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.
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. The 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.