My current choir is one of those which, when you suggest having to memorise something for performance, makes a sort of disgruntled muttering sound. Not everyone dislikes this you understand, but there’s a fair amount of trepidation about ditching the music as we only tend to do it for a couple of pieces in our repertoire and we do them often enough they’re pretty well embedded in all our brains. Our party pieces are Beethoven 9 and Mahler 2. And we’re very good at them (honest we are, other people say so). And I believe this is because we perform without music.
A couple of weekends ago I had a fantastic time at a concert by The Pink Singers. And there was no music in sight, for the full 2 1/2 hours. Now, they were singing songs from the movies, so holding pieces of paper wasn’t overly appropriate for the repertoire, never mind the quite frankly fearsome accompanying choreography, but they showed it could be done. There was even a frighteningly fast rendition of Handel’s Zadok the Priest for anyone that’s going to claim that classical repertoire is more tricky to learn (which I don’t believe as there were some very complicated arrangements in this concert).
Me, I grew up on printed music. I am a good sightreader (partly I fear because I spent so little time practising when I was younger it became a survival mechanism when faced with the wrath of a music teacher) and I find music invaluable when learning a new piece. But I have also done plenty of concerts without the music. And while they can be scary (depending on how much homework you’ve done), they are immensely satisfying and often thrilling.
What I feel, and what the Pink Singers conveyed that evening, is that singing without printed music gives you leave to express the music more. You can focus fully on the conductor and the sound you are making and there’s definitely something about not having to worry if you’re about to rustle a page in a quiet bit. Ok, occasionally you’re panicking about which bit comes next but overall I think I prefer that freedom of expression.
We’ve just received our new schedule, and there’s an abundance of Beethoven 9 and Mahler 2, but also pieces like Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass that a few chorus members have already expressed a wish to do from memory. So, what do I think?
I say let’s ditch the printed music when we can. The dancing I think I will leave to other people though.