Bem-te-vi ... Three
I Sing Because…..
On Thursday last (17/7) I spent the day working with the Coro Juvenil (Youth Choir) of Guri Santa Marcelina, and the next day we all travelled together to Porto Alegre for the ISME 2014 which starts Sunday (today). The journey was a wild delight, and Porto Alegre is a sunlit city of dreams, of which more anon; but right now I want to talk about the youth choir, and singing.
I’ve worked with this choir (about half / two thirds of its members at any rate) before, and Giuliana Frozoni, their current conductor, and the overall manager of Guri’s extensive programme, is a good friend. We are going to work together in several singing /choral contexts over the next three months, so Thursday’s workshop feels both part of a familiar journey and the beginning of something new and thrilling.
We begin with our bodies, waking up and finding our energy, breath and movement, and then we start on I Sing Because…., a riff-based part-song created by Mouthful (a cappella ensemble that I belong to). I’ve worked with many groups of young singers over the last 35 years, and I can say that there is something particular and remarkable about the dynamic of this youth choir. They come to singing with a truly profound spirit of joyful, open-hearted willingness, and a complete lack of self-consciousness, or the awkwardness that can sometimes afflict teenagers when exploring new approaches to voice and body. We become very interested in messing about with rhythm, shifting our time signature from 4 to 3 and back again, experimenting through movement and body percussion with finding our balance and feeling the tiny shifts of emphasis that distinguish the two rhythmic viewpoints. We are explorers, investigators, researchers in groove; we’ve lost the separation between leader and followers, or choir and conductor….just following the trail of the music.
Later in the day we talk. I want to hear why singing is so important to them, and why they commit so much of their lives to participating in choir – travelling very long distances; juggling school, family responsibilities, part-time jobs and a range of other challenges. They say…… “Music is my life – it’s how I know who I am”…….”It transforms my life”…..”When I am in choir I am totally happy”… This fundamental passion translates into a dignified, serious focus that belies their youth – aged 12 – 21, they feel and work like a seasoned, professional ensemble.
Two days later in Porto Alegre we continue our work. I introduce some exercises for sharpening physical and aural self-perception, and for establishing deep listening within ensemble. The singers stand in pairs, with the front of one pressed against the back of their partner. The singer behind feels the breath of the other, and settles their own breathing to the same rhythm. The front singer sound a long note on a single breath, and their partner joins, tuning their voice to replicate as closely as possible the voice of the other. The young people are deeply engaged; slowly and patiently working and making discoveries about their own and one another’s voices. One young woman tell us “Now I know what you mean when you (Giuliana) tell us to listen to ourselves” and all her comrades applaud her. We continue, working back to back and in circles of resonance and tuning; shared revelations arise to do with breath, tone, individual voice, collective voice, feeling of self and the sense of sound itself. The room is filled with light, and stillness, and a warmth of voice; with affection, respect and delicacy supporting vulnerable, exposed work of extraordinary quality.
Then we return to I Sing Because… and they are wild, joyous, rhythmically brilliant, touching, funny and profound in their celebration of the community of their choir, and how that community becomes the community of all of us who sing or share the singing with our listening ears and hearts. We sing because we love.