jupe attends a choir concert


My friend, Rhonda, was kind enough to provide comp tickets to Eileen and me for a concert given by the Holland Chorale and Holland Christian High School. Rhonda is the accompanist for the Chorale.

As usual I had mixed reactions to the concert. First of all, it was a pretty good one especially considering it was a local community choir and high school. I especially appreciated the clever choices of repertoire all centering on texts by Shakespeare.

Rhonda played well which she has a tendency to do.

Since I think a lot about choral blend I found myself listening to this aspect of the choirs quite a bit. In the pieces by the chorale alone, I was struck by the lack of overall blend of the choir. The men blended well with themselves and had a solid sound for the most part (an unusual feat). But the upper voices especially the sopranos didn’t seem to ever quite gel.

I was also struck by how the choral conductor conducted Rhonda in her solo piano passages and also the violinist in the one piece (Serenade by Vaughan Williams…. a fine piece). This felt very old school prima donna to me: conducting a colleague. It diminished a possible collaborative performance into one of self expression of the conductor. This struck me as an example of the myopia I was writing about yesterday.

The conductor conducts well. But her singers were not prepared vocally so the result was mixed. I know I’m being critical, but I always think of the great choral conductors I admire (Robert Shaw to name one).

It always boggled my mind how a good conductor can get a splendid sound from a group of amateurs singers. I use this concept to spur myself on to get any choir I conduct to sound as excellent as I can.

For my money, the conductor of the high school choir is a much finer conductor. High school choirs have their own problems. Young people can never sound as mature as their elders, vocally. The young men especially. The Holland Christian High School choir is huge, around a hundred singers. Their blend was much better than the chorale.

I have been wondering about this. I think some of it might have been the acoustics which were not extremely chorally friendly. The high school choir performs regularly in that room I’m sure.

At any rate, the high school choir had much more consistent blend and vowel sounds than the community chorus. I always remind myself that school choirs meet much more often than church or community choirs, usually several days a week. I think that makes a difference.

Also the high school conductor was much more respectful of her accompanist and the result felt much more collaborative and musical. I say “musical” because I am captive of the notion that music is a verb not a thing.

As Christopher Small insisted we are all part of the dance of the verb of music. I believe that notion.

Christopher Small (1927-2011) author of Musicking: the Meanings of Performing and Listening (1998)

Finally they ended the evening with combining the choirs. A hundred fifty singers is usually a good sound. The more singers, the more “forgiveness” of rough edges and the more individual voices become merged into a blend. This combined choir was no exception to that rule. Unfortunately their fortes drowned Rhonda’s fine playing. This was made up for when the piano played alone (carefully conducted by the conductor, ahem) and the playing was stellar.

I found it very interesting that the two choirs complemented each other’s weaknesses and strengths so well. ┬áThe men of the chorale gave the high school choir its needed maturity. And the blend of the women of the high school helped with the sound of upper voices of the chorale.

I thought that was pretty cool.

4 thoughts on “jupe attends a choir concert

  1. Well, I do need to chip in here and say that the conductor with whom I work, I think is fabulous. I only took the job because of her, and I really enjoy playing under her. She has a great musical sense, she is extremely collaborative (she really is not at all prima dona, or have power issues, or any of those other sterotypical conductor things), and for my money, she gets a pretty good sound from what she has to work with (the Taverner is a very tricky piece…) It’s so funny to me that every time you come to a concert, you comment somewhat negatively about her, because I always think that you will like her! Her musical taste is eclectic and 21st century-oriented, and I like her programming very much. But anyway – thanks for coming, and glad you enjoyed my playing!

  2. I know that you respect and admire her. But since I don’t really understand your own aesthetic very well, I think you and I may look at many issues very differently. I’m pretty sure she could get a better sound out of that group of people. But maybe it’s just the acoustics. I am a trained conductor and have strong opinions about what conducting is. I have to ask, if she is so collaborative, why is she conducting your accompaniment? Did you notice that the other conductor who is younger that evening did not? Her conducting felt more connected to both the accompanist and the choir. Also, while I thought the repertoire choices were clever, I still think they were very 20th century in their approach to programming. I am convinced that for “academic” music to persist it must shake off the late 19th century and 20th century approach to music in general and program more honestly and less pretentiously. I recognized almost every composer and the styles. Rhonda, where was the improvisation that is so important in music? Where was the moment of “aha”? The writing of Diemer and some of the others is pretty weak. Jes saying. I know this wildly idealistic but it is how I think.

  3. Just cause I’m feeling grumpy today…
    I thought the first piece of the program was pretty dang cool. And the Rutter (not by any means a favorite composer of mine) was very interesting.
    As to where the improvisation was – well, there wasn’t any, and while I appreciate imporvisation done well, I don’t think that’s necessary to make a good concert.
    You probably are listening for different aspects of a choral sound than I am, so I’ll grant you that maybe the blend wasn’t as good as it could have been.
    But I will say that, no matter your impression from the audience, Meredith is a very collaborative conductor – and I’d rather work with a conductor who IS collaborative than one who LOOKS collaborative. I’ve worked with a lot of conductors. I know what the difference feels like.
    Ahem. The marimba business hasn’t gotten me in a bad mood or anything.

    1. I’m having trouble recalling the first piece (I went looked at the program). You are probably entirely correct that it was cool. And it may have been prissy of me to mention improvisations. I also don’t think it’s necessary for a good concert. And I don’t doubt that your friend is collaborative. I am impressed with orchestras that perform without a conductor. I worked under Lockington once and was impressed with his ability to connect with the GR symphony (although there is a faction in it that apparently detests him). You are welcome at any point to be grumpy in the comments. Sorry about the marimba thing. My head, of course, has moved on from the composing of that piece. I was interested to hear it actually performed, but I am thinking of other things these days. Best from the old guy

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