Saturday, November 4, 2017

Ten Years with The Stairwell Carollers - Contrasts #1

Maggie, pondering - or perhaps just resting her eyes after a long day teaching
I’ve been pondering writing down some thoughts for a while, and what better time to get started than now? 

If I liken this musical journey to the long-established apprenticeship system, I suppose I’m currently a Senior Journeyman. Not yet a master – that will come with another few years of dedicated practice under the maestro, but I’ve definitely matured with my ten years in the Stairwell Carollers.

Can it really be ten years? It seems like just yesterday that I started… The audition process that seemed so daunting all those years ago served its purpose then, as it does now. Many very talented singers have auditioned for this choir, but not everyone with a lovely voice can be a true chorister.
Maggie, front and centre, always looks like the happiest singer on the planet
There are several things I’ve learned over the past ten years, and I’d say that one of the most important things is balance. In most other choirs where I’ve sung, it’s quite easy to hear individual voices. The true ensemble leaves you wondering how many singers there are, since you can’t distinguish separate voices. 

This is a lot more difficult than most people understand. 

To be able to set your ego aside for the good of the group sometimes rubs folks the wrong way, and you have to buy into the ‘collective mind’ and develop an instinct for both pitch and blend 
Maggie and the zen of choral singing
(but not ‘pitchblende’, which is a radioactive mineral, and a cheap excuse to get in a pun about rocks and music). 

When I started this fantastic voyage, I thought I had a pretty good sense of pitch. The more I’ve sung with this group, the more I’ve learned that ‘pretty good’ is *nowhere* near good enough. There’s a great deal of skill involved in blending with other singers, and in being so aware of the pitch and the ensemble singing that you immediately know when you’re off pitch. 

In most choirs, you’ll be able to tell when you’re off by a half-tone, as that happens all the time  with a cappella singing, despite your best efforts. This is the generic nature of the voice, and many factors affect pitch (but that’s for another post). 

Our maestro, whose sense of pitch is probably the best I’ve ever seen in my life, will grudgingly allow us up to ten ‘cents’ before telling us that we’re flat. 
Pierre - Directing, singing and counting the cents
For those not familiar with the terminology, one semi-tone equals 100 cents. The discipline of bringing things back into pitch when it’s a *tenth* of a semi-tone out is one of the best things I’ve learned in my musical journey, and my admiration for a choir director who can impart that work ethic to all concerned is probably the main reason that I’m still here after ten years. 
Our latin expert, Maggie is!
I’m happy to say that this choir suits my psyche to a ‘T’. I’ll explain that in another blog post, but it’s time to get back to practicing – after all, there *is* another rehearsal coming up. 

Maggie Park - newly minted alto 1, formerly soprano 1 and/or 2  


  1. Great blog post, Maggie, looking forward to Part 2!

  2. Love what you've written, Maggie! It's all very, very true!!


You can also email your questions to me - info (at) stairwellcarollers (dot) com.
Holly :)

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