Me and My Elitist, Quartet-Suggesting Ways
  • Yours Truly is sowing the seeds of division again, I guess:

    So, choir director of a group I help out with (they're introducing the St. Michael's Hymnal as well as chanted propers, booyah) is hoping to expand to something more than the four-hymn sandwich at this point. So I suggested to her that we form a quartet for singing motets. Her negative answer was reasoned thus: she wants the whole choir to be able to sing motets, and if there's a group of individuals who are chosen to do certain pieces alone, it will demoralize the rest of the choir, make them feel expendable, untalented, etc.No Chorister Left Behind!


    I counterpointed that it needn't always be the same four - you could hold auditions to sing a piece, and if people showed the initiative to try and learn a piece, then they would certainly be allowed to do so. Besides, I'm not suggesting people than sing the Ordinary or hymns to the best of their ability are any less talented or devoted to improving the music culture at our parish. Everyone is doing their best. Some are just blessed to have the extra skills of singing polyphony and whatnot. I mean, everyday unknown saints in Heaven aren't jealous of Calendar Saints because they have a greater holiness - everyone is filled to their capacity of grace. God doesn't want thimbles to be Big Gulps. He wants everyone to be full.

    Your thoughts on how I should try to win our directrix over on this? She really is a sweet girl, but sometimes she tries to emulate her former choirmaster too much without trying to forge ahead on a path of her own . . .
  • I tend (well... I really don't 'tend', but actually 'do') to agree with your choirmistress. The more talented ones should serve as section leaders for the entire choir, who should grow into the desired polyphony. From this, much can be learnt about blend and choral tone, and so on and so forth. I don't see your situation as 'polyphony or not polyphony' but as an entire choir growing in musicianship, repertory, and group elan.

    I just might consider having the quartet do one and only one motet as an example to the others, with the message that this is where the entire choir are going. It would be carefully explained that the quartet are not stealing the choir's role but providing them with a one time sampling of what's to come. I would do this only if I thought it necessary as a means of eliciting enthusiasm from the entire group.
  • I have been looking at some SSA and TTB pieces beyond the usual SATB. A change up is not necessarily a bad thing.

    >> I counterpointed that it needn't always be the same four
    tell her to do the math :) you might point out that Choir could do 2x as many new pieces as before in the same amount of time.

    Motet 1: SATB group A
    Motet 2: SATB group B

    At Christmastide, this is a definite plus ! who kinows what possibilities might develop...
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  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    A quartet is not a choir (and I was a paid scholarship post grad singer and director of a five person schola at university.) A quartet can, of course, sing SATB choral works, but only emulate what a composer really heard.*
    I don't subscribe necessarily to JMO's maxim of three to a part minimum, as two per in a decent aural environment can supply a worthy spectrum of timbre/tone for ambient sound. So, have the quartet augmented by a succession of worthy volunteers; and let the quartet soloists mentor the amateurs.
    As I've said before, a solely paid ensemble cannot thrive long term in most parochial applications. Choral scholars should theoretically be motivated to be teachers as much as students at every stage of their under/grad careers.
    *As a high school teacher I hosted a quintet from St Petersburg for a day. They sang the Rach. "Bogoraditze...." and I couldn't help but think "Well, this is a novelty and quaint." And it was just that.
  • Although I believe fairly strongly in the efficacy of a "small group" within the choir (EF) for a variety of reasons, I don't think there is a value to pushing her on this, at least from how I'm reading the situation from your description. Rightly or wrongly, she has expressed a strong viewpoint contrary to your suggestion - not just a negative response, but a response where she has strong reasons for not implementing the idea. If you push, I suspect she will not appreciate nor feel comfortable instituting the practice, no matter how well-reasoned the process. It might be that down the road there might be a more propitious opportunity, if, for example, she is expressing some degree of frustration with slower development that what she had hoped.

    If it helps, however, here are some potential benefits I see from having a "small group":
    • Different texture. Even with the full choir, I may do ladies on this verse, men on that verse... this group of ladies on this section, this group of men on that section. With a small group, it allows another possible variation on the sound. Some pieces dramatically benefit from the lighter treatment.
    • An aid to ramp up choir development. MJO mentions having the strong singers as section leads. Often, pieces that I've introduced first to the small group are extended later to the full group... but I've reduced the ramp-up time for the full group because there is a core of strong singers across all parts who have done the piece and know it. Small group this year, full group a year or two from now.
    • An aid to ramp up individual development. Rather than holding all individuals to the standard of the weakest singers of the group, this allows strongER singers something to assist them to become STRONGer singers - i.e. independent. Ultimately, this benefits the group as a whole... but it gives purpose and direction to individual development as well.
    • Ability to do pieces beyond the skill-set of the full group. There are some pieces that might be desirable to do, but which are beyond the capability of the full group in the now.
    • Collapsed time frames. As MME points out, there can be reduced time frames. In my own experience, I don't usually find it double... but that is a function of how I manage the small group. I ask the small group for extra time, both on their own and together with me. Might be 30 minutes after Mass here and there; might be 15 minutes after practice on occasion, in addition to work they do on their own. I try to push a reasonable amount - and I base that on discussing with the small group what is reasonable for them. In that context, the small group contribution for me is typically in the 10-15% new repertoire range. Still significant, but not a 1-1.
    • Morale. This is one that cuts both ways. Yes, there are people who might be disappointed that they are not part of the small group. It's not something that can just be dropped on the choir without doing some selling - explaining some of the value of what is accomplished. Most people get it. Some people won't. But GENERALLY, morale is better. Small group members feel better utilized, see their growth. Non small group members are either glad that they don't have the extra practice commitment, or perhaps see the small group as something to aspire to. Most people that put in the time to be part of a good choir are generous enough not to resent the fact that they aren't part of the small group, particularly if the small group membership changes periodically.

    My two cents.
  • The intricate web of relationships of singers of different levels and experience has been and will continue to be the downfall of many directors.

    Singers who rise above the level of the group from within the group are accepted. Those who join the group are rejected - the more the talent, the more the aversion to them.

    Mello's comment reminds me that I was encouraged by the old guard not to stay for the late Mass, only to find that four of the old-timers were attempting to rather poorly sing the anthems and motets from the earlier Mass I directed with the large choir on their own...discovered when one tenor complained to me about being begged to show up and sing bass at this later Mass when one of the four was out of town.

    At the same time, a small group singing verses when the choir sings a polyphonic antiphon can be very effective and a good experience, since the choir will not have to learn the verses - a relief - and they will enjoy the poly part.

    Webs work for spiders, don't they?

    Wendy (where are you, dear?) did the Allegri Miserere the first year she was directing, how did you pull that off?
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  • Furthermore!
    If you have, as you intimate, so many talented singers as to constitute two or three different favoriti quartets, I don't understand why, with all this capable personnel you need to have a special quartet to do what the entire choir (presumably) can't do.
  • Small group <> several quartets. Small group = a smaller group than the full choir which typically spans SATB. Of a group of 16 (for example), it may be 6-8 singers, with some parts only 1 person.

    SML mentioned the Allegri. There are the three sections for separate choirs. SSATB (full choir), SATB (small group - in that case 4-6 singers), chant verses (2 cantors). There is overlap between the segments, but chant verses not necessarily all men, nor the SATB section (with the high C) for the full choir.

    Biebl Ave Maria - restricted to small group of 8 singers across seven parts with much more likelihood of success than the full group singing it.

    This year, my small group will do the Lotti Miserere (eventually full group), Victoria Iesu Dulcis (eventually full group), Victoria O Vos Omnes #2 (eventually full group), and the Biebl (always a small group). The small group = 3 Sop, 2 Alt, 1 Ten, 1 Baritone (sometime tenor, sometime bass), and 1 Bass.

    Obviously if I'm intending the other pieces for the full choir it isn't something that they CAN'T do... but it's a time management issue. I introduce the pieces this year, the full choir is exposed to them (everyone has the music), the core of more experienced singers learns it much more quickly then spending time on the full group and is available to reduce my ramp-up time when I introduce to the full choir down the road.

    It's a system that works for me in the situation I'm currently in. I wouldn't argue that it works in every choir...
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  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,574
    Can of worms: Did the directoress realise that she was one of the quartet voices?
  • JesJes
    Posts: 544
    Some of you have offered your 2 cents. Unfortunately the minimum coinage I can offer is 5c which is worthless to you lot anyway.
    But here is my 5 cents.

    I like both of your viewpoints.
    I love the idea of auditioning for the different motets but much like the “Aussie of the month” award given in schools around Australia there will always have to be a rotated “pupil of the week” award whereby someone who never gets the AoTM award is awarded PoTW without doing anything!

    Much is to be said for choral part leaders because that’s why rehearsals are important for all, the more experienced/proficient still should attend for the sake of those in need of learning.
    That being said I like the textural difference of having 4 solo voices, which often you get in mass settings that include a separate benedictus or two separate Agnus Dei movements.

    The trick would be to make sure it doesn’t come across as ‘elitist’ even if the group are advanced. I think sometimes people go overboard with the segregating and give them something exclusive like over the top copes or a badge or place them in a highly visible place in the church. If you can just make it part of the whole then why not give it the occasional burl?

    I’m in a situation where I run a professional Choir and deal with several amateur choirs. I’m very careful to make sure that the amateurs feel just as cared for as the professionals. One of the best things I ever did was to get my professionals to attend masses with the amateurs or concert performances and they actually came and enjoyed it! The amateur choirs are now much more receiving of the professional ring ins I bring in.

    I reckon you can do both. Have the odd occasion, for example, a Choir camp or very special feast where you get your best auditioners to perform as a chamber ensemble. I wouldn’t do it week in week out though because it denies some major improvements that can be made for the whole Choir.

    Also 5 cents given to the person who can name the animal on the Aussie 5c piece without searching the net for the answer.
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  • tsoapm
    Posts: 79
    Is the fact that I can’t make out anything that looks like an animal all part of the fun?
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  • Wallaby.

    Platypus.

    Crocodile.

    Kanga.

    Nicole Kidman.
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