Music in the Community and for the Community with Annie Griffith

Music in the Community and for the Community with Annie Griffith

ConfidenceGeneral

Confessions of a Choir Leader

I have a confession.

The Philadelphia Boys Choir, not having the same problems as me!

I am struggling with online singing. Struggling to the point where I just don’t want to do it.

I see all my awesome leader colleagues leaping onto their Zoom meetings and Youtube videos with enthusiasm and expertise, and … I just can’t. It’s not that I don’t want to sing – I really do, and I miss it desperately, but digital connection and music-making just doesn’t work for me.

I’ve used my lockdown time to look very carefully at my life and what is working or not working for me. And I’ve realised that (a) I adore singing and leading singing and (b) I dislike anything that gets between me and the singers. For me, the experience of group singing and leading it is a very visceral one. I can hear voices swirl around me, I focus on the ones that work, and the ones that I know aren’t listening closely enough to the people across the room from them. I can hear when individual voices melt together like fine chocolate to become “the choir”, a thing of beauty and wonder. I know who is having a good day or a bad day from the sound of how they are singing. I know who is missing their normal choir neighbour and singing next to a different person because their normal neighbour has gone on holiday for a fortnight.

During our break time (or intro time), I talk to singers and find out what they love and what they hate. I find out who is getting over a chesty cold, or whose daughter has had a baby. We sing to anyone who has had a birthday. We laugh, we hug, we drink tea.

And that’s where it all goes wrong for me. Zoom meetings are about ME talking to THEM. If people try to talk back to me, they are talking to everyone. There’s no intimacy. There’s no showing me a video of their cat doing something funny. There’s no easy chat about song suggestions for next term. And that … humanity… is what informs the music that we do around it. I’m not the most polished choir leader you’ll find. I cried openly in front of my choir when we all sang “For Good” and the line about “because I knew you, I have been changed for the better,” because it was my love song to them. That is how I felt about what they had brought into my life during a hugely dark time for me. I’ve scratched songs halfway through because I can see the effect they have on individual members, and chosen others to boost them during hard times. I keep my eye on singers who I know are living with health problems, to see if they are coping, or whether they need a seratonin boost from something simple and unison. To me, all this is just as important as the finished performance. We form a community of music, laughter, tears, biscuits and tea.

And Zoom doesn’t really cut it. Youtube is sterile.

One day we’ll all be back in the same room, singing together, crying as we do so, and laughing with joy at the freedom and love of it all. And everything will be OK again.

Until then… I miss you. I really, REALLY miss you.

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    Fiona Hall

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