In the post where I was giving a little account about my time at the Westminster Choir Festival this summer, I mentioned the need to master my voice in such a way that I could sing well with a choir. A commenter, babydramatic, said this: "Since for good or for ill, most of my singing will be in a choir (or as one of their featured soloists) I have needed to do this and have been largely successful."
"Since for good or for ill, most of my singing will be in a choir."
This could be the refrain of the avocational singer.
Most of my thrust in trying to master my singing voice has been with the idea of solo singing in mind. But more of my singing and performing time is spent singing with others in my women's choir, and now a second choir which I have just joined.
So, paralleling my work on my solo voice, has always been a gradually growing appreciation of the skills that are necessary to sing with an ensemble. Since "for good or for ill" most of my time will be spent singing with an ensemble, I have become interested in learning how to do that well and, most recently, learning how to do that well with higher level singers in a higher level choir.
To that end, after having experienced the Mozart's Requiem with orchestra in a beautiful performing space this past summer, singing alongside many experienced and professional level choral singers, I am expanding my singing realm by exploring the choral world. I have invested in a couple of books about choir: The Robert Shaw Reader -- which I am currently reading and finding quite fascinating -- and, waiting on the shelf, is Shirlee Emmons' Prescriptions for Choral Excellence. A new book I've spotted that is coming out will go on my wish list: The Solo Singer in the Choral Setting: A Handbook for Achieving Vocal Health.
I have noticed that a lot of singers who have music degrees have experienced a choir education in an academic setting along the way. "Oh, I sang that when I was in college." This higher level choral experience has been kind of a gap in my musical education,. As a kind of self-schooled -- home-schooled, if you will -- musician, I have to get everything piecemeal and makeshift and I don't always know what piece of the puzzle to add next.
As much as I love solo singing, and that is my passion and first drive, reflecting over my experiences has caused me to realize that I've been conditioned to be a choral singer for most of my life.
I still remember the first moments I became enchanted by the idea that two voices could blend in harmony -- that one person could sing different tones that blended with the melody of another and add depth and complexity to the music. It happened when I was in church as a little girl, sitting beside my mother. As the congregation sang, my mother always made up a harmony, and I always thought it was so cool and sounded so nice and I wondered how she did it.
Next, I experienced harmonic singing at girl scout camp around a campfire. The counselors would teach us different parts and the music we were all able to make together was very beautiful and satisfying.
When I came home form girl scout camp, I didn't want that singing magic to end, so I would teach my three sisters all the parts and we formed our own little choir in the home. We had hours of fun on car trips harmonizing like this together.
Singing in church choirs, singing in school, being selected to go to inter-school choral events, high school choir, all county and all state choir, and finally the choir award at graduation time.
Why didn't I see it all before? That I am a choir singer! It is part of my true singer-identity (and destiny?) I love harmonizing with others. I love music that was written for different vocal parts. It sprouted up naturally and organically and it was there all along and I hardly recognized it. It is good for an avocational singer to love singing with a choir!