A critical moment for choral singing

The last twenty months have presented challenges to everyone, and neither more nor less than amateur and professional classical musicians. Some professionals have been able, even intermittently, to offer ensemble performances to nourish their loyal audience – and those of us who have lived the challenges that they overcome on a daily basis, even in normal times, listen in awe to what they realized. while being socially distant from each other. Thank you!

The inability of choirs to function in any meaningful way has deprived amateur singers of all ages, across the country, of their chance to make music together on a regular basis, and in a context where musical standards are inextricably linked to interactions. social – the realization of the former rarely occurring (or being sustained) if the latter are neglected. While the vaccine rollout gives hope that choirs can start meeting again this fall (some have, but others have a target date of early 2022), now is the time to plan appropriately and effectively. but it is also the time to think again about the best way to concentrate.

Sometimes it is okay to state the obvious: the symbiotic relationship between composers, performers and audiences must be the foundation of everything. As the choirs recover, let the goal be that they use themselves, as performers, to re-establish the vital connection between composers and audience. Everyone is tired of listening to only music recordings and misses the live experience, and we must never lose sight of the fact that there is so much “magic” to being part of an audience. listening to a live show that there is while being a member of the performing group that delivers it.

Making public music is all about communication. The choirs must convey the meaning of the texts and the spirit of their setting to music to an audience. The umbilical cord between the performers and the audience has been broken, if not damaged, but it is not cut. Choral competitions will recover – some perhaps faster than others – but if audiences do not rebuild quickly, effectively and in a meaningful way, the future of classical music in Ireland will be much bleaker than it ever was. never has been.

Objectives for choirs
I passionately believe that every choir should aspire to: (i) be rooted in its community – and, through its roots, gain and nurture a loyal following; (ii) renewing oneself continuously – not aging together; and (iii) sing as well as possible.

I respectfully suggest that the time has come for each choir to identify and create the profile that will allow them to achieve these three goals simultaneously, i.e. a combination of performances and / or concert tours and / or competitions. Today more than at any other time, each choir will have to reconstitute itself and tackle the eternal problems of recruiting new (younger) blood and internal balance. That said, the need to rebuild an audience – in your own community first, then in ever-growing circles – should certainly be of equal importance to every choir. There will have to be new standards: do we really have to think of nocturnal performances, which start at traditional times and last at least two hours? It takes imaginative thinking, beyond what has been, to embrace days, hours, durations – and places – that will suit and appeal to the widest and most diverse audience possible. Give more and shorter performances than before and, hopefully, reach a larger audience, more frequently, to (re-) build both brand and loyalty.

The goal for each choir to sing as well as possible requires short and long term collective aspirations which are not only the responsibility of the conductor, but are accepted by each chorister. Slow but sure improvement in intonation, tone, blending, projection, ensemble, diction and unified pronunciation should be achieved from each repetition to the next, and all performances should represent tangible improvement on all fronts. The magnitude of this improvement is different for each choir, but it should not and should not be a negative or stagnant situation. If so, close the store and do something else. Performances must be both faithful to the composer and communicated effectively, but they must also mature with the passage of time and constant reassessment.

The repertoire should be chosen that speaks to both the choir and the audience – if a piece has genuine musical integrity and sincerity, genre and time do not necessarily have to be concerns or restrictions. (But if there is a glimmer of doubt about integrity or sincerity, look for the blameless examples – there are enough of them as beacons in the vast seas of scoria.) Must be appropriate and achievable. If your choir has never performed a piece that has harmonic challenges not represented in Schumann’s music, skip Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erden in front of them – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tackle a certain Bruckner (but maybe not ‘Christus factus est’ to begin with!). Be very aware that the majority of popular music arrangements often include harmonic vocabulary which is not necessarily easily accessible in the choral context – and this is before the issue of idiomatic textures raises its controversial head and causes frustration without end to backing vocalists who don’t understand why this doesn’t “sound right” (or appropriately lie on vocals for parts other than melody).

Whether sport, theater or music, amateur engagement has been the backbone of Irish society for centuries; May the legacy of this pandemic be the stronger and revitalized regeneration of choral music in Ireland. The European Choral Association has published a report (Singing Europe, a pilot study on collective singing in Europe) on the basis of research carried out between June 2013 and May 2015. It provides evidence that through the 28 EU country, there were 22.5 million singers and vs. 625,000 choral ensembles. The percentage of choristers in relation to the total population of the EU was calculated at 4.5%, including school choirs, church choirs and amateur and professional choirs, but for Ireland the figure was estimated at 5%. Let us not only make sure that it surpasses that in the future, but that its quality and purpose is improved and secure for the future.

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