If I say ‘choir’, an image will pop into most people’s minds.
- a bunch of fidgety 7-year-olds screeching out a barely recognisable version of Once in Royal David’s City at the school nativity play
- a group of loud old white men with fruity voices singing in Welsh
- rows and rows of posh people holding music books and singing in superior upper-class accents
- an angelic cluster of fresh-faced boys with ruffles around their necks facing sideways onto the congregation during a very serious, important service in a big, old church
- a sea of exuberant black faces dressed in identical floor-length robes moving and singing with uncontained joy whilst battling against some loud guitars and an over-amplified drum kit
I may well have missed out your favourite image, but you get the idea!
These common images either leave me cold or make me feel excluded. They’re either really bad examples of what a choir can be, or seem to be a special club which wouldn’t have me as a a member.
the choral world
I flail around the web trying to find like-minded souls, but if I use search terms such as ‘choir’ or ‘choral’ I stumble into parallel universes that I simply don’t relate to.
This is the impression I get:
- much of the choral world exists in the USA (with a small, but significant outcrop in Singapore)
- most choirs are faith-based, usually Christian, and based in churches
- most choirs use written music which is often referred to as ‘choral literature’ and is usually Western Classical music
- choirs are formal, old-fashioned and predictable with an aging membership and aging audience
- there are countless choral festivals across the world, many in Europe, but rather than just celebrating choral singing, they insist on measuring, comparing, testing and judging choirs through competition
OK, OK, you’re bound to tell me that your choir isn’t like that and there are exciting choirs out there who don’t fit these stereotypes. And I’m sure there are.
My point is that this is the impression created by the choral world, whether intended or not.
what’s in a name?
As soon as you use the word ‘choir’ in your group’s name, or say that you sing ‘choral music’, the danger is that all these stereotypes come into play. In which case, you may well be putting off potential choir members and audiences for your performances.
I mean, what impression would you get from:
The Anytown Ladies Institute Choral Society
The Somewhere and District Municipal Choir ?
what can we do about this?
It’s going to be really, really hard to change the cliched images that are associated with the word ‘choir’. After all, they have been built up over hundreds of years.
The thing that we can change directly is the name we give to our group. There are many ways of avoiding the ‘C’ word, some more successful than others. I’ll give a few examples below, but I’d love to hear from you about other solutions.
- subverting the traditional: The Spooky Men’s Chorale or The Feral Choir
- using an evocative foreign name: Libana or Chechelele
- saying what you do: Singing for Fun or Singing Our Socks Off
- using a pun: Only Men Aloud or Vocal chords
- using an alternative word to ‘choir’: Sheeptown Songsters or The Singers’ Circle
- a mixture of the above: Kitka women’s vocal ensemble
What’s you ‘choir’ called? Do you think using the word ‘choir’ puts people off? What other alternatives are there to the dreaded ‘C’ word?
Chris Rowbury's website: chrisrowbury.com