Oakdale-Community Choir Newsletter
March 30, 2010
Thanks to everyone who contributed to this month’s store of writing responses. In keeping with the communal reading assignments, I’ve divided this edition of the newsletter into excerpts about musicking wherever it may occur—inside this choir or elsewhere in our past or present lives. Thanks again!
MUSICKING IN THE CHOIR
When I think of the community choir, I usually think first of how hard it is. When I sing with Hospice or with the Chapel, I sing whatever comes to me and don’t fret about whether I am singing it “right.” Still, as much as a headache it all is, and as much as I struggle to sing my part the way it is written, I keep coming back and am proud to be part of the choir. Incidentally, I think the quality of the Chapel Choir has improved dramatically since the inception of the Community Choir. Not everyone in the Chapel Choir is in the Community Choir, but there is no doubt that there is a direct correlation to the time some of us spend in the one and the overall performance of the other.
Our concerts are given in the gymnasium. Needless to say, there are a variety of differences [between our concerts and those in a concert hall] in an environment where outside programming is restricted. One concert was miserably cold, and the atmosphere, although altered by the beautiful performance, still had a flavor more associated with external negative energy.
The relationships within any choir are a complex tapestry: director to everyone, director to each one, member to neighbor member, member to distant member. We add even more here, as the relationships between offender and outside volunteer color those connections as we figure out how to relate to each other.
This choir has relieved my stress somewhat, because I know I can go there and have fun doing the thing I love and meeting new people I might never get to meet any other way.
I find I am less stressed on Tuesdays, dealing with [health issues]. I am healthier because the bitterness has subsided as I discover I can still function and make a contribution. Needless to say, the atmosphere at our rehearsal is light, enjoyable, educational and productive… We are perfecting a presentation that will be tested by an audience that may be critical and unkind as well as an audience unequivocally appreciative of the overall quality of our delivery.
When you look at the relationship of our choir members, volunteers and offenders are together as a group, going about our daily routines (in prison or the outside), and musicking affects our lives, attitudes and outlooks on life.
The choir has tested my talent. I’ve learned new things about singing, reading music, and especially about listening to others. The choir has brought people together that may have never met otherwise. The choir has brought attention to outside resources that have helped us a lot. I’ve made a lot of new friends since joining the choir. I’ve enjoyed all the articles. I’ve especially enjoyed the CDs we’ve received. I had no idea how good we sounded until listening to them.
The choir has showed me three things: 1) Society hasn’t forgotten about me; 2) Not all people see me as a horrible person; 3) No matter what happens, I can change myself through God.
It is so true that relationships differ with each performance. As an example, the choir performance of “Go Light Your World.” I’m sure that during practices, most people felt this was an upbeat piece of music, whereas I had very sad thoughts while we practiced.
Though I enjoy most every aspect of our weekly choir rehearsals, the closing song, “May You Walk in Beauty,” has a special place in my heart. To me, it seems as though we are all bidding one another farewell, or au revoir (till we meet again) after having come together for a time of sharing something special. Even though I may not have an opportunity each week to have a meaningful conversation with everyone that was present at the rehearsal, I can still send them a message from my heart as I sing with them and look into their eyes, giving them a little part of me to take with them for their journey back out into the real world.
My fondest music-making memories are all relational: singing Christmas carols around the piano at family gatherings; hymn singing at church; singing the Messiah with the Cedar Rapids Symphony and Chorale; programs with the Oakdale Community Choir. The musical memories, although very important, are secondary to the memory of group relationships.
Small values the shared experience of every participant in the transaction that is music. Just the other day, I had this illustrated to me. I was strumming along [on one of the beat-up old guitars in the art room] and singing quietly, not getting much out of the experience but glad that I could practice at all. Some guy I never met came up, sat down with me, started singing along and was visibly excited by the chance to make music. As we left, he told me those few minutes were the best time he has had since coming to prison. What a change there was in my heart and in my performance as this young stranger first accepted my music then joined me in making some music together.
I couldn’t agree more with Shaw that choral music and other arts have as their concern “the intellectual, ethical and spiritual maturity of human life.” There is so much that the arts and music in particular, tap into: the creative spark within us, expression of the yearnings and sentiments of the heart, a certain subtlety of thought. Music connects us to each other and to something greater. After all, don’t the rhythms and intervals of music reflect those in nature and in life itself? We’re hard-wired to move, to dance, to feel rhythm, so that the expression of that feels right, on a deep level.
As Mr. Small states on page 80, “It seems that any group of people who engage in a common activity requires a leader who will coordinate the activity and be a source of ideas for carrying it out.” I agree whole heartedly, and have had experiences of church choirs that had no such leader and thus no direction or harmony.
Reading Small made me recall times in my childhood when my mother and brothers and I were cleaning up in the kitchen, and we would sometimes sing as we did it. I seem to remember singing a lot in our home when my kids were young. But now I do more consuming of music than music making. I’ve thought about this distinction a lot whenever I’m with a group of friends who play guitar, mandolin, banjo, wooden flute and harp. They write songs and love nothing better than to get together and teach and learn and perform music together. In weekly jam sessions in one of the local bars, they would stay and sing and play music until the place closed down. I sometimes went to those sessions and wished I could play guitar well enough to join in, but all I could do was sing.
One aspect of many rituals that I find meaningful is the preparation of food to share. As I chop, stir and mix, I think of the people with whom I will share this food, why I love the, what my burning questions are for them. These rituals provide respite and a reminder of what gives meaning to life.
I agree that Afro-American music is a foundation of all American music. In singing throughout high school and college, as well as later, the “spirituals” were always the songs I most enjoyed, and most of these (as I understand it) came from the black churches. I often wondered why the spirituals were my favorites. Was it because these songs and hymns spoke so directly to human experiences, including my own? Or was it the origin of these songs in oppression that somehow accentuated the deepest emotions?
I can’t imagine sitting quietly through an entire concert without at least whispering something to my wife. I have enjoyed many symphony performances on the radio, but I can’t imagine enjoying the live performance if it is as sterile as Small describes it to be.
When I go to a symphony performance, I do get a sense that I have to be on “good behavior” and not talk or even move much. It feels artificial, but I don’t know how else one can hear all the subtle parts of the performance otherwise. As a group, I feel a sense of relief at the end of a number. As a performer, one hope the audience will not talk, cough, have their phone on or leave, but with experience one gets used to all these things.
THEMES IN THIS SPRING’S MUSIC
As I read through the words of the music, I get a sense of optimism. Yes, there are tough times, but we have love and sometimes the forgiveness of financial debts. It’s a pretty upbeat collection of music, assuring us that life has a lot to offer when we stop to think about it.
One of the many things that comes to mind for me is appreciation and thanks. I think this concert is going to deal with this key concept—it’s emotion, and space and existence.
A necessary physician like none other
Never remove your hands from life’s plow
May God be Yours Now and Always
Keep Satan at a Distance
The Angels Keep Constant Vigilance
Dreaming, Scheming, Determined to be with You
My Debt to You will Never be Paid
I don’t see a common thread in the titles of the songs we have this time around. If anything, the idea from the song, “A Place in the Choir,” where everyone has a place, could be extended to the eclectic collection of song topics—where every topic has its place.
AND THEN THERE ARE THE WARM-UPS…
What I find difficult about the Rondo is keeping up. I really like the beats and rhythm but find it hard to follow all the different signals and signs. I want to learn and will continue giving it my all, because I know I will get comfortable with it.
I was impressed at how well some of the choir members knew the Rondo and could lead it. I don’t think I could have done that.
Sometimes I don’t like the exercises because they can be a challenge, but they are necessary if we are to grow in our music.
I can read the rhythms of Rondo, but translating that into physical gestures is quite awkward for me. I know, I know, it just takes practice. There’s one spot in the second part where we do the four exaggerated vertical arm swinging hand claps followed by the quick sharp hands-only claps that reminds me of the music cancan dancers in the movies are always dancing to.