5 Reasons Why Choral Music Lacks Street Cred

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As the holiday season kicks into full swing and choral music concerts abound, I am invariably reminded of why it is that the genre has so little street cred.

Here are the problems as I perceive them.

1. Composers like to write tediously slow, earnest music. Most of the contemporary repertoire sounds like a dirge, with the same superficially complex harmonies borrowed from the Lauridsen and Whitacre cannons. There’s little rhythmicality and joy to any of it. In short, the sincerity bores the pants off me.

2. Choral directors take themselves way too seriously and program too much samey stuff. I guess they can’t help it — that’s all that’s being written at the moment, apparently — as per my above point. The concerts generally lack variety and are often way too long, sending the audience into a comatose state.

3. Singers usually seem completely disengaged. With expressionless faces, they look akin to many performers of contemporary dance. At most, you get one or two simperingly beatific expressions, which are as off-putting as the blank, robotic looks. Where’s the fun?

4. The churches in which most choral concerts take place couldn’t be less inviting. The pews are hard. The air is cold. The toilets are in the basement. The lighting is bad and there’s nowhere to get a drink.

5. Choral people often dress very poorly. I can’t stand choruses’ attempts at homogeneity e.g. matching uniforms. And the “all black” thing is boring plus leaves too much room for people to get away with ugly variations on a theme like ill-fitting shirts, trousers that are too short and, worst of all, clogs. (I know clogs are comfortable and singers have to stand for a long time. But there are limits.)

I believe that the above issues are easy to fix. Choruses should commission composers to write more fast-paced, joyous and/or rhythmic pieces. Directors should program shorter concerts (max 90 minutes) and include a wide variety of moods and styles into a single program. Singers should understand the words they’re singing and wake up. Choruses should stop performing in churches so much. There are plenty of other kinds of venues with decent acoustics. Oh, and the singers and their directors should take a style lesson. Looking good on stage doesn’t have to cost much money.

Re-posted with permission.

  • Alice Shukalo

    I sing with Tapestry Singers, a women's choral group in Austin, Texas. Tapestry Singers has avoided some of Ms. Veltman's complaints by hiring knowledgeable, upbeat, and spirited artistic directors. Our current director, Ms. Jenn Goodner, includes in our programs music that inspires energetic and engaged singing. Now, on to number 4: The venue is critical. Tapestry Singers sing in a church, but it is warm, inviting, and has fantastic acoustics. The pews I don't know about, seeing as how I'm not sitting on one at the concerts. As for the costumes, I agree that ill-fitting clothes and too much skin exposure, not to mention the clogs, present a motley appearance to the audience. A real dress rehearsal, with a photo taken so everyone can see how the chorus will look to the audience, and enough time to find alternative garments, might solve this. Of course, the director must have the guts to talk to singers who have made ill-advised sartorial decisions, or such singers will show up wearing the same thing.
    As for the harmonies borrowed from the Lauridsen and Whitacre cannons, the word that is wanted here is "canons," not "cannons." Unless you're really bringing out the big guns.