Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen
mrissa

More questions: choirs, mostly

More questions! Okay. One of you asked if there are factoids with which I'd prefer to be introduced or prefer not to be introduced. Not really; I trust you-all to choose appropriately for the specific introduction, and to remember that I am Upper Midwestern, and therefore a string of positive adjectives is likely to make me want to hide under the table.

Another of you asked if I'd ever sung in a choir, what part, and what some favorite pieces were. Well, I was in choir from 9-13 in school, and that was good fun. I liked that a lot. Our middle school choir director in particular was very good at picking a mixture of songs that were interesting and fun to sing in different ways -- fun in a "technically difficult but satisfying" way for one piece and fun in a "songs that you know but not in detail" way for another and so on. She had us do a medley of songs from Les Mis, cut for the junior high crowd. Interestingly, what this mostly means is that the character arcs of Valjean and Javert pertaining to evil and redemption were almost completely cut, and we were left with political stuff, leavened with child abuse and abandoned pregnancy. You know: for kids. When I was in middle school, you could do band and choir both, and so I did. In high school, one could, theoretically, but the choir director was not known for doing anything fun to sing or listen to -- lots of 19th century secular hymns about fields of graaaaaaaaaaaaaaain, was the reputation -- and I was enthusiastic enough about the flute to be willing to pick band over choir. The band director was pretty bad as well, and I only stayed in band one year, but I didn't reconsider and join one of the choirs later.

I was a soprano at the beginning of that interval partly because I still had my kid-soprano range and partly because in our grade school choir, soprano meant "any girl who could carry a tune in a bucket or the rare boys who had a great classical kid-soprano." (Yeah, hi, you.) Around the end of sixth grade I lost about five notes off the top of my range, and by the middle of seventh grade I had them back on the bottom of my range and was a full-fledged (very happy!) alto. And as I recall, Mrs. Haight's talents extended to classifying people by their actual vocal range and picking pieces that had interesting bits for all vocal parts, so that the altos weren't stuck going, "oooooooh," and the basses, "bum bum bum," for every single song. So we were mostly willing to cut her slack if there were one or two songs like that, because it'd come around.

As an adult, I was browbeaten into singing in a church choir because my friend Lisa, the accompanist, was a dirty rotten traitor and told the choir director I had a good voice and could sight-sing harmony lines. (Since I had no intentions of ever attending practice, this latter fact -- about which Lisa was treacherous but not dishonest -- was key. It also taught me a valuable lesson: do not make excuses if you don't want to do something. Simply say no.) "Good voice" is debatable, but certainly I have a good enough voice to sing in your average church choir. I've described my role in that choir as "alto border-guard" in the past, and I stand by that. Would that we'd been handed machine-guns: "No you are not a soprano, and you will not slide up to try to sing that part because you are not a soprano for a reason, and right here is where your note goes, no, dummy, here, or else."

This particular choir was undersized and under-talented, and I was not enthusiastic about a single one of the songs we did.

The problem with choirs for me is twofold, and I'm not sure which is a bigger problem: first, they have people in them. Lots of people. They are a many-people event that requires a frequent time commitment. I have difficulty with those. And second, I stopped enjoying performance singing. I can do readings -- that kind of performance is fine with me. (Especially if people laugh at the right spots.) But I just don't enjoy dance performance or musical performance. I can enjoy participation in dance or music, but sometimes the line between performance and participation is a little shaky, and then I stop having fun. I sing around the house a lot -- a lot -- I am singing Ben Folds Five's "Philosophy" right this minute as I type -- and I was raised in a house where singing around the house was extremely common. Some of my earliest memories are of holiday evenings -- really any time my folks had Monday off -- how they'd put me to bed and finish whatever grown-up chores they had to do, and then they'd pull me out half-asleep, and Mom would sit with me in the old blue velour armchair, and Dad would sit in the wooden rocker, and they'd sing, and I would drift in and out of sleep while the sun set outside and they sang together. And now there's a timprov, and as I've mentioned other times, we make up little songs at each other and sing musical jokes and references at each other. markgritter was not raised singing folk songs, but seven and a half years has done a fair bit for his repertoire, and apparently for his enjoyment of same.

But performance creates expectations that I am not interested in fulfilling. There are skills related to performing a song that are entirely in addition to being able to sing it well. When my mom and I sing tight harmony -- which we can do because we have essentially the same voice in two bodies -- I am doing something with just-her, and we know each other's expectations, and if Dad listens or if he comes in with a deep grounding line, he's still part of the thing we're doing in a very comfortable and familial way. And choir audiences aren't, and they can't be -- and that's not a defect in them. It's not a problem. It's just something that makes me, specifically, want to avoid singing in a choir, the same way I want to avoid performance singing of other kinds. The audience collaborates in a different and much less active way in a performance, and they're still right there. So. That's me and choirs.
Tags: same wrong words to amazing grace
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