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Choir in the community...

Johnny J 30 May 13 - 09:59 AM
Ron Davies 30 May 13 - 10:19 AM
GUEST 30 May 13 - 10:40 AM
GUEST,Grishka 30 May 13 - 11:20 AM
Paul Reade 30 May 13 - 11:47 AM
Marje 30 May 13 - 12:59 PM
Johnny J 30 May 13 - 01:55 PM
andrew e 30 May 13 - 07:06 PM
GUEST 30 May 13 - 07:17 PM
Johnny J 01 Jun 13 - 06:26 AM
Saro 01 Jun 13 - 09:46 AM
Johnny J 01 Jun 13 - 10:27 AM
GUEST,Grishka 01 Jun 13 - 11:27 AM
Jack Campin 01 Jun 13 - 11:31 AM
Marje 01 Jun 13 - 11:31 AM
GUEST,Grishka 01 Jun 13 - 12:22 PM
Saro 01 Jun 13 - 02:34 PM
Joe Offer 01 Jun 13 - 03:40 PM
GUEST,Grishka 01 Jun 13 - 05:20 PM
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Subject: Choir in the community...
From: Johnny J
Date: 30 May 13 - 09:59 AM

I'm quite puzzled as to why this phenomenon has take off so much in recent years.

Is it partly due to the demise of orthodox religion or a rise in multiplicity of different faiths?

Community choirs appear to attract many of the same type who would previously only been found in church choirs, WRI, Women's Guilds etc(Very few are men). All that's missing is the "Jam and Jerusalem".

There are a wide variety of options but it generally seems to be a social thing and people obviously like to gather together in herds.

Some are "folkie" in nature. Up here, we have Sangstream, Sang Schule, Sang Shecht, and so on but there are other choirs which attempt to tackle all varieties of song from jazz, pop, rock, opera etc.
I've even started going along to a local singing group myself..if you can't beat them, join them.

One thing they all have in common is that in attempt to be inclusive, the tutors or choir masters all introduce "naff arrangements" which 90% of the time just serve to ruin a good song.
Also, it seems compulsory to include "rounds" and lots of nonsense songs or ones with exotic foreign lyrics which nobody can either pronounce or understand.

The participants seem to thrive on it though and "radiate" with joy in very much the same way as "happy clappy" Christian groups would do.

Grump, grump.


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: Ron Davies
Date: 30 May 13 - 10:19 AM

Another side benefit of the growth of atheism--dumbing down songs and "naff arrangements".    Lucky you.

Just think, up to now you wouldn't have had to hear about choirs except at Christmas with King's College Cambridge etc. Unless you went to church.

Of course we can hope that some people who join these groups realize music has a lot more potential--and seek it out themselves.

Though they may not wind up singing Tallis and Byrd, maybe some will eventually get to Vaughn Williams arrangements of songs.    But of course they will have to learn to read music.   Maybe that's also a limiting factor.


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: GUEST
Date: 30 May 13 - 10:40 AM

"I've even started going along to a local singing group myself..if you can't beat them, join them."

Johnny J., you seem to be only halfway out of your coccoon. Get back to us when process is complete.

In the meantime, I am glad that you are discovering the wonderful world of choral singing - something that only humans do. Other creatures might sing at the same time or near to each other, but only humans sing together.


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 30 May 13 - 11:20 AM

Music makers of high and modest ambitions can normally coexist peacefully, and even profit from each other (unless they compete for specific resources such as gigs, air time, beautiful sopranists ...). Of course, finding suitable partners and arrangements is harder for ambitious projects than for "inclusive" ones, but given current Internet resources, it should be easier than ever before. Make an effort, don't blame the merry-makers (out of envy?).

About one thing I agree: nobody deserves naff arrangements; choirmasters who are not firm in their judgment should be hinted to seek advice.


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: Paul Reade
Date: 30 May 13 - 11:47 AM

One advantage of singing in a choir is that it can get you "match fit" for singing. If I go to a singers' night / session, I might get two or three songs in an evening - when I sang in a choir we did two hours with a ten-minute break in the middle. Hard work at first but if you stick at it, it's excellent training.


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: Marje
Date: 30 May 13 - 12:59 PM

I think that in our area the success of community choirs may be contributing to the demise of folk clubs, and singing in pub sessions. Many people are happy to sing in a group but uneasy about performing a solo song, and if what they want is just to join in and sing with others, they'll get a lot more of this in a community choir than in any folk club or session.

Before such choirs were around, you had to be able to read music and often pass an audition to get into a choir, but now anyone can have a go and be singing along with the group right from the start. You don't have to decide what to sing, or improvise a harmony as you might in a folk session, it's all sorted for you. There's also much less reliance on church music as the core repertoire than there is in formal choirs. All this makes a community choir an attractive option for people who just want to have a good sing along with others.

I'm not commenting (yet, anyway) on whether this is a good development or not, just remarking that this is how singing as a community activity seem to have changed over the last 10 or 15 years or so.

Marje


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: Johnny J
Date: 30 May 13 - 01:55 PM

Spot on, Marie. That's my impression too.


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: andrew e
Date: 30 May 13 - 07:06 PM

Just wondering what a "naff arrangement" is?


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: GUEST
Date: 30 May 13 - 07:17 PM

and noone has mentioned that man Gareth Malonehere in the uk

They are everywhere and its good for any community

now to get em to realise that there are folk clubs too


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: Johnny J
Date: 01 Jun 13 - 06:26 AM

Thanks for the responses.

My first post was maybe a little bit harsh but I enjoy playing The Devil's advocate from time to time to see what sort of reaction I get.

I agree that, on the whole, they are probably a good thing and many people like to have a "sense of community". I'm actually more of an individual myself but, hopefully, not too selfish(At least not in Thatcher's "no such thing as society" sense).

I'm still not sure of the reasons why these have become so popular though and I do have some reservations about them.
Many of these choirs are very good and the product can sound very slick. However, I'm often not very keen of much of the repertoire and some of the arrangements which, in many cases is overdone.
Of course, every choir and music group is different, and there will always be good or bad. Some tutors are also naturally talented and creative while others merely "mimic" and rehash much of the same nonsense they've only just recently learned themselves at some "singy" workshop or other.

I guess I'm not over keen on "group work" and find this a bit stifling as far as individual expression and creativity is concerned.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with individual musicians and singers forming a group with like minded people or having such a group assist them musically, i.e. backing, accompaniment etc.
It's being taught a piece of music or song with specific arrangements and being made to do it the "group way".

However, as has often been said, if one doesn't like it he/she doesn't need to get involved.
:-)


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: Saro
Date: 01 Jun 13 - 09:46 AM

Before i comment I should declare an interest - I run community choirs, write arrangements for them, and have just finished running a course for community choir leaders so please bear in mind that I have a certain prejudice in favour of these organisations!

Regarding the "naff arrangements" I think there are lots of potential difficulties associated with arranging songs for community choirs. One is that you don't always have as wide a range of voices as you find in some classical choirs (this may just be because you have members who have not sung for a while and just need time and work to extend their ranges), and also there are probably a lot of people who don't read music, which makes some of teh more complex arrangements less accessible.   Johnny J, when you you say the arrangements are "overdone" do you mean used too often, or over-atranged, losing sight of the original song. It occurs to me that Sangstream sing at least one of mine, so i hope it wasn't one that you consider naff!

Because of my interest in folksong, we sing quite a lot of folk arrangments, and one of my criteria is "if the choir were invited to sing at a folk festival, would this arrangement fit in with the prevailing culture, and would non-members be able to join in the chorus"   

I don't know about contributing to the demise of folk clubs, it may be that the rise in community choir membership and the decline in folk club membership are happening at the same time, but without necessarily a causal link. However, I do think they allow a lot of people to enjoy singing, who might not have done so otherwise, and i can't see that that is a bad thing.


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: Johnny J
Date: 01 Jun 13 - 10:27 AM

I actually like listening to Sangstream and have a great respect for their leader and all the work she does. They are certainly one of the better outfits.

"or over-arranged, losing sight of the original song"

This is probably my main pet hate and I've actually been more concerned about this since I've started doing some of this myself. It might seem to some people that I'm lacking in imagination but I often feel that the actual melody of a song stands up well enough on its own and, personally, I'd much rather concentrate on doing this as opposed to performing harmony parts.
There are, of course, a wide range of voices and options and I daresay the inclination is to make things more elaborate and inclusive. However, it sometimes can become very distracting and even tedious both for the performers and listeners.

Also, I'm not very keen on "rounds" which often include nonsense lyrics or snippets of foreign songs. Why sing in a language which neither yourself or the listener understands?
Again, one or two such items is fine but there seems to be a surfeit of such songs these days.

However, as I've already said, there's good and bad in all areas of music and I maybe shouldn't generalise.


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 01 Jun 13 - 11:27 AM

There are two kinds of folk song arrangements:
  1. As separate works of art, usually by named composers such as Grainger, Vaughan-Williams, Britten.
  2. As mere renderings of the song, the harmonies / accompaniment sounding folk-like, as if improvised. (Some folk traditions actually include fixed harmonies; the traditional rounds may be viewed as the only English contributions to that category.)
Arrangers, performers, and listeners should know which of these genres they are currently dealing with. The word "choir" is often, but not necessarily, associated with the first idea. Both disciplines, and all other kinds of music, profit greatly from a tasteful and competent arranger/composer who can make the music sound interesting in spite of the performers' limited technical abilities.

Rounds are part of the folk heritage, and so is nonsense poetry. Quality and tastes vary.


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: Jack Campin
Date: 01 Jun 13 - 11:31 AM

Maybe the reason for the foreign material is repertoire envy.

There are a lot of cultures around the world with a genuine tradition of folk polyphony that goes back centuries or millennia - Georgia, the Basque Country, several regions of the Balkans, large parts of Africa, Polynesia, North America. Apart from the Gaelic psalm tradition, Scotland is not one of them. Anybody making a harmonized or polyphonic choral arrangement of a Scots song is dragging it kicking and screaming into somebody else's musical culture. Ultimately it just gets easier to bow to the inevitable and get your choral repertoire from some culture that knows how to do it right.


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: Marje
Date: 01 Jun 13 - 11:31 AM

I agree with what you say about the foreign-language songs, Johnny J. I do speak several languages and am happy to sing in them if the opportunity arises, but I'm not fond of being asked to sing an "African healing song", or a "Maori wedding chant", or a "Hungarian lullaby", etc. Mostly the words are sung on a purely phonetic basis with no knowledge of what the individual words mean, or which ones carry the important sense of the lyrics. As you say, a little of this is fine and adds variety, but too much tends to make it difficult for me to stay engaged with the songs. That's why I'm heartened to hear that Saro is using a lot of our own traditional songs in her work wtih choirs.

Marje


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 01 Jun 13 - 12:22 PM

Jack, well put. In your list of harmony singing traditions, you can include Southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and most Slavic cultures. OTOH, Scots share a culture, in a broader sense, with the whole of Western Europe and with the whole English-influenced world. Thus, there is nothing wrong in principle with a Scottish choir singing, say, American songs, if they find a tasteful and meaningful way to do it. As for Hungarian songs, I agree with Marje that it is much more questionable, unless one sticks to Bartók's (quite "artful" and difficult) arrangements/compositions.

Whoever can, should also try some of the easier English madrigals, and other "classical" music.


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: Saro
Date: 01 Jun 13 - 02:34 PM

Grishka writes:There are two kinds of folk song arrangements:
As separate works of art, usually by named composers such as Grainger, Vaughan-Williams, Britten.
As mere renderings of the song, the harmonies / accompaniment sounding folk-like, as if improvised. (Some folk traditions actually include fixed harmonies; the traditional rounds may be viewed as the only English contributions to that category.)

This seems a mite prescriptive to me, but perhaps I am misunderstanding the intention.
Is there nothing between the classically based work of RWW etc and a "mere rendering"?


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: Joe Offer
Date: 01 Jun 13 - 03:40 PM

For as long as I can remember, barbershop singers in the U.S. have done choral singing in addition to their quartet work. But their work tends to be on the corny side, and I think these newer community choirs are seeking to do more sophisticated music that isn't exclusively religious.

Our church choir director recently joined a choir called Colla Voce, the first time in decades that she's sung in something she wasn't in charge of. Many of the members of the group also belong to church choirs, and the director was just hired to play piano at our church part-time. There are Colla Voce groups in a number of places in the U.S. - I don't know if or how they are affiliated.

So, out of loyalty to our choir director, several of us went to the Colla Voce concert at the Methodist church a couple of weeks ago - and it was delightful. They sang all sorts of stuff, from Sting's "Fields of Gold," to Billy Joel's "For the Longest Time," to something from Les Miserables, to a poorly-pronounced solo of "Salve Regina" (I think I'll volunteer to be their Latin and German coach for their next concert). And a storyteller gave her rendition of "Joseph and the Overcoat."

All in all, it was a delightful concert, and it gave the area's best singers a chance to do something that wasn't exclusively religious.

Mudcat's Animaterra has led a women's chorus in New Hampshire for many years. I bought their CD, and it was terrific.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Choir in the community...
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 01 Jun 13 - 05:20 PM

Saro, of course there is a huge variety of arrangement styles and degrees of sophistication. Still, I see an almost clear-cut line between "mere rendering with harmonies and accompaniment" and even the most modest "arty arrangement". The former claims some sort of authenticity, as characterized by your
"if the choir were invited to sing at a folk festival, would this arrangement fit in with the prevailing culture, and would non-members be able to join in the chorus"
Clearly this might not work if you visited a folk club in Hungary with a "Hungarian Lullaby".

Most of my own arrangements are recognizable as artistic efforts of their own, without the intention to rival RVW's work. I have no choice, because I lack the characteristic smell of any folk tradition. I try to make some kind of dialogue with the original folkloristic style.

Many approaches are legitimate and have their proper place each. Inevitably, every style is disliked by some. The only ideology that finds my serious criticism is "it's for untrained amateurs, so I need not worry about a good arrangement". With the advent of computer music typesetting including playback, many choirmasters - and even commercial sheet music publishers! - believe themselves RVWs without appropriate training.


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