In the midst of this endless election season, I naturally find myself considering what qualities we find desirable in the people who put themselves forward to be our leaders. Recently, as I have been rehearsing with five very different choral ensembles, I have also been thinking about what qualities are desirable in a good chorister. It seems that the two skill sets are not all that different.
Last night at the weekly rehearsal of The Hartford Chorale, I was supposed to be concentrating on Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, which The Chorale is preparing for its upcoming “Harvest Song” concert on November 22. While we rehearsed, though, I found myself thinking about how well the 170 members of The Hartford Chorale, accompanist Jim Barry, Assistant Music Director Ehren Brown and Music Director Rick Coffey were working together to bring this most marvelous music to life. I wondered to myself, “What do each of these 170 diverse singers and their leaders need to do in order to create a unified experience? How must each of us prepare, perceive, react, and act in order to identify and realize our individual and common goal of communicating truth and beauty, through music, to our audience?”
Any good chorister knows the answers to these questions, and puts them into action week after week. In fact, I think that most choral singers will agree that this common striving — and its results — is among the most satisfying and elevating of our life experiences, not just for the pleasures of music, but for the way of living that we embrace as choristers that influences our lives and attitudes beyond the rehearsal hall and concert stage.
I found myself thinking — well, wishing, really — OK, it was an impossible fantasy — Anyway, I imagined how wonderful it would be if our political leaders were brought together to form a chorus and rehearse together for just one evening each week. I soon began to envision the choral rehearsal as an ideal environment for diplomatic and leadership training.
So, how would my fantasy chorus be organized? First, I’d choose meaningful repertoire that would, in its texts and music, speak to a common humanity. (Oh, there is so much from which to choose!) On the podium, install the best choral conductor you can find: one who can lead with artistry and humility, one who can command discipline with grace and humor, one who understands and deeply loves both texts and music, and who can instill that passion in each singer. Finally, engage an accompanist who is an artist in his own right, and one who is in sympathy with the director. Happy is the choir that has a mutually-elevating team of this sort at the front of the rehearsal room.
Now, consider the questions I posed earlier: What do 170 diverse singers, plus their leaders, need to do in order to create a unified force? How must each of us envision, perceive, react, and, ultimately, act in order to identify and realize our individual and common goals? Here’s what I came up with, in no particular order:
A good chorister is reliable. He arrives in good time. (“Early is on time, on time is late!”) He is prepared for the rehearsal. He makes and keeps his commitment to the season, to the rehearsals, to the performances, to his fellow choristers, to the Director, to the music, the audience. Imagine if all our leaders were reliable and kept all their commitments.
A good chorister is gentle. Hartford Chorale rehearsals start with stretching exercises and backrubs for and by our seat mates. A good chorister notices what sort of back rub her neighbor enjoys, and also notices what is uncomfortable, so that she can avoid hurting her neighbor. Imagine if all our leaders were gentle and looked for ways to comfort their neighbors, and took care not to hurt them.
A good chorister is a good listener. He listens carefully so that he may find out how best his voice will fit in with the others. He listens to himself, so that he might never make an ugly sound. He listens to his neighbors, so that he might blend with them and uplift his section. He listens to the entire chorus, so that he might understand the larger vision and understand that he is just one of many. Imagine if all our leaders were good listeners, and were able to listen in all these ways, and understand their place in the larger scheme of things.
A good chorister takes responsibility. She raises her hand to take responsibility for her error if she sings a wrong note, makes a wrong entrance, or lets slip a vagrant “s,” so that the Director need not interrupt the rehearsal to correct the error. Imagine if our leaders admitted their errors freely and took responsibility for correcting their wrongs.
A good chorister keeps his area clean. He puts his chair away in the proper place, and takes care of his own water bottles, cough drop wrappers, etc., so that no one has to clean up after him. If he sees that someone else has forgotten to put away his chair, he takes care of it. Imagine if all our leaders dedicated themselves to keeping the Earth clean, and pitched in to help clean up what has already been made dirty.
A good chorister is respectful. She is respectful of her music, keeping it clean and in good condition so that others may use it at another time. She is respectful of the rehearsal process, keeping quiet when it is not her turn to sing, so that others may listen and learn. She is respectful of those who sit and stand near her, being careful not to jostle or bump. Imagine if all our leaders were respectful of us, of each other, and of themselves.
A good chorister is helpful. He wants his fellow singers to do well. He carries an extra pencil or cough drop and offers it when his neighbor is in need. He contacts a fellow singer who has been absent to offer information on what happened at a missed rehearsal. He mentors a new member. He volunteers. Imagine if all our leaders looked for ways to be helpful to others.
A good chorister is willing to change. Though she may have sung a particular piece of music many times with another conductor, she will lay aside that interpretation for the sake of bringing unity to the interpretation of the director on the podium. Imagine if all our leaders were flexible in their thinking and willing to try new ways of doing things.
A good chorister remembers why he is there. He is there to make beautiful music with other people. At each rehearsal and performance he re-commits himself to beauty, not just for himself, but for every person in the rehearsal room, and later, in the audience. Imagine if all our leaders remembered why they are in leadership positions, and re-committed themselves each week to service and to the greater good.
A good chorister envisions and embraces a common goal. She leaves her ego at the door. She engages her energies and sympathies toward the common good. Imagine if all our leaders were willing to lay their egos aside. (That alone would address most of these other issues, yes?)
A good chorister is committed to making the world a better place. Though a choral concert may not change the world, it will make it more beautiful. This fall, the 170 members, staff, and audience of The Hartford Chorale will dedicate well over 6300 hours to rehearsals, meetings, and performances. During those hours, each of us will be committed to peace and beauty. Imagine if all our leaders were truly committed to making the world a better place, for always, and invested their time not in warmongering, but in the creation and sustenance of beauty and betterment.
Imagine how the world might be if our leaders had the attitudes, and work ethic, of good choristers! Could they do it? Could they experience — and embrace — the miracle of cooperation and common purpose that we call “making music together?” Imagine how it could change the world. I know how it has changed me.
More of my essays on the life of a chorister, and more about choral rehearsals and choral music, may be found here: http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/search/label/Chorister
The Hartford Chorale’s Upcoming Concerts:
Beethoven Symphony No. 9The Hartford Chorale with The Hartford Symphony Orchestra
Edward Cumming, Conductor
October 24, 2008 8:00pm and October 25, 2008 3:00pmThe Bushnell Center for Performing Arts, Mortensen Hall, Hartford, Connecticut
TICKETS: Contact The Hartford Symphony Orchestra:
Online at https://tickets.hartfordsymphony.org/
Discounted tickets may be available via https://www.letsgoarts.org/ for some concerts.
The Hartford Chorale
Richard Coffey, Conductor
November 22, 2008 7:30pmImmanuel Congregational Church, Hartford, Connecticut
For tickets, call Immanuel Congregational Church at 860-527-8121 or visit http://hartfordchorale.org/schedule.html