I’ll let you into a secret. I’ve been watching one of those TV singing contests. And I’ve almost enjoyed it. Not all the hype and messing around. I’m not a voter. But there are a couple of fantastic voices in there (not necessarily the ones that have made it to the final, never trust the public to vote).
There are a myriad of shows dedicated to finding musical talent, looking for uniqueness, that something special that will captivate people (and of course make lots of money). And no, they’re not always that great. I am frequently scathing. As someone that’s spent years training their voice, watching people being congratulated for staying in tune throughout a song is irritating. Some of us manage that all the time. Well alright, most of the time (I may have been known to go sharp on the occasional high note).
These shows mainly encourage the solo voice. In my view, it’s a good thing if you can listen to a solo artist and identify them by tone and style. But what makes you the right voice when it comes to choral singing? For a start, if you can hear yourself over everyone else, you’re doing it wrong. Choral singers have to blend with one another. So singing the right note helps. As does the correct rhythm. But it’s more than that. As I’ve said before, choral singing isn’t a competitive activity, it’s a collaborative one. And you’ll find that each choir has a different sound.
I’d always recommend checking out a choir before you join. Go to a concert. Even better, join in a rehearsal, then you’ll really find out if your voice fits in. I’ve been performing in multiple performances of Britten’s War Requiem recently, accompanied by several different youth choirs. And these youth choirs have really demonstrated that is possible to create completely different sounds with the same music. The Hannover girls choir made an astonishingly mature noise, complete with some weighty vibrato. Not, it has to be said, to my taste, particularly for the Britten, although the acoustic of the Dresden Frauenkirche helped them out in the second performance. The CBSO youth and children’s chorus and the young ladies of the Radio France chorus made a much purer sound, as I’m sure will the choir of St Paul’s this week. It’s not about right or wrong though (although you might well have an opinion on this), each choir is unique and creates their own sound.
That’s not to say that in a choir you have to sound exactly the same as the person next to you. That’s impossible. But you do have to fit in with the overall picture. I don’t have much vibrato in my voice, so I find it easy enough to blend in a classical chorus with a cleaner sound. Stick me in rock choir and I’d be scuppered. Over the years I have found that you tend to gravitate towards certain people in a choir. You’ll find the people you like to sit with, not because you like a chat (although I do like a chat), but because your voices work together. The best thing you can do is listen and become part of the team, and work towards the vision of your choir leader.
So, how do you know if you’ve got the voice? Think about the type of music you like singing. Listen to yourself, then go and listen to concerts. Try some choirs out. Don’t be afraid to change if it’s not working for you. There’s a choir for everyone, you just have to find it, and when you do, you’ll find your voice.