What is something you do in rehearsals that surprises new members?
Quartet pop quizzes! One soprano, one alto, one tenor and one bass are randomly called to sing a chosen piece that we have already learned, in front of the whole group!
Choir Name: Haraya
Style: A cappella; SATB; all genres— Renaissance, Pop, World Music, Folk, Classic, Contemporary, even Opera!
Number of singers: 25
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A juicy fact about a composer/arranger you love to tell your choir members
Schubert was only 5”1, was very prolific and composed all these beautiful melodies, and died quite young at 31 because of Syphilis – many composers are quite naughty! Great things come in small packages, do not underestimate the power and reach of a small thing!
A favorite piece of repertoire & why
One piece always puts a smile on my face — “Kaisa Isa Niyan” by Nilo Alcala II. This song is wonderfully fun, challenging, with beautiful textures and dissonances.
A favorite inspirational quote
“One needs more than ambition and talent to make a success of anything, really. There must be love and a vocation.” — Jessye Norman
What was a very special performance and what made it special?
Haraya stepped out of our usual a capella SATB comfort zone and took the role of opera chorus for Opera Diaspora’s Die Fledermaus production at top London venue Wilton’s Music Hall. It was very special as it was the first time the singers had to put on costumes, act, dance, and participate in a production. Many of the Haraya members had never even seen an opera/operetta before or heard a live orchestra, nor had any experience working with professional opera singers.
What was the response?
The choir’s performance gathered rave reviews. We received outstanding feedback from our musician colleagues, production staff and audiences!
Something you do with your choir that others might find bizarre or strange!
We do father Christmas “Ho Ho Ho” as a warm up exercise. I also encourage singers to yawn in rehearsal, and sometimes practice vocal passages with our tongue out!
A funny moment in rehearsal
We do have loads of funny moments and lots of laughs in our rehearsals as we have members who provide cheeky comments with clever comic timing. We sometimes laugh off very enthusiastic wrong entry mistakes, some mispronunciation of words, when I have given the starting pitch for a song thinking of a different piece in mind in rehearsal and it all goes terribly wrong!
How about in a performance?
When our tenor soloist for one piece completely forgot all the words, he continued with the melody singing gibberish syllables whilst carrying on with the choreography! He was so good, everyone in the audience thought there was a microphone technical issue and didn’t have a clue that all the usual words were gone!
How does your choir bond as a group?
Aside from seeing each other regularly for weekly rehearsals, we bond over food! We bring treats and snacks to rehearsals, and when there are birthdays, we make an effort to have a nice spread and eat together. We also sometimes visit each other’s homes and have a karaoke party. Last year, we made a group bonding trip to Paris, sight seeing together, enjoying French food and lots of picture taking! On another note, I encourage the choir members to arrange their own sectionals outside regular rehearsals so they can bond and support colleagues from the same voice section musically.
A turning point in the life of your choir?
Musically speaking, after the singers performed with an orchestra in a big hall, the general level of alertness, musicianship and awareness increased. We are an a capella group so singing with live orchestra musicians reinforced the need for everyone to watch and follow the conductor, give due attention to the text, not listen nor wait for echo to come back, and be very careful with tuning. Collaboration is a very rewarding experience.
An emotional moment you had in a performance:
A generous benefactor, who has supported the choir in our projects, dedicated a section of our Christmas concert to his daughter who suddenly passed away at a very young age. Christmas is usually a happy time for everyone but to some, it can also be an occasion where loss is felt considerably. Three songs were sung to honour her memory. We were all touched by this poignant gesture to remember a young happy life senselessly lost too soon.
An emotional moment in rehearsal:
We were preparing for a full concert and there was a rehearsal where things were just not at all great. Some things which were already corrected and fixed in the past had come up again, members were getting the bug/virus that was going around, and the usual full choral sound we have was gone at that particular time. The tickets were already sold out, some professional musician colleagues had confirmed attendance, and everyone was stressed about how fast the concert date was approaching yet many singers had still not learned their parts properly and some of the usual dependable ones were ill. This served as a wake up call and kick started everyone to go over their music together outside usual rehearsal time and look after their health better.
A challenging performance
We were asked to be guest performers and sing a few songs in a community event. This ended up to be one of the most difficult experiences for the choir. There was no opportunity to do a sound check. The microphones used for our set were unidirectional. They got our name wrong when they introduced us. The audience was eating dinner and loudly talking to each other, children were running around screaming and playing, staff continued to serve food whilst we were singing. We couldn’t hear each other at all!
How did you face it?
We then adjusted very quickly to this situation after the first song and made a smaller semi circle. All the very soft singing in some sections that we rehearsed had to go out the window as the noise and disruption inside the room was tremendous. The show must go on so we all focused our energies and sang enthusiastically. This was a huge learning experience for us.
A tip to keep the choir organized?
On the administrative side, we have started collecting fines for tardiness and this has revolutionised our rehearsals with everyone coming on time!
Karlene Moreno-Hayworth is founder and conductor of Haraya. Trained at the Royal Northern College of Music and a magna cum laude graduate from the University of the Philippines, she was a soloist and member of the European Choral Grand Prix two-time winners, the Philippine Madrigal Singers. Moreno-Hayworth is also guest conductor and choral clinician to UK ensembles. She currently sings with the Philharmonia Chorus and is a London-based professional opera singer, cantor and music teacher.