Today was my annual trek to Toledo, Ohio from the northern suburbs of Chicago. The weather was fine, the roads were dry, and the traffic was light. The trip took about 4 hours each way and my car behaved itself. Of course, I timed my departure and arrival to avoid Chicago rush hour traffic, but such is life near a big city.
I go to a very fine music store in Toledo having thousands of pieces of choral music that the people who own and work at the place allow me to peruse. They have gotten to know me over the years and our relationship is cordial. I hang around for 4 or 5 hours, and leave with perhaps single originals of 20 anthems. Later on I order multiple originals as needed for either the church choir or the community chorus I lead. By the way, I had a very satisfying rehearsal this week with each of those groups, and the reason for the success was the same in both instances: Each choir was singing the correct piece of music, i.e. pieces that suit their abilities. As a result, the people made progress in learning the music and everyone left happier than when they had arrived.
I am not a singer, and so rarely address the matter of the vocal mechanism. However, experience has taught me that if a piece of choral music has one essential quality, then it can compensate for both my shortcomings and those of the singers. That quality is what I call “singability.” You will not find that word in a musical dictionary, or any other book for that matter, but it is profoundly important nevertheless. I really cannot define “singability,” but I can play one phrase of a piece and tell if it possesses this special quality. Of course, I am also looking for a suitable text so am able to eliminate many pieces by just glancing at them.
The image of a circle helps me in planning the music for a choral season. Each piece is represented by a dot: Dots in the middle of the circle represent the easier works, and those closer to the outer rim of the circle represent the harder ones. If my circle has dots spread throughout, then chances are that I will have a successful several months of rehearsing and performance.
Two subjects really disturb me with regard to choral singing. The first is a choir that is singing the “wrong” piece of music. In most cases a “wrong” piece means that it is too difficult. The second bothersome subject is illegal copying of music. “Illegal” is the operative word here. Illegal copying is more than not OK.
So anyway, I went to Toledo today and had a grand time. Lest you think Toledo is a long distance to go to look for choral music, please know that I have also looked for choral works in the German cities of Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden, Hamburg and Koln, and in Budapest, Vienna, and Prague.
Composers throughout the world are turning out thousands and thousands of choral works. Surely if one looks long and diligently enough, one can find the “right” music for a choir of any sort. The Bible says, “Seek and you will find.”