July 11, 2011 at 7:21 PM
Let's face it - I've never been a fan of contemporary music. Well, that was until my choir master, Simon, decided to plonk a newly written piece in front of all of us at choir one day. 'How about some contemporary music, Eloise?' he said with a grin on his face, as he saw the look of dismay on my own. I peered at the booklet. Twenty-two pages worth of mish-mash notes stood out. Straight away I could see that the composer (who had actually written the piece specifically for our choir) had decided not to give it a firm key signature. Or time signature. Or anything normal, for that matter. Where were all the 'rules' I am so used to having in music? Where was the comfort in normal harmonies? This was all so new to me, and my brain couldn't seem to do anything much but reject the piece on the first rehearsal.
But slowly, over the weeks, I started to learn how this strange new music worked. Sections of notes were starting to jump off the page at me and become something with life and feeling and rhythm, and yes - even harmony.
The choir parts all start in unison and then a few pages in, break off into many weaving patterns and clashes. They feel like they are working against each other together, if you see what I mean? And the piano part, well, that's totally different, full stop. Even so, it suddenly came alive and it worked so well with everything else going on, much to my surprise. It was becoming wonderful!
The way we worked at the piece gave us room to interpret the phrases in our own ways and add our own suggestions. We also worked with the composer who was delighted with the effort everyone was putting in to his piece. The choir, as a whole, bonded more because of the immense technical challenge we were facing together, and as the goal set by Simon was to sing this as part of a major competition, we had no choice in the matter, other than to get on with it, regardless of taste.
So many exciting bits crop up in the music that I can't list them all, but quite frankly, it has been wonderful to learn. It has been one of the biggest learning curves I've ever had, actually. And we did sing it in the competition in the end, gaining the highest marks on any individual piece out of the many choirs from all over the world singing there. It took the choir a long time to learn it, but together we have started a journey which will hopefully be continued by the next round of people, and the next, and so on, for many years to come.
And before you ask, no, I still wouldn't call myself a contemporary music fan, although I do now love the piece we worked on for so long. It became living for the first time because of us, and it is something to be proud of. But what this new, contemporary journey has taught me the most is to start opening my ears up a bit more and make my brain work slightly harder to hear the music in otherwise unorganised sounds written on a page. I've had to 're-train' my brain over the last few months to become more accepting of this style. Of course, I do like my comfort in nice, melodic harmonies still, but at least I can now say I don't mind different styles so much. After all, today's composers are tomorrow's influence, right?
Eloise I am proud to say that in my home town we have the world famous Tygerberg Children's Choir that won the world championship held in China. They have been stunning the world for the last thirty odd years under the leadership of Hennie Loock, and won many gold medals at championships all over the world. The choir is made up of children up to 13 years of age. They sing traditional and contemporary music with an African flavor. Look them up on You Tube you will not be disappointed. They sing like angels.
Then also the Stellenbosch University Choir won the world championship for adult choirs last year. They are also on You Tube, and also in combination with the Tygerberg Children's Choir. You are in for the thrill of your life if you listen to them. Contemporary music at its best.
You can also Google the two choirs to find more information about them.
Yes yes yes! I was nodding my head all throughout this. I wrote a sort-of similar essay here.
Always enjoy your blog entries. :)
Andre - Wow, what a wonderful choir! They sing like angels!
Emily - Thank you very much. I enjoy writing them and I am always glad to get positive feedback! I guess over the last few months I've learned that my mind can expand into these new and wonderful styles. Maybe people just don't give it a big enough chance? I know that was probably my own problem, because it wasn't until I was made to do contemporary music that I really started appreciating it for what it is. Before then, my mind would start to switch off and reject the strangeness that takes place half the time. Your blog was also very interesting! Thanks for sharing!
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