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Singing in LA #3: The Occidental Chorale

The third in a three part series about my crazy year masquerading as a professional choral singer in Los Angeles.

For most of my post-college life, my choir involvement has been with volunteer choirs and church choirs. The usual mode of operation for these sort of groups is a regular rehearsal on a particular night of the week -- every Thursday night, for example. So usually my choir commitment was two nights a week on a regular schedule. This is nice; it makes my evenings easy to plan around.

Imagine my dismay, in the fall of 2007, upon learning that the Los Angeles Master Chorale had no regular schedule whatsoever, but instead, called you to rehearsal whenever it damn well pleased. And since I was only on four calls, I imagined that I would usually only be singing one night a week. Clearly this would not do. I needed a volunteer choir.

Finding a new choir in an unfamiliar city is the bane of the chorister's existence. There is a lot to consider when joining a group (director, musical goals, repertoire, quality of musicianship, concert schedule, treat policy, dress code, etc etc) and, barring the exceptionally well-fleshed-out website, no easy way to determine these facts from choir to choir. You almost have to know someone in the group. And choral networking is not the easiest thing to do in a new city.

Fortunately for me, I did have an acquaintance who, I learned during a party conversation, was pleased with her current choir. So upon her recommendation, I auditioned for and joined the Occidental Chorale.

This choir follows a not-uncommon model for community choirs: using the alumni base of a university or college to form a group. This usually provides the director (who is often employed by the school in question) and a steady supply of interested singers who know one another and are comfortable with the director. Additional community members who are otherwise unaffiliated with the school are usually welcome. I'm acquainted with a number of these types of groups in the past, and have even been a member of one.

This particular group was interesting in that it also featured current Occidental students in the ranks along with the alums and community members. This was an interesting dynamic, but I had a lot of respect for the college kids who came to sing with the old fogies. I'm pretty sure that wouldn't have been something I would have done when I was in school.

The group apparently also had a relationship with the Pasadena Symphony. This helped explain the heavy emphasis of their season on orchestra works (Beethoven's Ninth, Mozart's Mass in C Minor and Verdi's Requiem). A year's worth of the warhorses normally isn't my schtick, but it so happens that I hadn't performed any of them, so it sounded like a fun ride.

It was, for the most part. The group provided me with what I was looking for from it -- a regular weekly rehearsal and a chance to slip into a more familiar choral role: the strong voice in the section who is still just a volunteer. This meant I could miss rehearsal when circumstances required and not have to worry about finding a sub or getting kicked out of the group. It also enabled me to be more relaxed in rehearsal and upped the stress-relieving powers of my time there -- which, after all, is one of the reasons I subject myself to this madness in the first place.

The conductor was about what you'd expect from the group. He was younger, which generally means more energetic and optimistic, but with a tendency to ignore good rehearsal planning and pacing for the sake of spending 20 minutes trying to wring a perfect chord out of a volunteer ensemble -- not always a good trade-off, in my opinion.

Additionally, this group was most successful at satisfying the final reason I sing: the social aspect. My acquaintance, Christina, already had an established group of friends in the choir, and she graciously included me in invitations for drinks with the crew, as well as assorted brunches before concerts and house parties after concerts. Here were the people I was used to meeting in choirs. People with regular jobs who came together to do this weird thing called choral music, then actually wanted to hang out and get to know one another afterwards. These are the folks I miss most now that I've left.

The sound? Well, what can I say. The final products seemed to come off fine. The audiences were pleased. And (as Samantha and I recently discussed), that's really the only thing that matters. In these cases, I have to believe that the passion and excitement of a bunch of volunteers singing their hearts out just for the fun of it trumps any deficiencies in musicality.

Of the three choirs I sang with last season, the Occidental Chorale the least professional. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 21, 2008 9:57 AM.

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