Pastimes: Join the chorus
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
YOU ARE one of 80 voices and part of a wonderful, musical animal responding
to your leader, the conductor. The orchestra blasts away, your shared spirit
soars, the audience is hooked. You might be a chorus of Israelites, Priests of
Baal, angry townspeople, holy women, or even a Storm. The adrenalin thrill of
the concert performance is the reward for your many dedicated rehearsals.
It all started with the hard grind of note-bashing: the mystifying little
black dots and time signatures on the score, and the conductor’s unreasonable
assumption that you are going to produce music from it. But, with teaching and
cajoling, what seemed impossible at first becomes gradually attainable and
finally — wow! Was that really us?
My first seriously choral experience was in a performance by north-London
schools of Handel’s Messiah under David Willcocks. Having rehearsed
separately in our girls’ school, we were thrilled to join the huge choir, with
tenors and basses booming around us. We felt professional and obedient,
transformed by this brief relationship with a real conductor.
I’ve also sung in university choirs, amateur opera, church choirs, even in a
medieval banquet, in Latin, German, Italian, French, and even Irish — not
necessarily very well, but delighting in the challenge.
Not everybody in a choir can sight-sing, or sing like a nightingale. Not all
choirs audition their members. You need to be able to listen, both to yourself
and others: to concentrate on singing your own part and not be drowned out by
the basses, to control your urge to chat to your neighbour. You will be asked
to produce funny noises to stretch your vocal cords, make huge efforts and take
risks for the music’s sake. And because of that, a bunch of ordinary people
will become passionate and artistic.
The downsides? Choir members are expected to promote their own concerts,
possibly to sell tickets. Audiences may have to sit on hard church pews or
stackable seating (often unstacked, and then stacked again, by choir members).
Tell them to bring a cushion.
Choirs keep term times and have weekly evening rehearsals — more at
concert-times. Usually for concerts, women wear long black skirts and white
blouses, and men wear dinner jackets.
Members pay an annual subscription to pay the musical director, accompanist,
soloists, and orchestra. Henley Choral Society, to which I belong, has the
usual structure of committee, AGMs, and audits; we also hold friendly
fund-raising events. We have given some super concerts, and commissioned new
Some examples of subscriptions: North London Chorus, £140 a year ("sometimes
reduced for members on low incomes"); London Oriana, £100 first year, £150
thereafter; Highgate Choral Society, £180; East Cornwall Choral Society, £75;
Search the internet for choral societies, and you will find hundreds of
them, calling out for new members, especially men.