Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Genre Effect

If you have been a part of a choral group for any length of time, you have probably seen a parade of choral pieces pass through your performance folder, as I have.  Some might be familiar, others new and interesting, but not all of them are going to be to our musical taste, in our vocal wheelhouse, or even what we like listening to. For example, I find it difficult to sing pieces that require an English boy choir sound; straight tone, clear, and light.  I find them beautiful, but it is an effort to keep the vibrato in check and to lighten up enough to blend with the lighter voices that carry these kind of pieces. I don't care for country music, either. I find the harmonies predictable, vowels horribly executed, and each song sounds pretty much like the previous one. 

Recently, the community chorus with which I have been singing prepared an American music themed concert.  Not entirely patriotic, but music that is readily associated with America and American culture.  One in particular was definitely not to my liking.  It was an old mountain song, arranged in the style of a country hoe-down.  It even had clapping, stomping, and "hee-haw's" written into the score. Theatrical, to say the least. With my theatre background, I should have played it up happily, but I probably didn't give it my best.  Funny thing is, after each performance, that was one of the pieces most mentioned by the audience members as something they really enjoyed hearing.

On the same concert, the chorus did another piece that none of the choristers liked upon the first read through.  It was unpredictable, didn't seem to have a melody, and the harmonies were strange.  Even the accompaniment didn't seem to have much in common with the choral parts.  It was a real struggle to learn, and the piece took a while to come to terms with.  But with the work came an understanding of it, a feel for it, and we began to enjoy it. The piece became one of our favorites of the season, and was probably the best piece of the concert series.

So, what to do when the director presents us with a selection that isn't to our liking or taste?  Gasp in horror?  Whisper to your choral neighbor how much you despise this particular genre/composer/style?  Sigh, and decide to 'soldier through it', plodding as you go?  Sadly, one of these is probably our first reaction.  However, I've been discovering that perhaps we should be looking for the gem we can appreciate in every piece we perform.  It may be something quite small; a turn of phrase, the one pleasing chord, the simplicity of unison, or notes sung clearly and true.  Whatever it is, embrace it gladly, and let that one thing carry your joy of singing throughout the piece.  It will amaze and surprise you. You may never find the piece to your liking overall, but rejoice in knowing you have given your very best, and the music is all the better for it.

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