What I learned from the choir….

I’m working on a show with the Orillia Vocal Ensemble. They have graciously agreed to vocally support three of my songs…and I will sing lead on one of theirs. This is a dream come true for me. I feel spoiled beyond belief!

And here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. The choir has a highly refined sound. They take pride in their unity …creating a single sound out of many. Every nuance, every breath, every note is impeccable. Details matter. And boy, can they sing! I forget what a voice can sound like if it hasn’t spent years howling over drunk people in bars. I sat in the soprano section beside a kind woman in her 70s. She was quietly reviewing her part by humming along. Even this humming sound came out like honey…as though someone had plucked her out of a tree of singing birds. It would sink into my ears with intense clarity and beauty. I wanted to record her so I could use that sound as my alarm clock. When my sound comes out, it’s like a shower; it has “air” in it. This happens to singers who’ve done damage to their voices. People like Joe Cocker, Ray Lamontagne, Bruce Springsteen, and a plethora of others all have “air” in their voices. Some people like that sound…probably because it’s like a shower of tones…. like a choir. But other people, such as this woman, have no damage in their voices, so the sound comes out like a laser. Like high definition TV. When she hit certain notes and I could feel chills down my back. It was so precise it was frightening. I was in awe. And there were numerous others just like her in the choir. What a gift to have that sound. I bet she wakes up in the morning and can sing with the birds. I wake up in the morning sounding like a hung-over Janis Joplin. In my busier times, I don’t even talk until after noon, and even then, I have to do my yoga, breathing and vocal warm up just to protect whatever is left of my already damaged voice. I’m not complaining. I realize this scratchy sound can be appealing to others…and I’m thankful because that’s all I’ve got. But when I hear all these refines voices singing together, it takes my breath away. How lucky they are to have that sound… and how lucky I am to be able to listen to it while nestled into the soprano section!
  1. Watching Roy, the choir director, handle all these people including myself is like watching a great painter skillfully create a masterpiece. Roy was once a school teacher, and I can tell that he learned many tricks from that experience. He jokes and quips, but each joke is on purpose. “Please practice this section of the song 100 times before Tuesday so that I don’t have to stress about it okay?” I’ve only known him a month and I have learned so much already. The main thing he has taught me is that I should never underestimate people. I told him we could create an easier wording of “Whisper in the Air” and he stopped me immediately and said, “NO, we’ll learn the words and do it right. They can do this!” I watch him with the choir, gently encouraging greatness in each section, careful not to hurt their confidence, but firm on what he believes they can achieve. He is, what I call, a “diamond polisher…” someone who can see more than what meets the eye and will polish until it reveals itself. Such a gift to have a person like that in the world. I can only imagine what kind of school teacher he must have been. What lucky students.
  1. In some seasons, I perform 6 times a week, so to prevent boredom, I continually change how I play the songs. I thrive on inaccuracy. Even my little piano mistakes tend to surprise and excite me…as though my fingers are additional band members who sometimes have a mind of their own. But this week I learned that THERE IS NO ROOM FOR “WILLY NILLY” IN THE CHOIR. Roy had gently been coaching me on how to accurately demonstrate some of the parts to my songs. But I didn’t understand the importance of this until rehearsal came and I’d not actually practiced accuracy. I thought it would be easy and that I’d just demonstrate each part. But I found myself making tiny changes to each part EVERY time I’d perform them. I looked out at a sea of confused singers erasing and penciling in new things each time… “Did she not take a breath there? I think she missed that last line? I don’t think we start here? My page doesn’t have that part?” I was mortified. I went home with a deeper understanding and a commitment to accuracy. It doesn’t matter which decision you make, as long as you commit to ONE thing and do it EVERY time! It’s a far cry from my solo performances and takes a HUGE amount of concentration. What a great lesson! After years of admiration for improvisation, I finally understand the equal and importance of accuracy and the intense effort it takes to achieve it.

What a fun and interesting and amazing life I lead! What am I going learn next?! We shall see…

 

 

 

 

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