, anthems, for non-musical organisations as a way of evoking feelings of loyalty suggest. But beyond that, I have always had a sense that the actual act of singing, and the fact that people are sharing a physical space with sound, and eachother, binds them together, even if only temporarily, in a very evocative way. I have a little speech that I give my choir when I feel its needed that deals with sound activating air particles, and each chorister sharing the use of that air with every other chorister, and with their audience. I use it as a starting point for discussions on musical integrity, where I suggest that because we are sharing such a basic element in such an intimate way, we have a responsibility to our audience and to one another to make the best, most honest use of that possible. It may sound, from the way I've written about it above that it is just some hackneyed bit of rhetoric that I use to get what I want out of the choir, but it really is something I believe in very strongly. Standing in that little art gallery, surrounded by sound and positive energy, as the choir sang after the ceremony, I was reminded of the specific impact of sound itself, and more that that, of vocal sound. It really is enervating and quite moving, and that fact is difficult to explain. Sure, the words, in some instances, are what touch a person, and in other circumstances, a specific music has associations for a person that makes it significant. Sometimes, its just that the music is beautiful, or that it is a particularly skilled choir, or that one is moved by the situation as a whole: being in a performance, at a specific place and time, surrounded by specific people, or within a particular context, but there is something that overides all that extraneous stuff, too. it has to do with the physical act of singing, and blending your voice with the voices of others. It has to do with hearing sound interact with the space you are in, and knowing it comes from the people you are with. It has to do with the act of creation, and recreation, and sometimes, with the simple act of doing, in tandem with others. I still find it amazing, at times, to hear music coming from the complex organism that is my physical body, produced by organs and tissues that are specialised for other purposes, but that just happen to be able to work in tandem in this way. And I find it amazing on occasion to realize that I am contributing to the sound I am hearing. In Hereford Cathedral last August, I sat in a wooden choir bench, and quite literally felt the sound the choir was making through the wood. And then the organ started...

Ok, tangent curbed. Back to the concert. I was so amazed to hear such coherent musical sound after relatively few rehearsals from this choir. The conductor said to me before that there was lots she still wanted to work on, and that it was "rough", and with some effort, I could pick up odd musical elements that needed tightening up. Certainly, the co-ordination of movement in the numbers that employed it could do with work. But more important that all that, a group of people have in no time at all become a choir. Of course, all these people have, as the conductor put it, "musicality," whatever that is, but even with that, I feel that they have achieved something remarkable. It would be interesting to see how a non-select choir fares. Of course, the conductor's role is not to be sneezed at here. But that is the topic for another space.

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