An Ode To Choir-Singing

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Clotilde Yap, BA Chinese (Modern and Classical)

When I first joined the University of London chamber choir, I thought I had just made a big mistake. As I was outside the room, waiting to go in for my audition, I realised I hadn’t properly sung with a choir for at least two years. Needless to say, I was feeling anxious as a fresh-faced fresher, eager to please and to fit in, but also with an inkling of pressure to do well as there is quite a singing tradition in my family. My parents met in a church choir – big expectations, indeed.

Hardly believing that the audition was successful, I started to attend rehearsals. The first few weeks were tough. I had no idea what was happening, the music was eons from my comfort zone, and I had somehow managed to give up every single Tuesday (and end of term Fridays- goodbye end of term parties!) for the rest of the year. I came home and told my mum I was probably going to quit.

Then, something happened. The music began to grow on me, my sight-reading got a bit better and I began to make friends. Then we had our first concert of the year.

Choir is not for the fainthearted. You will hardly find a student society so strict on attendance and performance. But we impose this strictness upon ourselves because it pays off. Because singing for the purpose of creating music with someone other than yourself is not as easy as it seems. In fact, the exercise involves less singing, and much more listening. Only by being attentive and responsive to the other voices and melodies will the music be truly harmonious. Someone once told me choir was all about making many voices sound like one individual voice, but I don’t really think that’s the case. The point is still to hear the different voices- hear how they bounce off of each other, how they dance with each other, how they tease and compete, echo and melt with each other – all in a manner that seems most natural to the listener.

At choir, we are naturally all very appreciative of classical music (and music in general). However, you have to be a singer to understand the gutsy, euphoric feeling that singing in a group brings you. The feeling that you really aced a piece as a team, that everyone without fail felt the build-up in emotion and pretty much had a “musicgasm” at the same time, is superlative. This feeling is further intensified when there is an audience that, you can tell, is on the edge of their seats, hanging on to your every note, making you feel like the sound you are making is pure, rich, liquid gold.

It’s quite easy to forget, though, that you’re supposed to be singing to someone. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the complexities of the music it becomes mechanic, stuttered and unnatural. We read the notes and emit them without thinking or feeling. This is when our amazing conductor puts his foot down and reminds us; look up; smile; speak the words; speak them with passion!

When all else fails, he has us do an exercise: “Stand all around the room,” he says, “your backs to the walls. Don’t look at your copies, we’ve sung it a dozen times, you should know it by now!”

Then he waits for everyone to quiet down. When all is still, he says, “Now, sing it to each other.”

And it always works.

The ULCC is a dynamic and enthusiastic student choir that meets once a week and regularly performs a wide-ranging repertoire of ancient, modern, popular and classical music in venues around London. For more information or to find out about auditions, visit http://www.ulchamberchoir.co.uk/ or email [email protected].  

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