Singing as a team
I was terribly excited to have the opportunity to meet and work with the Cairn Chorus in Moniaive. I always find that choirs working in small, perhaps isolated communities are about so much more than music-making, passionate though they may be about this in any context. Members of this choir travel long distances to be here (through some absolutely stunning scenery!) and have a strong sense of commitment and a wonderful local reputation. When we met, they were preparing for their Christmas concert which is very popular in the community.
They had asked for help with communication and confidence issues so we began by working through a couple of pieces already familiar to the choir. When group communication – hearing other parts clearly for tuning and balance, daring to look up from the page, being ever-ready to receive signals from the conductor – is not quite working at optimum level, this can engender a tentative approach to singing. “I won’t sing too loud and then I won’t be heard doing it wrong” or “I’ll just keep my head down/stand at the back and then I won’t stick out of the group in any way” or “I won’t ask about that thing I don’t understand in case I look silly for not knowing” – these are the sneaky, insidious thoughts that undermine our confidence all too easily.
And these are the first things to let go of and brush away! Being open-hearted and generous in our singing, offering every note, phrase, melody and harmony to each other, to our conductor and to our hearers is what it is all about! Who cares if you make a mistake? No-one will bleed or die from the odd choral glitch. We should have confidence that every member of the group is doing their very best in the moment and that is something to celebrate.
Among the ways we crafted the sound palette of each piece were:
• standing in different places in relation to each other for different items
• making eye contact across the group in shared harmonies or answering phrases
• feeling free to physicalise rhythm and expression
• giving ourselves characters in the drama of each piece
• being ‘mini-musicologists’ in working out why the composer had repeated a phrase or made the chord change in that way at that moment
• remembering to remember (!) that good posture and muscle technique will often change a dodgy moment for the better
So we worked through several pieces, including learning Gole Sangam with its sinuous rhythms, and laughed and played and tested and celebrated the generosity of everyone’s contribution. A joyful, joyful day. Many thanks indeed.