Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A different rehearsal

The most recent choir rehearsal I attended with the recently combined choir was completely different from any others I had hitherto attended. For starters, the director was different. While the usual director still took the warm-up session, the young man who has been hired to conduct the african program took this session. The effects were immediately obvious. He did not work with conventional scores, as the choir usually would. Instead, he had the words written on a white board in a semi-phonetic form. he had marked them with various curves, like slurs in western notation, which I later realized were linked ot matters of phrasing and intonation. And he began the rehearsal by reading through the words. They were not read exactly as written, and not every voice group read all the words. different sections were done by different groups, at different times, and repeated, sometimes for the sake of memorizing, and sometimes to correct particular enunciations, or linguistic manners. Rhythm was then added to the words, and at this point, some choristers who already knew the song, began singing. While the melodies were mostly taught by the conductor, by rote, some bits were learned by choristers from one another. At one point, a particularly tricky rhythm began causing problems, and the director decided at this point to introduce the movement. while the movement itself caused some difficulty, both rhythmically, and in body co-ordination for some people, it seemed to have the desired effect on the rhythm, as the director did not mention this again. At some point, someone asked for a translation of the words, and the director appeared to brush the request off, however, when he returned to it, his telling of the story was made the more effective by his dramatization of it. He sat down (the song mentions sitting in the dark thinking of my love), leaned forward, and spoke in a slightly hushed tone, an dthe choir listened. When he mentioned particular slang words which are incorporated in a pidgin form into the text, the choir laughed, and he encouraged them, by commenting on the words.

My initial impressions of this conductor were based in part on my own experience as a new conductor of an established choir. He did seem nervous, and while he asserted authority by refusing certain information when it was requested of him, and giving it later, when he was ready, he also appeared to adjust the order and manner in which he taught elements of the music in response to what he read from the choir. I'm not sure whether the usual director does the same, but if she does, it is not obvious. Her rehearsals feel more structured. On the other hand, the energy level was high. Not all positive energy, I sensed some people, used to the other director's very efficient rehearsal style, growing impatient with the process, particularly when the director was focusing on a different voice group, and there was quite a lot of extraneous talking, but when the dancing started, all I sensed was enjoyment. I participated in this rehearsal a lot, standing or sitting at the back of the room, behind the juncture between the alto and tenor sections, and I joined in warm-ups, and the learning of the new song as an alto. I found it amusing though, the level of anxiety that the warm-up evoked for me. I really enjoyed the experience of participating, but I was listening very closely to my own voice, and other voices I could hear around me, and keeping my voice soft so as to "blend." Every time the director turned toward the altos, I dropped my voice to almost nothing, ostensibly not to interfear with the sound of the choir, but really because I was afraid of being picked out as the voice that "doesn't blend." On the other hand, I knew the song we were working on, though in a slightly different arrangement, and with slightly different rhythms, and so I felt confident, and rather impatient to sing. I joined in the singing early on, while some choristers were still grappling with the words, and tried, though not explicitly, to help the choristers around me by singing out. I also felt far less anxiety over missed notes, or mistakes I made based on my knowing a different version that I did when I was participating in the warm-up. The whole environment was less intense, and quite fun. During the tea break, I found, to my delight, that I was no longer quite as "outside" as I had thought I was, when several people chatted to me, or included me in their conversations about matters other than the choir. I am starting to become part of the social circle, and that feels great. On the other hand, a chorister who I had chatted to about the choir before the rehearsal suddenly indicated after the rehearsal that she was no longer willing to be interviewed. It was not an unpleasant encounter in terms of the interpersonal interaction, but it was uncomfortable for the researcher in me, because it felt like I was intruding on her space. Unfortunately, in a situation like this, individual choristers have little say over their participation. The fact that their director has agreed that the choir will participate in the research means that they, as choristers, are to a certain extent, coerced. Of course they are free to refuse individual participation, and I would never try to force participation, but I feel a little uncomfortable about the fact that some people may not like being filmed, or observed, and their voices are overpowered by the whole. I don't know whether that was the reason for her refusing consent, or whether she is just uncomfortable with the idea of being interviewed, and has no problem with being part of a researched group, and I did not feel comfortable asking her that at the time, though I will attempt to broach it later, but it would be useful to know.

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