Monday, March 9, 2009

Why I Love Choir

Choir is one of those things in life that I am passionate about. How that came to be is a bit of a story.

I began singing in our church choir as a 10-year-old (my mom was the accompanist and I got dragged along). As a teenager I continued to sing and often played for choir. As a music major in college I was required to take 6 semesters of "ensemble credit." Given that pianists don't get to play in orchestras, I didn't play jazz, and "Keyboard in Ensemble" was the most horrendous time-sink 1 credit class from you-know-where (so I didn't want to take that any more than the two required semesters), I wasn't left with many options. So what was left to fill those credits? You guessed it, choir. So my love affair with choir began out of a sort of necessity. (As so many things in life do, I suppose....)

I arrived at BYU and decided that I was going to audition for Concert Choir. Mack Wilberg was the director of Concert Choir at the time and I recognized his name from a duet book that I had played as a kid and was like, "Cool. Yeah, I want to sing in choir with him. That sounds like fun." I am embarrassed to admit that at the time I had no idea that he was a rock star of the choir world. I also had no idea that since I was home-schooled through high-school and did not have any experience singing in anything other than ward choir, I basically had no chance (although I have to insert that had I gone to high school there STILL wasn't any choir at our local high school thanks to California budget cuts, so I still wouldn't have had any chance... but I diverge).

So I did the general audition and was politely told to try for Women's Chorus. By this time I had figured out that choir at BYU was a big deal, so I was happy to go for Women's Chorus. I had a great audition, the director loved that I was a piano major who could play for her, I made callbacks... and I didn't make it. I was kind of sad because two of my roommates did make it and I really wanted to be in it with them (both of them had sung in their high school's elite choir for several years). But I had to move on: I added non-audition choir for my ensemble credit and had to beg my way in because I was a girl.

Fast forward to winter semester. I was still irked at not getting in to Women's Chorus, so I tried out at mid-semester. I had a great audition, the director was really positive. I didn't make it. Another semester of non-audition choir for me. By this time I felt that I had done my time, so the next fall I was pretty confident that I would get in to Women's Chorus. I auditioned, it went great, the director was positive, I made callbacks... and I didn't get in. At that point I was stinkin' sick of non-audition choir and quite irritated. So I didn't take ensemble that semester- instead I took voice lessons. Winter semester of my sophomore year I auditioned for Women's Chorus for the 4th time and I finally made it in.

I still remember my first day of Women's Chorus. I took my seat and the director had them sing through a song they had sung the previous semester. We sang Aaron Copland's "Zion's Walls" and the sound just swept through me. I was hooked. In truth, I was hooked long before that. At one of the first university devotionals of my freshman year, BYU Singers sang a bunch of songs from their tour the previous summer. I had never heard a choir sound like that and I vowed that I was going to sing in that choir (or at least Concert Choir) before I left BYU. And so my endless string of auditions began.

Singing in a BYU auditioned choir was one of the highlights of my University experience. I learned to really listen- to myself and others, to work together with other musicians and to be sensitive to musical nuance in a way that I never had before. I sang in Women's Chorus for 3 semesters. The happy end to my story would be to tell you that after all my determination and hard work I achieved my dream and finally was selected to sing in Concert Choir or BYU Singers. Which would indeed be very happy, except that it isn't true- I never did make either of the top choirs. I did make callbacks for Concert Choir with Dr. Wilberg in the fall of my junior year, but didn't make the final cut (it was his last year at BYU and record numbers of people auditioned). My senior year... let's just say it didn't happen. Why it didn't happen is a different story which will have to wait for a different post, but it involves fate and a boy.

So my dream didn't exactly work out how I had hoped. But I had an amazing choir experience which ignited a lasting passion for choral music. I had the chance to sing with Dr. Wilberg and Dr. Staheli (the director of BYU Singers) with the BYU combined choirs and learned so much from the short time I sang with them. I also had the chance to study conducting with Dr. Staheli later as a grad student. And my choral experience didn't stop when I left BYU. I sang with the Valparaiso Singers in California, with the Portland Mormon Choir and now I am the co-director of a new group called "Cantico: The Portland Chamber Singers."

So why do I like choir so much? What I love about being a musician is the chance to experience a musical work first-hand: to be in the driver's seat with the rush of sound in your face, to be part of it as it happens. The piano is my main instrument- and I love it- but it is very solitary. And it takes years or even decades of study before you can play really great works on the piano. With choir, yes it takes study and discipline, but it doesn't take nearly as long to get to a level where you can participate in really great music. In choir there is also the fun of working with other people and the challenge of surrendering self to the group: you have to come together as a unit and listen to each other as much as to yourself.

So to sum it up... I really love choir. And this was a really long rambling way to say that.

[Shameless Plug: If you like choir, you should come see our concert on May 16th:]


Lara said...

I also love choir (are you shocked?). I remember singing Zion's Walls in Women's Chorus my Freshman year, but if I'm reading the timeline right, that would have been a couple years before your freshman year. Such an awesome piece for a women's chorus...I am going to mention it to my current director.

Greek Goddess said...

Some of my best experiences at BYU were choir, too, singing under Dr. Bush in the St. Matthew Passion, the St. John Passion, the B-minor Mass and the Messiah. Lately choir hasn't been a priority for me though, with little children and all, and Warren was in the Bishopric etc. It just makes for such a long Sunday. How do you do it?