Sunday, January 20, 2008

Blind to the joys of singing in a choir?

I was listening to Radio 4 last Saturday morning and caught the end of Saturday Live. A listener, Annie Rimmer, was talking about her Inheritance Tracks: the music that she had inherited from another person, and the track that she would like to pass on. For the latter she chose part of Monteverdi’s vespers of 1610: Nisi Dominus.

Annie has a disease which means that she is slowly losing her sight. Despite this, she joined a local choral society three years ago. She said: “It thrills me to sing with that group of people. There are about 150 of us, all of us amateurs. You’re all equal. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got the most beautiful voice or the most average voice, everybody’s got a part to play. It’s the totality, everything coming together, that’s such an amazing experience”.

What a brilliant way to sum up the joys of singing in a choir!

Annie had sung the Monteverdi at a concert which coincided with her 50th birthday and said that she couldn’t keep the smile off her face. “It’s so joyful. It’s not about the words, it’s about the music”.

Because she is losing her sight, it takes Annie many, many hours to prepare the music so that she can see it. However, she knows that she’s not going to be able to do that forever. “I know that there’s going to come a time over the next few years when I’m going to have to stop. I know that’s going to feel like the most enormous loss”.

Having discovered the joys of singing and the obvious pleasure it gives her, this was the point in the programme that made me very sad (and angry!). WHY does Annie have to give up singing in a choir???!!! Once again someone has been led to believe that they have to have a written score (and be able to read it) in order to sing. Which makes me wonder how the many, many oral singing traditions throughout the world continue to exist and thrive. And did people simply not sing before the invention of musical notation?

Other than the most complex of pieces (see Complex songs and learning by ear), almost every song can be taught be ear. Even relatively complicated pieces and those in several harmony parts. In fact, when the rhythms of a piece are very difficult, it’s often easier to learn by ear!

Having heard the complexity of the Monteverdi piece mentioned above, I am convinced it would be possible to learn by ear. But if Annie finds the local choral society’s repertoire to be too difficult, then she could easily find a local Natural Voice choir to join.

There are many wholly blind choirs out there as a quick Google will show. They seem to manage OK!

go to Chris Rowbury's website

Chris Rowbury


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