Listen and sing

Here we are at the beginning of a new season – coming together in this ancient and somewhat arcane activity. For one night a week we abandon our devices and sing for a few hours together.

Screens do appear in musical rehearsals these days – iPads with scores loaded on them, people tweeting from rehearsals, posting pictures to Facebook, posting excerpts to YouTube, etc. But we go old school every week: we gather in a large church and open up a book filled with the traditional language of choral music. And over the next few months we will listen and we will sing – but the listening, in this loud world, is perhaps the most important thing we can do on this one night a week.

Charles Bruffy has this mantra: “Don’t start fixing until they’re committed to listening.” He didn’t mean until singers were committed to listening to a conductor [though that would be nice]; he meant until they were committed to listening to each other. It’s a good resolution for our new year. So much can be learned and refined by letting yourself really hear the sounds around you. Those of us who learn “by rote” know the value of listening and making some good guesses.

Community is a pretty overused word these days, but the choral rehearsal exemplifies it: tonight there will be 90+ strangers crammed into pews in our rehearsal space, staring at those books and making music together. Over the year friendships will form and we will share common stories, jokes, and memories – along with the moments of grace that come from the rehearsal process and from performance.

John Maclay, the conductor of the Choral Society of Grace Church in New York, says,  “Communal music helps us overcome differences: there is unity from diversity as all different people come together. Everyone “speaks” and everyone listens. All are equal, regardless of musical ability, before the musical challenge.”

I love that idea that we are all equal in the work, and our organization has been built on the idea that all are welcome to sing. We are a non-auditioned group. We sing beautiful and important music, we work with deep dedication together to sing with artistry and musicality, and we are proud of our work. I look forward to our year together.

Anne Watson Born