Why do we Come to Choir?

Just recently I’ve had reason to question why I come to choir sessions. It’s often the last thing I feel like doing after a long day at work followed by a fight with the Northampton commuter traffic. Sometimes I’m hungry when I arrive, and mostly I’m tired. So why not put my feet up and chill out in front of the TV instead? Well I asked myself that very question and these were my answers:

Singing is fun – Quite simply singing in a choir is fun. It makes me smile. My fellow singers make me smile, and sometimes laugh…mostly in the wrong place.

In my day job mistakes matter and they can have disastrous consequences. In rehearsals they don’t matter. If someone (ok usually me) sings or giggles in the wrong place we can stop, start again, and have another go. We can relax and that’s good. The whole point of rehearsals I think is to make our mistakes in a fun supportive environment.

Singing is challenging – And let’s face it, sometimes it’s more challenging than others! I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking the Christmas programme is the most challenging thing we do! But if we did the same old stuff year after year we’d get bored and never improve. So challenges are good, and they come in all shapes and sizes: singing particularly tricky arrangements, singing unaccompanied, or from memory, or even singing in a foreign language. When I embrace a challenge I always feel a sense of accomplishment.

Singing is better than counselling – Most of us will face our own private challenges. Our choir draws from a broad community and in any community there will be people experiencing physical illness, mental health issues, bereavement, sick family members, relationship difficulties etc. Choir is an escape, a chance to forget our normal life for a while. It’s a form of therapy…only much cheaper!

Singing fosters friendship – I knew very few people locally before I joined RCC. I’m extremely shy, but because of the collective nature of choral singing, friendships developed naturally. I now count a fair few choir members among my friends, and my two best local friends are both from RCC.

Singing places us in the heart of the community – Whether we are taking part in the Christmas Lights event, fundraising for the church or a local charity, or singing in an residential home we are part of the wider community of Raunds, and that’s rather nice I think.


So why do you come to choir? Tell us here.

Shepherds and Symphonies…

Raunds Community Choir is currently busy rehearsing The Shepherds’ Farewell, by Hector Berlioz, to be performed as part of our Christmas repertoire. Berlioz is an intriguing composer from the French Romantic period, and he divided opinion of both the critics and the general public during his day.  Some felt he was a musical genius, others that he had little talent and that his music was bizarre and tuneless. His most famous piece, Symphonie Fantastique, was ahead of its time with its lack of form, grandiose crunchy chords and dramatic contrasts in dynamics.

Leonard Bernstein once described the Symphonie Fantastique as the first musical expedition into psychedelia because history suggests that Berlioz wrote at least part of it while under the influence of opium. According to Bernstein, ‘…Berlioz tells it like it is. You take a trip, you wind up screaming at your own funeral.’

In contrast Berlioz wrote L’adieu des Bergers (The Shepherd’s Farewell) as an unadorned organ piece for his friend Joseph-Louis Duc. For some reason at its first performance he didn’t take the credit for it but passed it off as  the work of an imaginary 17th Century composer, Ducré. Perhaps he wanted to break free from public preconceptions of his name. If that was his intention it seemed to work; one woman is reported to have said, ‘Berlioz would never be able to write a tune as simple and charming as this little piece by old Ducré.’

The Shepherds’ Farewell eventually became part of the L’enfance, which Berlioz described  as a Trilogie Sacrée (sacred trilogy). The first part tells the story of King Herod ordering the massacre of all the newborns in Judaea; the second part tells how Mary, Joseph, and Jesus set out for Egypt to avoid the slaughter, having been warned by angels; and the final part tells of their arrival in the Egyptian town of Sais.

It really is a charming piece of music and has a beautiful haunting quality which I hope we can convey.


Singing – The Primal Mystery

If anyone has yet to discover TED lectures I urge you check them out. World experts talking on every topic imagineable:  Medicine, engineering, sociology, politics, philosophy, languages, the arts…the list is endless. Bite-size lectures of 5-10 minutes and more in-depth ones of 30-45 minutes on pretty much any topic which might capture your interest.

You might have guessed I’m a huge fan. I use them to stay up to date with current thinking in my own field of work. But the archives on all the other subjects are so enticing they are well worth mining.

Quite by chance I came across this short ‘talk’ by Claron McFadden – a charismatic American soprano. It’s not a talk per se, but an exploration of the human voice and connection: between the singer and audience, the audience and the singer, the singer and the music.

At the end she sings John Cage’s Aria. Cage composed Aria in 1958, for a voice of any range. As McFadden says in her talk, he wrote it for Cathy Berberian, one of the most talented voices in the 20th century.

Cage used a sequence of curved lines, each one roughly describing the pitch path. There is no conventional notation, the singer decides whereabouts to pitch the first note and all movements from then on are relative. Through different colours placed on the curves, the score tells the performer to change style but it’s left up to the singer which style relates to each colour!

Cathy Berberian, for example, chose to interpret it in this way:
dark blue = jazz;
red = alto;
black with a parallel dotted line = sprechstimme;
black = dramatic;
violet = Marlene Dietrich;
yellow = coloritura;
green = folk;
orange = oriental;
blue = baby;
brown = nasal.

In the score the black squares indicate noisy events such as clapping, tapping, clicking or even shouting and sneezing, again chosen by the performer. The text contains vowels, consonants, words and phrases in five different languages: Armenian, Russian, English, French and Italian.

It’s a fascinating ten minutes.