The classical choir is like an echo of an era more beautiful – not just the music itself, but also in the way it is organised.
A so called “mixed choir” consists of four basic parts, based on the human voice: soprano and alto for the women, and tenor and bass for the men. Sub-groupings are common, such as second bass and second alto.
This division into male and female parts is completely natural and obvious. Nobody questions that they are separate and different. Or do they? Maybe we should have a quick look into the rehearsals of the Progressive Choir (abbreviated P.C):
A soprano shouts out: – Why are only the men allowed to sing the bass part? It’s sexist and unfair. I’m offended, as a woman!
The choir-leader, or “voice co-ordinator” as he-she prefers to say, answers anxiously: – Oh dear! Of course anyone can sing the bass. We just … have to rearrange it a little bit.
But then one the basses has the audacity to say: – Wouldn’t that sound … somewhat … odd?
It goes without saying that he is instantly discharged from the choir, being such a reactionary women hater.
Another bass, Phil with the soft and smooth falsetto voice, smiles and says: – Then perhaps I can sing with the sopranos instead? You can call me Phyllis…
But of course! Bring’em all!
Back to reality. Traditional choral music is composed so that the parts together form a harmonic whole, yet being rather different from each other. They are always complementary and never compete. The fact that choir members (choristers) may compete in their privat lives is another matter. When it comes to music everybody knows their place and function, and will do their best to help the conductor/choir-leader interpret the composition.
Still, it is important that every chorister has his or her personal voice signature, within limits, so that the overall choir timbre is lush and complex. Solo parts are common, and naturally the best and most adequate vocalist gets to perform it. Equality would simply lower the quality.
The conductor will use his or her competence and authority to decide the repertoire as well as the interpretation of each piece, down to the smallest detail. The choristers may have suggestions and wishes, but it is always the choir-leader who takes the final responsibility. No one opposes this strict order. Democracy is not a part of the creative process, and any chorister who does not measure up will have to leave and make room for someone who does.
But then again … there’s the P.C. They do things a bit more, shall we say, modern.
When rehearsing “The Messiah” by Händel, a tenor says: – There’s just too much nonsens about this “Christ” in the lyrics. So religious and old fashioned. Why not “Chrysler” instead. It sounds about the same.
Some alto fills in: – And I think the notes in bar seventeen are too difficult. I wanna sing it my own way!
Someone shouts: – Let’s vote!
The choir-leader (sorry, voice co-ordinator) is delighted: – Oh yes! Voting is wonderful! Everyone should have their say.
And so it goes, until the original piece is democratised beyond all recognition. They finally agree to call it “The Muhammad” by Händel, so that no one is excluded (nor exploded for that matter).
Oh well, we leave them be. After all, it’s just a small group of extremists, isn’t it?
Finally, here is a great example of how it ought to be: a perfect ensemble, organised for the sake of the music.