singing “off book”

RANT WARNING. I may go just a bit off the deep end here, but this blog is an outlet for my steam, so……read on!

pet peeve of mine: choirs who refuse to memorize music.

Seems to me this is fairly straightforward and simple: If you memorize the music you have a much better chance of connecting. To the music, to the director and to your audience. So I have a goal this year to memorize as many of the Sunday anthems as I can.

But in church circles this memorization goal of mine is poo-pooed by many people as being “performance” oriented. Look, we are standing up in front of the congregation…singing. Like it or not, this IS a performance.

Are we doing it for the applause? NO

We are doing it to reach people. To touch them.

It is easier to touch people when you LOOK AT THEM. But you can’t look at the people if your nose is in the music. You can’t even watch the director, which, let’s face it, IS sort of necessary.

For the record, this only applies to choirs who get to look at their anthems for four or five weeks before performing them. I’m not expecting memorization out of a choir that only looks at a piece once before a Sunday morning.

alright back to the subject at hand……

I don’t buy the “I’m an old dog, I can’t learn new tricks” excuse that the older choir members give. These are the same ladies who can spout whole chapters and verses of the Bible at the drop of a hat. And they know half the hymns in the hymnal by heart. But memorization of the anthem for Sunday is not something they are used to thinking about. So it wigs them out when I mention it.

From the younger choir members I typically hear “I’m too busy” Huh? You are here aren’t you? You are singing the music the same number of times in rehearsal that I am. Just TRY IT. In practice. No one is going to come after you with a cattle prod if you get it wrong, but if you just put the music down for one run through it may surprise you just how much of it you already know. Of course they still look at me like I’m crazy. Or like I think I have some kind of super brain to be able to memorize the music and that I’m showing off.

I’ve taken to putting the book down as often as possible during practice and almost always going without it on Sundays. I’m not showing off, I just WANT the connection. With the director and with the congregation.

It makes the experience of singing on Sunday so much more meaningful for me. Instead of concentrating on perfection, or being nervous about a specific run or phrase or note, I get to be caught up in the piece itself and what it is trying to convey. It becomes a prayer.

Which for me is the whole point: I want to be PART of the service, not just contribute to it.

Does that makes sense to anybody else?

***note. I realize that memorization is not for everyone. If you don’t WANT to memorize, go ahead and say “I don’t want to” but don’t hide behind excuses like “I can’t” or “I don’t have time” no big deal. ******

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Janna would be so proud of me

Every year at Easter my good friend Janna’s father (choir director at her church) used to let whoever wanted to to come up into the choir loft and sing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. And every year I would get in so much trouble.

See I had learned it as a Soprano when I was much younger and had a soprano range. But I can’t do that anymore. And besides, I wanted to stand next to my friend Janna………. who sings alto.

oops.

So there I was, in the middle of the Alto section. The director has his arms raised. We are getting ready to start singing.

And I have NO CLUE how the Alto part goes!

yikes.

And somehow I never learned. Year after year I’d bounce up into the loft and every time have same oops moment. Is my learning curve really that flat?

But Janna, you’d be proud of me now. This year my choir has been doing the Messiah (Christmas portion) and I’ve learned the alto part by heart. And I just wanted to tell you, I adore the alto line. My director has joked that Handel was “sweet on an alto” and that’s why he gave us such a gorgeous part to sing. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that it is way more fun to sing than the soprano part ever was.

so be proud of me Janna, I’m a confirmed alto for life now.