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2004-11-15 - 7:36 p.m.

a question of choir etiquette

Attention musicians! I ask for your advice on the situation I describe below:


Yesterday was my first concert with the Vocal Ensemble, at a church up in Happyville, NY. We drove 45 minutes from the college to participate in a Sunday service in an evangelical Lutheran church with an amazing organ and even more amazing organist.

The choir loft was cramped, stuffy, and with horrible acoustics. In order to hear each other we had to sing mixed for the first time. There were only two altos. In my opinion the concert was held together by mere threads. But...we got through it, and it taught me a number of things. For one, we need to practice mixed voice singing in advance. Number two, we really need to rehearse pieces from beginning to end more often, so that they are not so surprising. Number three, we really need to rehearse a second night per week.

More poignant: this ensemble is the first time in my life that a choir has challenged me musically, and I found myself making significant mistakes. It was very humbling, especially because I realize that I am trying my very very best, but compared to the music performance majors who practice several hours per day? This is truly a hobby for me! I feel remorse that I may be holding them back, but at the same time I am thrilled that they are taking me so far forward.

More disappointing and shocking to me was the behavior of the choir. Admittedly, I am 5-15 years older than many members, but I was shocked by their lack of understanding of choir etiquette during and after a church service. Several younger members giggled and laughed through the service. One choir member left the loft to sit with her friend during the service. Several choir members showed up late for the performance and forgot the gig entirely. More than half the choir simply left the service after our last piece, and did not remain to shake hands and say hello to the congregation.

Mind you, I am not an evangelical lutheran. (and I did not particularly enjoy the service). But I recognize that this church did us a huge service by letting us perform there, and by letting us benefit from their fantastic organ (and organist), and by giving us the opportunity to perform. The least we could do is to shake hands and smile and thank them very kindly for this opportunity.

Is there a published etiquette out there that I could subtly share with our choir, so that they can learn how to behave? I mean, many of these choir members are performance majors. At some point in their lives, most of them will have church gigs. They really need to learn that singing is only one part of the performance.

Am I right, or am I just an old fuddy-duddy? Our conductor is a very generous, quiet man who is reticent to seem militant and authoritative. I think that he feels that his declaring these rules officiously will turn people off, and to a certain extent I see his point. On the other hand, I think that this is an important part of a musician's education.

Are these ideas written down somewhere so that I might share them with the choir members without causing offense?

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