Pursuing Ensemble

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There are some subjects that aren’t easy to write about. Not because the opinion isn’t strong, but because they are close enough to the self that to talk about them, frankly, can seem to be an exercise in excessive ego or self-aggrandisement, even when the purpose is merely objective analysis. Then too, there can be comparisons and mentions of others in the opinion that could offend without intending.

Yet today I’ll still brave both those dangers to discuss singing, musical rehearsals, and the Avondale United Methodist Church Choir.

Something that our current Choir Director, Aaron Redburn, has been demonstrating to us, is that when you start getting good at something, you actually have more things to work on in rehearsals, not less. Our choir has crossed a certain line. We aren’t just running notes, learning parts, we are working on the things that make music, not merely singing.

This really should be obvious to anyone who observes sports.  It is the weekend or leisure athlete who puts in a small amount of practice to learn the basics of a skill.  It is the professional, or Olympic amateur, who spends hours perfecting small skills, and once those skills are perfected, goes on to find other skills beyond that to work on.

The AUMC choir is getting past the merely learning to read notes and learn parts. So now Aaron can spend large parts of the rehearsal with us on small sections of the song, working on a particular phrasing or line, learning to make music. And it is exciting for me to do so. Even with all the years of experience I have singing with professional ensembles, I managed to learn something new about the musical craft tonight. Oh, perhaps I had known it in a subconscious way, but today I learned it consciously, in a way that I can actually reach out and purposefully use it in my musical singing and expression whenever I want, whenever it is called for.

Speaking of which, there are members of my professional Renaissance group who feel they have learned all their parts of the music, and don’t see the need for extensive group rehearsals, to practice ensemble. In our business meetings they are always for decreasing the number of group rehearsals. One of these singers performs jazz in local clubs, and says her jazz ensemble never rehearses, they just pick up the music, because they are professional.

Now, jazz performance of that type really isn’t my specialty, and I haven’t heard her perform this jazz, so I cannot disagree from having observed. I can only say that when singing our Madrigal music in ensemble, that I can tell a difference between the singers who know their parts, and the singers who know the singers of the other parts — know the ensemble they have been thrown into.

As an artist, my usual disappointment is that I don’t have more time in my schedule to play and practice and rehearse — and of course more time to perform for others. The more I know, the more I know I don’t know, and the more I want to learn, not merely as an individual, but as a group.

I enjoy solo singing, but I also enjoy ensemble singing. The latter really requires more than the former. Many people can sing solos that don’t have the personal skill or control to do good ensemble work. We have our “American Idol” competition for the solo great, but it is really the ensembles, the Vienna Boys Choirs, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and each and every community choir and church choir that are the real expressions of true musical skill.

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