Thursday, June 16, 2005

choir concerts

I attended a concert by one of the choirs I am researching last night with the intention of documenting their performance specifically. What I got was yet another example of cross-cultural interaction through music. The choir I was there to see and two local boys' choirs performed with an American Gospel choir from Pennsylvania state. The first thing that jumped out at me about the choir I was documenting's repertoire was how many African American Spirituals they performed. These numbers are always popular with South African audiences, partly because of their vibrancy (even subdued numbers are usually sung full-voice, the music is rhythmically interesting, and the melodies are memorable and lyrical), but I was certain the American choir was more interested in hearing South African music. They did sing a few South African numbers, including two versions of "Ntylo Ntylo", one ballad-like, and one fast and energetic, with complex movements, but while the audiences smiles and movements during the latter piece, and their applause at the end suggested that they enjoyed this number particularly, I noted that the majority of improvised vocalizations of the type traditionally used to indicate approval and enjoyment, came from the choir, and not the audience, as is usual, and that these seemed to do more to get the audience going than the music alone. On the other hand, the gospel sung by the American choir got a similar audience reaction to the African music, though the majority of the spontaneity was directly connected to the music in that it involved actual vocal and musical interpolation and improvisation, and while there were a few interjections, these were from the audience (and mainly the visiting American audience, at that), and not the choir. The choir did, once or twice, interject improvised clapping sequences that I interpreted as having a similar function to the South African choir's vocal interjections. The American choir made some use of movement during their performance, thought it was generally simple swinging or swaying movements, and less choreographed than the South African choir's movement.

I really got the feeling, during this concert, that Gospel music, with it's roots in the African American tradition, is to multi-racial American culture what "African Traditional" music is to Multi-racial South African culture: somewhat representative of "their culture", in a tensely divisive/unifying relationship with national identities, but evocative, and demanding of a response.

Note to self: Teach chamber choir to ululate!

No comments: