This is a funny little half-term for choirs. I know some people come back to rehearsals and Boom! it’s straight into the Coventry Carol and Masters in this Hall. Christmas is such a huge singing festival that it can take over your whole post-summer life – but I don’t really like starting too early. I try to make sure we have something to work towards in October, then we can dive into Wassailing and rest-you-merry wholeheartedly till the end of the year.
We always sing at our local Apple Day, which takes place in the walled garden of Meersbrook Park . So we enjoy finding one or two apple-based songs to put into the mix there, which we combine with other songs we already know. This year it’s on Sunday 12th October, which is quite late, and we started rehearsals on 1st September, so we’ve got plenty of preparation time. In addition to that, we are going to sing at Scarsdale Grange residential home. Singing in residential homes is not uncommon for volunteer choirs, but what excites me about this gig is that we are sharing the stage with a choir of residents. I’m delighted that they have an activity co-ordinator who is bringing music as a creative, active recreation rather than a purely passive one. They have been meeting for a few months now and have learnt some of the songs from “The King and I”, so we are learning some Rodgers and Hammerstein too, from “The Sound of Music”.
I love musicals and I’m not ashamed who knows it. I know a lot about them and it annoys me when people dismiss them as froth which avoids the serious issues of life. They deal with some big, difficult subjects (in those two alone, you have culture-clash, polygamy, slavery, dysfunctional parenting, religion and Nazis). The happy endings are hardly ever cloudless (as a young woman I wept with Liesl realising that the dashing telegraph boy of I am Sixteen was a Nazi).
However, I know that this is a very particular genre of music – some choirs sing nothing else but we are proud of being eclectic. Some people just find it – corny, cheesy, syrupy. Doh, a deer and Edelweiss, combined with Don’t Sit under the Apple Tree, are brightly major and predictable harmonically, and I felt we needed a little piquancy. This week we started learning “Apple, Apple”, a Hungarian tune written by Matyas Seiber, which is as delicious as marmite after a honey sandwich. It’s full of crunchy harmonies and melodic lines that don’t quite go where you expect. The whole thing is really satisfying and I hope adding it to the programme will make it feel completely balanced and complement the other songs so that each will shine in its different way.
I’ve just added a page to this site with our choir’s constitution on it. We are preparing for our Annual General Meeting and the committee wanted everyone to have a chance to read through the document that sets out how we work. We will do printed copies too for people who prefer reading paper or don’t have internet access.
At the committee meeting on Wednesday we started thinking about how to make sure our members know who the committee members are, what they do and why we work this way. In January 2012 we changed from a loose voluntary group with an unpaid leader and a fairly lax attitude to collecting subs to a more organised outfit with elected officers and a constitution. This was primarily so that I could become a paid musical director – until summer 2011 I squeezed in being voluntary MD around a full-time job in school management.
The constitution sets out our core values – about who choir is for, what it stands for, how we try to make it accessible and affordable. It is as simple as we could make it while covering the essential points.
The committee is nine choir members, three of them with specific roles, who discuss and make decisions about the running of choir. I am part of the committee but I don’t have voting rights – they do always ask me what I think and listen to the answers, though.
I like the arrangement because the choir has grown very organically and has always been a friendly bunch, even if many of us only have choir in common. We like talking about things but prefer to spend rehearsals singing. Having a committee which meets once a term – and any choir member can come along – gives us a time to discuss organisational matters. I like having a regular forum which takes place even if there are no pressing issues. If something does occur which is potentially divisive or needs sorting out, we have a structure within which to deal with it and so we don’t need to invent something in a panic.
I also like having a supportive group managing the choir. Rehearsals are short and busy and although I try and say hello to everyone I don’t always manage that, never mind listening to their suggestions and points of view. With a committee we hope to listen to nine times as many members and have a real sense of what people are feeling.
I think the committee model also keeps any megalomaniac tendencies of mine in check. It reminds us that no single person is more important than the choir. I may be the leader but I don’t make any noise on my own. A choir is a living organism made up of the combined energy of many people – and it will change and grow with those individuals. So to me it seems right that they are represented in the decisions that shape the organisation.