you gotta practice to sing in the choir

A parable for Friday morning

Nancy and I were talking about a choir friend.

He directs a college-level choir. A singer has missed 20 rehearsals. He wants to sing at the concert.

His claim? “I know the music better than anyone else.”

He won’t be singing in the concert.

choir and churchIt got me thinking: what counts for singing in a choir? Knowing the music as it is on the page is an important part. Others things matter, too.

  • Knowing how the director interprets those notes.
  • Knowing how your voice sounds when you are in the middle of 16 or 80 or 300 other voices.
  • Knowing how to hold your part when mixing with three other parts.
  • Knowing how to take turns breathing so a note sounds seamless.
  • Knowing how the director indicates starting and stopping (so you don’t stick out).

A solo act doesn’t worry about these things. A solo act can stand out, can be distinctive.

To be a choir, however, means knows as much about the community of singers as you know about the notes on the page. And to be willing, for the heart-stopping beauty of blended voices, to submit yourself to not standing out, to find joy in alignment.

This kind of submitting doesn’t mean ceasing to be you. Not at all. You are fully aware of how you are making adjustments all the time. And the more you practice, the more you know how to make your contribution to the best possible blend.

But developing a rich understanding of choral music takes practice. It takes presence. It means understanding that a choir isn’t an event, it’s a community.



10 responses to “you gotta practice to sing in the choir

  1. To your point, my wife sings in a choir or vocal group. The same basic core group of people for over 15 years now.

    They know each other so well and are all fine musicians that they literally devour new pieces and churn out the same show stopping stares of awe from the audience.

    Rock on!

  2. so knowing each other is even more important that knowing the music? You mean it gives a context for learning?

    Thanks, Dave. perfect example.

  3. I think knowing each other and being comfortable with each other gives a sense of support.

    I’ve been in and out of rock bands throughout my music career and I’ve seen people come and go.

    It’s all kind of like a good marriage. Providing mutual support for the end goal can leads to wondrous things.

  4. I love the parable, Jon. It seems like there’s something to be said here about one’s motivation – and perhaps your parable says it better than I could. Underlying your many specific points is that issue of whether it’s about “me” or “we” … whether I can hear the beauty of the harmony “we” can produce that “I” never could.

  5. Fabulous parable! The last sentence says it well, “A choir isn’t an event, it’s a community.” And community doesn’t happen by missing 20 rehearsals and then trying to show up. On the contrary, community happens by showing up!

  6. Doreen Simmons

    Many years ago I was in the choir of Singapore Cathedral (the first Anglican church choir I came across that admitted women — that’s how long ago it was).

    The choirmaster was introduced to a new arrival — a middle-aged English businesman who had also been a professional church choir singer for decades. When told that choir practice was on Thursday evenings, the tycoon replied, “Oh, I’ll be too busy in the evenings to attend choir practice — but that won’t matter, I know the repertoire by heart”. “No, I’m sorry,” replied the Chinese RSCM-trained choirmaster; “it’s not just a matter of knowing what you’re singing; on Thursday evenings we practise singing _together_, and if you can’t do that, we’ll have to manage without you.” And we did.

    I hope there aren’t too many typos in this; I’ve just returned from a two-hour dress rehearsal in central Tokyo, with a choir that requires 70% attendance at rehearsals (basically, miss three and you’re out this time); plus all dress rehearsals and all (three) concerts. Since these rules were introduced we’ve got a whole lot better as a choir — and shed some really annoying people of both sexes who thought they were too good to be bound by petty rules.

    Doreen Simmons in Tokyo

  7. Doreen – thanks for your stories!

  8. Agreed! And our choir community also includes plenty of laughter as well.
    Thank you.
    Nancy R

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  10. I agree with the idea, because choir is a community. In order to make best sounds, we have to work together and feel how it’s going on. Becuase the community make a sound out of many people, a conductor should be able to organize the whole people to make best one sound.