Sunday, July 20, 2008

Singing in the company of strangers

“Being able to make 40 people who do not know each other sing so well together was amazing”

“An excellent day proving that 50 strangers can blend very well indeed in close harmony”

These are just two comments I’ve had recently from singing workshops that I’ve run. It seems that people are really surprised when a bunch of strangers can make music together in such a relatively short time. However, for me, that is the joy of harmony singing.

I’m just back from doing a performance in London with two choirs who live 50 miles apart. I lead one of these community choirs (Woven Chords), and founded the other (WorldSong), so we have a few common songs in our repertoire. It makes life a little easier that I taught both choirs the songs and they both use the same structure, key and arrangements. Even so, it is always rather wonderful when they came together for the first time in a year for a brief rehearsal and seamlessly blend into a single choir. They knew their parts, they knew how the songs and harmonies fitted together, but they didn’t necessarily know the person standing next to them!

I have witnessed this effect at work on an even larger scale. In 2002 Sing for Water, a mass concert performed at the Thames Festival in London, was first launched by Helen Chadwick. Each year since then, up to 800 singers from across the UK have come together to sing and raise money for WaterAid. Each person learns their part of the songs independently, or with the choir that they belong to. Then on the day of the performance, there is a relatively brief rehearsal where the massed choir comes together for the first time to run through the songs. It always amazes me how relatively trouble-free this rehearsal is and how quickly the songs come together.

For me, this is the beauty of harmony singing, especially when it doesn’t require instrumental accompaniment. Any group of people – friends or strangers – can get together anywhere and make music.

This also touches on a couple of previous posts I made about whether you need to know your fellow singers to be able to make music (Getting to know you and The singers shall remain nameless). For me the answer is a resounding NO!

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Chris Rowbury


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