I’m in a ‘choir.’ I have a hard time telling people I’m in this choir without putting quotes around the word. Because you see, it doesn’t look anything like any choir I’ve ever seen or participated in. If your definition of choir is a group of people singing together, then yes. We’re a choir. But after that, us and most other choirs depart ways.
You’re probably familiar with a typical choir: people arranged in rows according to voice type, facing a conductor and singing multi-part scored music. I’ve sung in these kinds of choirs, and I’ve directed versions of these choirs, and I love these choirs. I’ve been a part of choirs that have broken some of these traditions too, which I also enjoy.
But THIS ‘choir’, initiated and led by Fides Krucker (a strong influence in my singing and teaching, as you might already know), is a totally different animal. It has about 10 women in it. We meet in her living room, generally stand in something loosely resembling a circle, and begin with breathwork, sighs, yawns. We spend some time on vocal slides. We make eye contact with each other. We move around. We stand our own vocal ground while at the same time listening to each other, stealing sounds and gestures from others that we are drawn to.
Then we sing some songs. Mostly pop songs. Mostly in unison. Fides focuses on what she calls ‘vocal texture’—the individual and collective timbral quality of our singing voices demanded through the emotional and vocal journey of each song. For me as a singer, there is a palpable kind of emotional intensity through this approach to collective singing, whether it be joy or anger or sorrow.
It’s a pretty extraordinary thing, this ‘choir.’ At least participating in it is extraordinary. I don’t know yet whether it’s extraordinary to watch because we haven’t performed for an audience yet. Although we have had ‘performances.’
And these ‘performances’ might in many ways be the most extraordinary thing about this ‘choir.’ The ‘performances’ have all taken place at Ernestine’s–a women’s shelter in Toronto. We cram ourselves into a tiny room lined with green couches and a deliciously out-of-tune piano, replete with a few broken keys. And what makes it not-quite-a-performance is that the women of the shelter are invited to join in rather than just watch. In fact, the ‘choir’ sits among the residents on those horrid green couches. We all warm up together, and learn a song together. It’s more like a rehearsal or workshop. Except half of the women haven’t sung much, there are three interpreters, and children run in and out of the room constantly. It’s remarkable, because the ‘choir’ isn’t there to perform nor is the ‘choir’ there to use music as a tool to fix or improve anyone. We are all there working together, on our own and our collective vocal journeys.
If this is a choir, I want me lots more.
We have our first performance tonight at a fundraiser for the shelter. The women of the shelter will perform a song with us. We’re going to sing songs in various locations throughout the evening—outside by the fountain, lining the hallway, around a fireplace, and yes, even on the stage. It’s going to be a blast. I wonder what an audience reception of this ‘choir’ will be? I’m nervous and excited to find out. I’ll let you know…