How Can We Keep From Singing? Oh, But You Must.

silver serenade postcard_smallFor all the proselytize-ing I do around the vocal arts on my weekly public radio and podcast series about the voice, VoiceBox, there are times when I wish that people wouldn’t sing. Or, rather, I wish they would pay closer attention to the context in which they are lifting their voices in song.

I bring this up the morning after a rather strange event I participated in last night as an oboist in the orchestra that contributed as a guest group to the 25th anniversary concert of a Bay Area-based choral organization called Singers Marin.

I’m all for arts organizations celebrating milestones. 25 years is impressive.

But need such an event be executed on such a pretentious scale? The community singing group rented out Davies Hall, no less — the home of the San Francisco Symphony. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, if you have the cash (I imagine the space is one of the more expensive ones in town), your musical forces are strong enough to fill the cavernous space, and you can get enough customers to do the same. I’m heartened by the fact the the Symphony is making its hallowed enclaves available to amateur musicians these days and it’s exciting for members of the community who love to make music to get the chance to perform on the Davies stage. However, Singers Marin’s choral corps didn’t have the necessary power and presence and relatively few of the seats were filled. The absence of these things might have been mitigated by the singers demonstrating some excitement about performing in such out-of-the-ordinary circumstances. But for the most part, they didn’t look like they were having much fun up there at all. The prevailing mood was stiff and stuffed.

I also feel the need to ask whether the event needed to go on for two and a half hours, especially if almost every piece on the program (with the exception of my orchestra’s not very fantastic but enthusiastic contributions of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Samuel Barber’s School for Scandal Overture) is composed by the same composer? Gwyneth Walker seems like a nice lady and she’s obviously a competent choral arranger. But she’s hardly Beethoven or Schubert.

I don’t enjoy being mean-spirited. But today, I’m shaking my head in disbelief at the whole thing.


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