Choir Madness: something you do with your choir that others might find bizarre or strange!
I love choral improvisation; it allows singers to access their creativity and take ownership of their singing – so depending on the day, a visitor might catch us wandering around the room choosing our favourite notes out of a chant, playing “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to determine what line to sing, or just pretending to be a clock!
A favorite inspirational quote
Always Zoltán Kodály’s “Music should belong to everyone!” Giving everyone access to joy through music should inform everything a musician does.
Choir Name: Barony Choir
Location: Midleton, County Cork, Ireland
Style: Mostly jazz, pop and musicals, but occasional medieval chant, contemporary classical or rock
Number of singers: 30
Find us on our website.
A funny moment in rehearsal
I once wanted to remind the choir to stagger-breathe in long phrases instead of taking communal breaths in obvious places, but what came out was “You can’t just breathe any time you fancy a bit of air!” I don’t think my controlling personality has lost us too many members though!
How does your choir bond as a group?
The best way to bond is to travel some distance for a competition or performance. The bus conversations and nights out let us talk about things other than singing; the relationships we build then translate into the music.
A turning point in the life of your choir?
Our singers are largely untrained and we don’t audition, so singing a cappella always seemed out of reach. After a lot of work on vocal technique and listening for tuning and balance, we gave our first unaccompanied performance which went really well. Since then we’ve been more relaxed in performance and open to challenges.
A challenging performance and how you faced it.
Sometimes we perform a piece in competition that requires some movement along with singing. The choir has made some amazing improvements in confidence, tuning, voice production and rhythm in the last year or so, but choreography is not my strong suit, and we’ve tended to avoid putting in actions and dance moves if at all possible. We have a performance coming up soon where we’re planning to dance, so we’ve leaned into the challenge instead of shying away from it and are spending a good chunk of our rehearsals practising the moves. We’re not quite there yet but the experience of thinking up actions, trying them out and making fools out of ourselves together has been pretty fun!
A favorite piece of repertoire & why
It’s an arrangement of “Deep River”, a negro spiritual. That was the first piece we ever performed unaccompanied. The story underneath it moves everyone: the references in spirituals to crossing the Jordan, the promised land, a band of angels, etc., are all coded messages about escaping from slavery into the northern states. The fact that it’s so meaningful to us translates into performance…it’s always emotional to sing it.
What is something you do in rehearsals that surprises new members?
I’ve been lucky to do some vocal training with Allan Wright, a teacher and voice scientist who uses some unorthodox exercises to improve vocal technique. Everyone in the choir was surprised the first time I handed out straws and bottles of water to everyone and the sound completely transformed – but obviously if you want the details of what we did, you’ll need to join the choir!