Should choirs be afraid to leave their comfort zone?

Bollywood dances usually follow or are choreog...There’s been some recent debate about what sort of music choirs should be singing after Gareth Malone’s latest project announced a cover of a rap song. Personally, I think can choirs can and should sing any genre, but should you stick to what you know? Should we leave modern music to the Rock Choirs of this world? Should church choirs be faithful to their Sunday services?

So, for last week’s concert, it was requested that we groove. I think it’s fair to say that grooving is not something that comes naturally to the CBSO Chorus. Particularly when the music we’re bobbing our heads to is from a musical tradition so different from our usual fare.

The concert, a celebration of A. R. Rahman’s music, was a far cry from our more common diet of requiems and symphonies. We feel at home with those. We can almost do them in our sleep. Film music, and Bollywood film music at that, is something else entirely. We’re used to different languages, although Hindi and Tamil were new ones, but the culture behind much of the music was unfamiliar.

Now we do every so often do these sorts of concerts. They are not really considered part of our standard repertoire (and are often not part of our core performance commitment for a season). They take us out of our comfort zone.

I am not complaining, I actually love them. I am one of those people that admits that they like film music. I have even been known to own up (in hushed tones glancing around to see who’s listening) to being rather keen on musicals… However, with my classically trained voice I do feel ever so slightly like a fraud. I almost feel like I’m cheating on classical music. And when the music is from an unfamiliar tradition I go one step further and find myself worrying whether somehow I’m going to offend someone by singing in a style I clearly have no clue about.

But do you know what? It went down a storm. Thanks to Julian Wilkins’ meticulous preparation we were able to rattle off high speed Tamil for Arima, Arima (still have no more than the vaguest clue what that was about but the video is amazing). Chaiyya, Chaiyya became a firm favourite and we had our oohs and aahs at the ready despite the many bars rest we had to wait between entries.

Many of us were still singing Jai Ho and Chaiyya Chiayya at this week’s rehearsal (which was a shame for the conductor as we should have been singing Rachmaninov).

My conclusion? Choirs should definitely explore music out of their comfort zone even if it feels a bit uncomfortable at first. I loved getting to know new pieces, and I don’t think it matters whether the music is performed exactly in the original style. I felt like the audience enjoyed what they were hearing and it was a real opportunity to broaden both our musical education and provide an opportunity for a different audience to see live music in a fantastic venue. Put simply, it was great fun.

Hopefully, you’ll see more attempts at grooving from us in the future…

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