The current state of our choir:
- a good young soprano who needs occasional reining in to keep her from being both too fast and too loud from sheer enthusiasm
- a shy soprano with a soft but sweet and clear voice, needs encouragement but does very well when she’s confident
- a strong mezzo-soprano who prefers her high register but can sing alto parts when necessary; her vowels are sometimes off because she’s Ukrainian and still learning Dutch
- a very experienced mezzo-soprano (my predecessor and mentor; we go back thirty years) who is losing some of her skill and range from age and vascular dementia (and knows it, that’s why she handed it over to me)
- an experienced, versatile alto (me) who can also take on tenor and mezzo parts as needed, or stay put as the local Immovable Object
- a solid alto with an awkward work schedule that makes her miss most rehearsals and some services, but when she’s there she’s my right-hand woman and stand-in (not for direction, but to sing my part if/when I have to drop out for any reason). I gave her a long-overdue compliment last Sunday.
- a tenor with a good range, good memory and great musical talent but no sight-reading skills, also a similarly awkward work schedule (they’re both doctors in different institutions)
- a baritone who usually sings bass parts but the occasional tenor part, can sight-read and knows a lot of music but doesn’t always pay attention
- a bass with a splendidly deep voice who is slow in learning new things (from age, a minor stroke, and inability to sight-read) but once he knows something he’s unshakeable.
There’s another Ukrainian woman but she hasn’t been in church for a while, possibly because she’s on tour with her orchestra (she’s a professional violist).
ALL OF THOSE PEOPLE CAN ACTUALLY SING IN TUNE. This seems a prerequisite for being in a choir in the first place, but we sing everything a cappella and don’t have an organ or anything to keep us on track, which makes it a lot harder. In the past, even in the fairly recent past, we had to work on this much more than we do now. What we work on at the moment, apart from the new music I transcribed and brought in, is clarity, understandability, and F***ING LISTENING TO EACH OTHER.
- 7 people can read Psalms and short texts in services
- 4 can read the Epistle (and a fifth is learning but doesn’t dare do it in the Liturgy yet)
- 3 can read verses between stichera; it usually falls to me because though the other two can, neither of them likes it and I do
- 2 can read the Canon troparia (climbing to 6 when they’re written out and in the binder between the irmoi instead of the reader having to juggle the book) and 2 more are interested in learning when we all have the opportunity.
We have an ordained reader in the parish, but he only got ordained as a reader because that’s what happens before you’re ordained hypodiakon, not to read verses and things. I taught him to read for his ordination and it turned out that he likes it and is fairly good at it, so he reads the Six Psalms and the First Hour in the Vigil, but in the Liturgy he has hypodiakon duties. (Apropos of nothing, it’s so awesome to teach something to someone and it turns out that they CAN THEN DO IT.)
Since I’ve been kicked upstairs to choirmistress, almost a year ago now, more people have come to rehearsals and more people have come to sing in services. Last night in the Vigil we had 3 sopranos, 2 altos, a tenor and a bass, which is a lot for an ordinary Saturday night.
I must be doing something right. I have a letter from the bishop, who was in our parish in early September, saying that I am indeed doing things right — he was impressed because we were singing our ordinary things as well as we could instead of going all-out on extra-festive and challenging pieces because we had A Bishop Visiting, as many other parishes do — but I’ve been learning more since then, and I intend to go on learning.
Leave a Reply