Sunday, January 27, 2008

We are not here to serve the music

The Natural Voice Practitioners’ Network new code of practice is still exercising me greatly! I’ve been getting a lot of feedback on it which has given me food for thought. Some people simply don’t understand some of the points even though to me they are self-evident. For example:

“I will always work in ways that are focusing on the person rather than the music.”

There are many choirs and musicians who put the music first and attempt to create a perfect rendition of a written musical score (see Where does the music reside?). Some even claim to be trying to re-create “what the composer intended” as if that were in any way possible! In these cases the focus is on the music and the singers and musicians merely vehicles for the expression of something. There is, of course, a place for this. My approach, and that of many other community choirs and Natural Voice practitioners, is somewhat different.

I always explain to new choir members that there are three important considerations to take in to account when performing. In order of priority, these are:

  1. Enjoyment and fun come first. If you are having a good time, this will communicate to the audience and result in lots of happy and (naturally) smiling faces — both in the choir and in the audience. It also means that there will be less tension in your body which can only result in a better sound.
  2. Getting the notes in tune and in the right order is an advantage. However, the odd wrong note here and there will not always be noticed. Don’t get hung up about it. Nine times out of ten you will be right. By not worrying too much about getting it right, the chances of hitting the correct note are much higher.
  3. It would be fantastic if you didn’t have to look at your lyric sheets, but I’m not going to shout at you if you do. I’d much rather have somebody with a discreet set of words in their hand which acts as a kind of security blanket, than have someone dry or go completely wrong. By not insisting that words cannot be used, it’s surprising how much people remember and don’t have to look at all. If I ban words entirely it usually all goes terribly wrong!

My thinking behind these considerations is that we’re a community of human beings often singing songs from folk traditions where people are not ‘singers’ in any formal sense. Our aim is not just to serve the music in order to make a ‘perfect’ rendition.

Being in a choir means working as a team. Every individual is important, and yet the result is always greater than the sum of the parts. I am always listening to the overall sound, so even though you may notice the person next to you is slightly out of tune, it usually doesn’t matter in the overall mix. I’m not here to criticise or teach people how to sing ‘correctly’. I will pick people up if I think they’re getting something wrong, but usually I deal with a whole section of the choir. I can sometimes hear that something is not quite right, but not often able to spot exactly who it is!

My personal taste is such that when I hear a choir who are note ‘perfect’, all in exact time with each other, voices blending as one, then I may as well be listening to a machine. I feel that the heart and soul have been removed. I like to hear the humanity of a choir shine through, with all its human imperfections and mistakes. I’d rather hear guts and passion than note perfection. My philosophy is that we use music as a vehicle for the soul, and are not here to serve the music regardless.

go to Chris Rowbury's website

Chris Rowbury


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