The composer Alexander Borodin once said, “Music is a pastime, a relaxation from more serious occupations“. For him, this was probably true. Whilst he is mostly remembered as a composer, Borodin also had a long career as a Chemist and was particularly noted for his work on ‘aldehydes’ (I’m not even going to attempt to define that for you!). I would hazard a guess that the same could be said of most, if not all, of my choir members. By which I mean being in a choir is a relaxing pastime – I’m not sure many of them are famous chemists!
As a result of this, I spend a lot of time in the pub. The thing is, I don’t particularly like beer, and it seems that if you are a man in a pub, the law states that you must drink beer by the pint. To get around this problem, I mostly run female choirs which means when we go to the pub together I can drink wine instead! As it turned out, this was particularly useful on Saturday, when I found myself in a pub with 85 men and 5 women. Luckily, as the 5 ladies in question were all members of my Female Barbershop Group, The BlueBelles, I was able to warrant sitting with them and drinking wine!
Of course the combination of music and alcohol is not a new idea. There is a lot of debate surrounding whether or not Beethoven was an alcoholic. In fact, many composers were fond of drinking, often to excess, but the Russian composer and civil servant Mussorgsky was perhaps the most notorious of all for his rampant alcoholism. Even though he probably was predisposed to heavy drinking by his family history, cultural acceptance of the habit, and peer pressure during his years in the military, Mussorgsky belonged to a rebellious generation that thought of drunkenness as a form of protest against bourgeois society.
I certainly don’t wish to suggest that all choristers are alcoholics, that would be most unfair. Nevertheless, it is a fact that until recently if you went onto the unofficial Lichfield Cathedral Choir website there was a list of the pubs Cathedral Choristers favoured!
Similarly, anyone who has sung with, or knows someone in a Male Voice Choir will be familiar with the term ‘Afterglow’. The dictionary definition of this word says “a pleasant feeling produced after an experience, event, feeling, etc.: The team were basking in the afterglow of winning the cup.” The Afterglow for a Male Voice Choir is something altogether different, although it is often driven by the recent glory of a successful concert and the pleasant experience of a positive audience reaction. And alcohol. It is the post-concert celebratory singing and drinking. Sometimes an afterglow can even eclipse the concert, or at least the alcohol can lead to that delusional belief!
So, the evidence would clearly suggest that being in a choir is certainly closer to being a relaxing pastime as opposed to a serious occupation. But what of the Choirmaster or indeed the Accompanist? I for one would certainly claim that running a choir is a serious occupation. After all, the Musical Director is not only responsible to the choir, for finding, rehearsing and performing the music. But, equally as important, the Choirmaster has a responsibility to the audience – i.e. the paying public. After all they not only fund the Music Team, but also have the last word on whether or not the choir is any good!
That is one of the most important things about concerts – Positive feedback. Certainly in amateur choirs, most members not only pay for the privilege of being in the choir, but also sacrifice a lot of their free time to rehearse and be part of concerts. Therefore I believe the role of the MD is to ensure the choir performs well enough to exceed the audience’s expectations, which in turn will lead to praise for the choir. Ultimately this is always good for morale and tends to result in choirs wanting to sing at more and more events. And the upside of more events, is that we get to spend even more time in the pub drinking wine!