Dr. Margot Rejskind
First-World Choir Problems
Last fall, I started a new men’s choir. Our initial recruitment was what I like to call the “Y’All Come” approach: we made it clear that we welcomed any man who wanted to sing*; as a result, we started with 8 men of extremely varied levels of experience. We had a couple of university music students, several men who have sung with choirs for years, one with only a little choral experience, and one with none at all.
As you might expect, we did not get as neat a balance of voices as one might wish. Which is to say that we are baritone-heavy (surprise!), and that both the bass and second tenor sections are currently one-man shows. But the good news is that in spite of this, the balance is really very good – better than good, actually. I am the happy director of a small group of men who sing with dead-on intonation, and remarkable ensemble. We get warm, ringing chords even in the initial stages of learning music, and when I ask them to sing something a certain way, they do – and they do it again the following week. These guys are already, in many ways, a dream ensemble.
Now, there are a lot of reasons for that, I’m sure. Right from the first rehearsal, we spent time building the ensemble sound, working on listening skills, and singing technique. But we also had a great sound right from the first rehearsal, so obviously some of that is the particular mix of voices.
It’s clear that we need at least a few more singers – if only so my second tenor can breathe once in awhile. But it’s also clear that I need to give careful consideration to how I am going to continue taking men into the choir. As I see it, I have three options:
1. Remain unauditioned, and rely on hard work and ensemble skills to integrate all newcomers. 2. Move to an auditioned system. 3. Find the middle ground – maybe a probation period for new members, to see how they integrate.
All of these have both advantages and disadvantages; option 1, for example, might mean more singers, but also more work, and could set us up to have to deal with a voice that doesn’t suit our group. Likewise, auditioning would likely keep some perfectly good singers from coming to us, and a probationary period would inevitably cause some hard feelings when we had to tell someone that they can’t stay. In a small province, those kinds of hard feelings have larger repercussions than they might elsewhere.
So, I have some cogitating to do.
*I did make the conscious choice not to invite women who sing in traditionally male ranges, not because I disapprove – I don’t – but as a matter of aesthetic, which bears discussing some other time.