Written December 25th, 2015 by Cora Schupp
New Westminster, BC
Dedicated to Helga Belluz
The choral tradition has gone on for thousands of years. It is in every continent, every culture and almost every religion. A choir has heralded Kings, passing of Monarchs, and the beginning of Festivals. The combined energy of dozens of voices raised up in song has a tremendous effect on the audience, and also reflects this power back into each other.
Many singers are active in their communities and like to volunteer. They are also charitable givers, and support the arts and other performers, not just music, but also theatres and museums.
The sense of camaraderie and bonding has long been documented, as well as the health benefits of deep breathing, good posture, and memory retention. Every good math teacher knows their best students are also musicians, as both endeavors seem to affect the same part of the brain!
Now I will explain the structure of a choir. You need a conductor and accompanist, of course, and within the members themselves, a president and vice president, and a few executives thrown in to manage the practicalities.
Traditionally, there are 4 sections; the Sopranos, which carries the melody line and are usually female, and the Altos, which harmonizes with the Sopranos and are also usually female. Then there are the Tenors who are on the upper part of the male section (although we have two tenors who are female) and then the Bass who give the whole choir its foundation.
No, not the gruesome but fascinating TV show, but the Star performers (well maybe in their own minds.) However, there is no room for Diva’s in a choir. Sometimes there are solo bits, but most of the time it is teamwork to keep the sound high and pure. “Blend, blend, blend,” as Mary Kay used to say.
Sopranos in the opera world get to be the sweethearts, the young ingénues, and the impassioned lovers.
The Alto’s on the other hand, get to be the evil Step Mothers, the wise sages, the warrior women – you get the picture. I am an Alto, and am happy to be so – I think our parts are much more challenging as we do harmony – melody is easy. We are the “unsung” heroes (pardon the pun) of the choir world. I couldn’t even find a suitable picture of an Alto on Google but this image will suffice.
The tenors are the counterparts to the Sopranos; they also harmonize, but get to be the other half of the young sweethearts couples, the unrequited lover, and the hero’s of legend. They are handsome and vigorous, sometimes reckless but always charming. How can you resist such a manly man?
The Baritones and Bass
They are the counterparts to the Alto’s – Wizards, Fathers-in-law, and evil Wardens. Well that is what gives music such drama, after all. The Bass also gives the strong foundation on the total musical sound, to build the notes on. A wobbly Bass section makes the whole choir precariously weak.
In my personal journey, I have always loved to sing. Growing up in Ontario in the 1960’s, when our childish voices were tested in class, the best singers got a canary sticker, the medium got a bluebird and the worst got a robin. Can you imagine doing that to a child today? I got a bluebird.
Years later I took singing lessons, fooled around on Karaoke with my friends and always had a blast. I wanted something more though – something with structure that was results and performance driven.
I first joined a small choir in Surrey that started out promoting Canadian Folk Music (don’t laugh, there is such a thing and its beautiful and healthy – us Canadians just don’t know how to promote ourselves.) However, the conductor was deeply religious and wanted to start singing Church music in Church. With all due respect, that just wasn’t for me, and not what I had signed up for. When I told the conductor my feelings, she phoned me a few days later and told me I was “fatally flat” and there was no cure for it, so I would not be welcomed back.
Well, I was crushed – no one likes rejection. Undeterred, I kept looking. I researched the BC Choral Federation at https://www.bcchoralfed.com/ that had a list of choirs, their genre and dates/times of practice.
After one of those performances, a Mr. Henry Hansen came up to me and told me of the Austrian Vancouver Melody Choir. He “recruited” me, and I guess he didn’t feel I sounded “fatally flat,” so he takes credit for finding me.
The Austria Vancouver Club Melody Choir in Richmond was just the ticket. I had grown up with European music, so it was already familiar to me. I was welcomed with open arms – the people were lovely and so was the music. The older ladies cuddled and kissed me every time I came in, and brought me little presents; flowers from their garden, home made jam or cards. They are non judgmental, kept their religion and politics at home, and are very tolerant. Well they tolerate me, anyway!
Not for my great voice, but I am the one of the youngest, rehearse at home, and always show up for practice. I do think these things count, and are appreciated by the conductor.
As a matter of fact, I met the love of my life at that choir. Hans has a gentle tenor voice and there is nothing like hearing his part behind me, when we sing harmony during some of the more romantic pieces, and we hit the right note exactly at the right time. I get goose-pimply thinking about it!
This is the link to their website; https://www.avcmelodychoir.com
I joined in 2001 and Hans in 2004; in 2012 we also joined the Concordia Choir that meets at the Alpen Club in Vancouver. That means twice the rehearsing, two binders to prepare, two sets of uniforms, but twice the fun with concerts and parties! This is their link; https://www.concordiachoir.ca/
Fun Things to Do
The first concert I participated in was at the Italian Centre on Slocan St. and the Italian Ambassador was there dressed head to toe in purple finery. We sang Va, Pensiero otherwise known as the Hebrew Slave Chorus, most famous of all Italian songs and almost their anthem. This was a great beginning of my choir life!
This is a link to that song (but not of our choir)
Since then, we have performed in Austria, Italy and Germany, and went down the Danube on a riverboat cruise. We sang in courtyards, community halls, fundraisers, and senior’s centers’. We sang at European Festivals, multicultural theatres, the PNE, and every 2-3 years we sing for each other at the Pacific Saengerfest, hosted at a different city in BC, Washington and Oregon. We have traveled to Victoria, Spokane and Kelowna on separate bus trips. We have sung in the rain, in the snow, with crappy acoustics and low ceilings to some of the most magnificent venues in Europe. We’ve been to a workshop in St. Louis. We have laughed together and cried together. Sometimes we get mad at each other but just for a few minutes and then we are pals again. We have celebrated marriages and births of grandchildren. We have mourned when we lose a member and sing at their funerals.
We have picnics, dances and parties and support each other’s events and milestones. For instance, we helped the MGV Lyra celebrate their 50th anniversary (local German male choir). We mentor each other and build each other up. After all, a choir is only as strong as its weakest voice.
This brings me to the end of the article, but not my musical journey. I encourage each and any one of you to check out your local organization. There is always room for another voice to add Power to the Choir!