The emotional experience of leaving a much loved choir is not to be underestimated. If you were in some way responsible for this choir or one of the ridiculously keen members, then this experience is exaggerated greatly. The additional fact that the University Choir and A Cappella societies where the ones in which I had my first conducting experiences made the transition all the more significant.
Singing brings people together. Using your voice leaves you completely exposed and every day I meet so many people who demand that they cannot sing or would never be able to join a choir due to lack of confidence or something similar. Of course I know this not to be true; there is a singing activity out there for everyone who wants one. However, there is an element of courage required to join a choir especially if you have not done so before or are not from a particularly musical family or background. For those who do not read music or who do not read it very well, joining a choir which uses score can be very daunting although, within a surprisingly small amount of time, sight reading improves vastly. For those who love singing but lack confidence in their abilities within a group there is also a huge step of courage to be made. For as many people that I have met that are convinced they could not join a choir I have those who were nervous to do so but took the plunge anyway; in all the cases I have experienced this has paid off.
Even if you are full to the brim with confidence the very act of using your voice in a communal way to create pleasing harmonies and dynamics brings with it an emotional aspect. Many times when conducting I have been stunned at what I hear (it is just a shame that during rehearsals the conductor is the only one who hears the full effect!) and on almost every occasion when singing in a group, no matter what the members’ personal differences may be, team work has been paramount when striving to create that moment here and there and iron out that little stumble that the group keep meeting. The group share struggles, laughter, success and sheer exhaustion. Try going through that with a group of human beings and not forming some kind of emotional attachment!
Additionally, many choirs have socials. Be it monthly bingo or pub quiz, a Christmas or celebratory meal, a Tour or theatre trip, or even a particularly hard core night out at the pub, these are the things that bring people closer together. When I moved house for University I made most of my closest University friends in the choir and I know I am not the only person to have settled in to a new part of the world by engaging in communal singing.
Being University societies means that every year there is a significant number of members leaving both Choir and A Cappella. Towards the end of my first and second years I was very upset to see a group of members (including some close friends) leave not just University, but our main weekly social activity of singing together in Choir or A Cappella. Towards the end of third year it all felt surreal. I had a placement to finish, a dissertation and assignments to hand in, jobs to apply for and interviews to attend making singing a mixture of pleasant escape and more work that needed to be meticulously time managed. Partly I was exhausted by the whole thing and ready for the holidays but at the same time I didn’t want the holidays to come because then it would all be over for good. Saying goodbye was difficult but I was also pleasantly surprised by the number of people who were going to miss myself and the other Director (my boyfriend!) and the emotions that they also had attached with us leaving and of our experiences becoming memories as the groups moved on to the next chapter of their being. Moving to a new job and a new city (one that is at some distance away from home) made the whole experience a real ending to one life and beginning to another. Starting a new job also meant leaving the school choir which brought a whole bag of its’ own emotional experiences.
Some Emotional Goodbyes
So the goodbyes came and went, the hand over took place and the move away from University happened. It was a strange Summer not having Christmas arrangements to look at as we had the previous year but a relatively relaxing one. Then came the flat hunting, the dreaded deposit and first months’ rent, the transport of our items to our new bed sit, the (never ending) attempts to get all our belongings to fit neatly into this miniscule room and finally the start of a new job as a Year 2 teacher in a fantastically huge and multicultural school. There really was no time to join a new choir at this point. We researched groups in the local area but for a couple of weeks didn’t get around to joining anything. Then, naturally I suppose, as time went on I became friends with the schools’ specialist music teacher and soon enough she received an email about a new community choir starting in the local area which teachers were keen on joining. My boyfriend was unable to join at the time due to needing to commute to the South West for part of the week for work but I decided that this was the right move in beginning my musical experiences in our new area.
There were so many beginnings that it is hard to remember them all. Another step I took was to volunteer to help with the school choir. Two teachers already ran the group (so this was immediately different from my previous experience!) and were happy to have an extra pair of eyes and ears as well as an extra voice amongst the crowds. I say crowds because, naturally, a bigger school meant a bigger choir. Ultimately, although the choir was full of children I didn’t know, very different socioeconomically from my previous school choir and run by teachers I had only just met, it still gave some sense of security and consistency amongst the change as, it turned out, did the community choir.
The first thing I loved about the community choir was its’ people. Friendly members and an enthusiastic conductor were an immediately good start. The second thing I loved was the range of music. Gaudete, Lean on Me, Les Mis and Let it Snow found their way into the same concert and one of my favourite pieces that we have learnt so far fits into the folk genre (of which I am a big fan). This range reminded me of that huge strong point that the University Choir had displayed in always embracing a great variety of music; and generally, the more contrasting the better! Being a new group the community choir has not had any socials yet although we have had one, pretty strong, performance which is encouraging after just three months of existence. After a little self-doubt, a lot of thought and a push of courage I gained the confidence to offer some arrangements to the director. Luckily she is very keen to see some of my arrangements and has even asked if I will cover any rehearsals she cannot make. Biting the bullet certainly paid off in this instance.
Towards Christmas, another wonderful musical thing happened. My boyfriend and I went to watch a local Choral Society, of which the music teacher is a member, in their Christmas performance. There were some challenging full pieces sung alongside carols which the audience participated with. Something about being part of that Christmassy atmosphere, hearing beautiful, live harmonies (and singing some) whilst watching the musicians play and the conductor conduct, brings such a familiar and joyful feeling. After some difficult weeks at work and with illness, that concert really helped both of us to feel a little more settled in our surroundings. Unsurprisingly, we have both decided to join that Choral Society in the New Year.
So I suppose in a way history is repeating itself in a way that so many people have experienced. I have moved to a new city and singing is having a big impact on helping me to settle in. There are obviously some significant differences. First of all students at the pub after choir rehearsals, who do not need to be up at 6am the next day, do have the opportunities to bond much more quickly than teachers and other professionals who need to be up and spritely for work. Secondly I now have much more experience of communal singing than I did when I initially joined the University Choir. Since then I have set up an A Cappella group and a school choir and began training as a choral conductor which included taking a choir on tour to some beautiful venues. Next year I hope to save up for the initial conducting course with ABCD (Association of British Choral Directors); I had meant to go on this course last year but weddings and a school choir performance got in the way!
But I suppose these changes come with growing up and it is not the only aspect of my life in which adulthood is having a big effect of change; I have attended five weddings this year, become a Godmother, taken responsibility for 28 other people’s children on a daily basis, started to pay extortionate London rent, decided to sponsor an orphaned or abandoned child and am making very real plans to upsize, save for a mortgage, get a puppy and visit a friend in America. Just reading those things on paper makes me feel a little daunted!
So, on to the new. With any luck next year shall bring a new choir, a chance to get more involved in the community choir, a trip with the school choir and a conducting course. My conducting journey is far from over. It seems that surprisingly it may still be only near its’ beginning.