WHY I LOVE SINGERS
The new Singer Network at Chorus America asked if I could contribute a piece to their website, and my first thought was to acknowledge my own delight in the company of singers. They are, on the whole, an addictive bunch, and I’ll try to sort out why.
First of all, I do like all singers; large and small, young and old, beginners and old pros, in church and school choirs and community choruses – wherever they are. But I harbor a special place in my heart for the professional choral singers who peopled my younger years in the Robert Shaw Chorale, and with whom I now work in the Musicians of Melodious Accord.
Of course, I married one. Tom Pyle had a wonderful baritone voice, and he was also a perfectly charming person. A true southern gentleman, he had impeccable manners and was notably cordial and courteous in his dealings with others. (As personnel manager on tours of the Robert Shaw Chorale, he had lots of challenges in this department: once the singers broke into applause on the bus as he chastised one wayward member for childish behavior. That was after he’d had children of his own.) He was a delightful conversationalist, and often retold the ridiculous jokes that circulated amongst the New York professionals of whom he was part. (A doctor friend complained that singer jokes were so much funnier than medical ones.) Lastly (and this is atypical for singers) he had a very even temperament – almost nothing disturbed his composure. .
Now I can’t hold this paragon up as a model of all singers. But certain traits run true: they do like to eat, drink, converse, laugh and party. They are just plain fun to be with; outgoing, friendly and not (at least my New York professionals)overburdened with ego. (There’s no room for that in the tightly-scheduled performance world.) They are serious about their careers, always honing their talents and accepting new challenges. They are also family people, sharing photos of children, and commiserating over illnesses and accidents. They love it when rehearsals and performances go well, and suffer when they don’t. They are wonderful listeners. (My definition of professional choristers is that they rememberamateurs often have to be told again and again. When I'm working with The Musicians of Melodious Accord, I feel more like a colleague than a conductor teacher.
Some of the old images do persist. Sopranos are apt to be flightier than other mortals; Mezzos and Altos are more sensible (and the best baby-sitters). Tenors can be rather child-like – I remember when a whole section (of four) collapsed into helpless laughter when they came to the Isaac Watts lines “In secret groans my minutes pass, And I forget to eat.” (This was the same crew that brought three dozen Crispy Creme Doughnuts to a rehearsal of sixteen singers.) I have to admit to a personal partiality to Baritones; Basses are often more reserved and quiet.
One can wonder about the effect on the brain of vibrations from high pitches. And the lack of common sense that impels people like singers (and dancers) to try to build a career on such an unstable and body-dependent foundation. But the gifted ones all know that there is a satisfaction to be found in making music that pales all other occupations. Creating the sound out of your own body, using your mind and heart to bring the song to life, sharing in the affirmation of human experience that choral work gives: these make for a wonderfully healthy attitude toward life. We’re not focused on financial riches: we’ve found other riches elsewhere. We’ll do almost anything to be able to keep singing. But we would like to be taken seriously in our profession, and recognized for the sometimes inspired work that we do together.
In fact, if we could raise the world’s population of singers to 90%, it would be a far happier place. Some of the books might not balance some of the complex technological gadgets might not function; and most of the wars would die for lack of funding – but there would be lots of love, laughter, good food and wonderful song. What could be better?