Choir Madness: something you do with your choir that others might find bizarre or strange!
I think most of our warm ups to anyone looking in would seem a bit odd. It’s lots of “meowing” like cats, crying like babies, loud sighs and pretending to be fireworks; not your usual Monday or Tuesday evening activity!
A funny moment in rehearsal
We rehearse in a school hall and there is a ledge underneath a row of high up windows that the choir can see and that I can’t. Turns out we had a stray pigeon strutting it’s stuff at rehearsal. With that said, I was wondering why the choir was a bit unsettled and looking slightly upwards rather than watching my conducting… then I heard a flapping of wings, a confused “what’s happening here” cooing noise from dear old pigeon followed by some frantic flying! I only wish we’d been rehearsing Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’ so we could have serenaded it; of course it wouldn’t have been our singing causing the crying of the doves!
How does your choir bond as a group?
We always head to the pub after rehearsals. (We pretend it’s to lubricate the vocal folds after all the singing but really it’s just a lovely way to catch up with everyone!) People also get together in their individual parts (Soprano, Alto 1, Alto 2, etc.) to practice and learn their harmonies ready for the weekly rehearsal. I love the dedication, and again, it’s such a great way to get to know all the singers especially as the choir is big!
Any favorite pieces of repertoire?
Here are a few:
– The gospel song, “Total Praise”; once the choir learned it, and got behind the message, it was epic.
– “Somebody to Love”; I’m personally partial to a bit of Queen (I think Freddie was a genius)!
– Hozier’s “Take Me To Church”; it’s one of those gritty songs you can really get your teeth into.
A juicy fact about a composer/arranger you love to tell your choir members
When we sing ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ I like to share with the group that Bill Withers was working as an airline mechanic, installing toilets on 747s, when his song ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ was released. I usually accompany this fact with this awful joke…”How do you get a duck to sing the blues? Put it on a hot plate until it’s ‘Bill’ ‘Withers’.” It’s pretty dreadful joke, and thinking about it, suggests animal cruelty which, of course, I don’t condone! Does get a good chuckle though.
A favorite inspirational quote
Another tricky question! I’m a bit of a science geek, and I like quite a few of Einstein’s quotes… he appeals to me because he used to like sitting on trains, looking out of the window and day dreaming, which is an excellent pass time in my view. Here are a few of his. (I like the second one because I think it really applies to learning music. If you break music down into small sections and stick with it, you’ll get there eventually.)
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
What was a very special performance and what made it special?
There was a gig a while back where everything on the tech side of things was failing in soundcheck. The sound desk went down, and everything that could go wrong, did. We had a sold out show of over 700 people in the audience, and we were all a little nervous as to whether it would all come together. I suggested that the choir just let themselves go and really sing out hoping that their voices would carry despite the lack of microphones.
And, how did it go?
I’ll never forget the first song we sang that evening. It started with a really strong 4 part harmonious chord held for four beats… the power of (at that time) 120 voices singing strong, with passion and determination, was one of the most incredible things I have ever heard. It was the intention behind the singing, you could feel that every ounce of each singer wanted to do well, and the solidarity of people thinking “ok, we can do this, let’s go!” was very special. I was conducting on a fairly small podium and nearly fell off because it was such an overwhelming sound.
An emotional moment you had in a performance?
This may sound a bit naff but it’s the singers that make me emotional. For me, music comes alive when the musician tells a story and puts genuine feeling into a performance. In my view, that’s where the goosebumps/tingle moments come from. We’re an un-auditioned community choir and, because I think it’s good to have a challenge, we sing material that is actually pretty tricky.
It sounds like your emotions are often triggered in your work!
Seeing people having the best time whilst singing is amazing. For some people, when they start choir they think they can’t sing or may have been told in the past that they can’t sing. Knowing this and hearing and seeing the choir perform complex arrangements with feeling and story telling always pulls at the heart strings. I love it when people achieve more than they think is possible, there’s nothing better than seeing confidence rise and worries being sung away, especially when it’s also really fun, double win!
Vanessa has been leading Soul of the City Choir as musical director for 10 years, and she believes that everyone can sing. Shower singers, beginners, and pros are welcomed to sing all together for fun. Vanessa is a professional singer, pianist, songwriter, composer and musical educator who loves helping people reach their musical potential and goals. She also performs and writes music for a range of genres outside of choir. Photo by Lens and Pixel photography.