Back in the mid 1980s I was a member of the local Camera Club in Cranleigh. Despite being around 50 years younger than the rest of the membership, this was actually not quite as dull as it might sound.
Membership was about £2 a week, payable in cash on the days you decided to turn up. In return for this investment, you got to look at a load of photographs taken by other members, which were each judged by an invited guest. There was no entry requirement as such, but it was assumed that you owned a decent SLR camera and had some vague idea as to how to use it. Membership was promoted to amateurs with a keen interest in photography and offered to chance to meet with other like minded people (photo nerds!).
Each week there would be a theme and members were invited to present a photograph they had taken which best represented the weekly subject matter. To qualify for entry, prints had to be enlarged to 8” x 10” and then mounted on card. Marks were deducted if the photographs were not straight and bonus marks could be earned if you enhanced your presentation with manually drawn boxes around the image.
Of course nowadays this is all terribly old fashioned and most people have no idea that photographs can even exist off screen. However, back in my small corner of the Surrey Hills in 1987, this was a very serious proposition and standards were scrutinised.
Even at the age of 12, I was just as pedantic as I am now about doing things properly. Consequently, I spent hours making sure I had taken the best photograph I could, before carefully mounting it and proudly taking my ‘photograph of the week’ to the cricket pavilion on a dark winters night in November to face the judges. In return for all this effort, and probably after a year of entering, I did finally win the best picture of the week. There was no prize, no ceremony, no pomp and circumstance and no award or badge to wear. You simply got a round of applause from the other members and left with a slightly smug look.
All of which brings me on to the subject of Amateur Choirs. Whilst I no longer run any choirs nowadays, I do still follow the choirs I used to run along with other local choirs and music groups. As a result I often get presented with adverts from choirs on social media talking about their latest concert or recruitment drive.
What I struggle with, is the entry requirements for all these choirs. Almost without exception, every community choir promotes themselves to new members by saying ‘no need to read music and no previous experience in singing necessary’.
I find this absolutely mind blowing. Surely the whole point of a choir is that it is about the music and has an ambition which includes putting on a quality musical performance. In order to achieve this, surely you should be able to sing and have at least some understanding of music notation and the ability to sing from a musical score? Otherwise you may as well just go and sing along at a football match.
When I was running community choirs all new members had to be subjected to a voice test and were tested on their ability to read music. Despite this, in some instances where the choir was committee lead, (for which read ‘a group of inept idiots with no musical expertise, interfering with things they don’t understand’) I was often forced to let people in despite them not passing the voice test.
But this wasn’t the biggest problem for me. Thinking back to my days in the Cranleigh Camera Club, there was no ‘audition’ as such to be a member, other than the fact you were expected to be committed enough to present a piece of work each week to be judged. This was enough to weed out the incompetent or lazy photographers. But the thing is it was in essence a closed society. All that happened is a group of 20 or so men and maybe one woman turned up to a small room in the local cricket pavilion and looked at a load of photos. Said photos were then commented on and feedback was given. The idea was to inspire us all to go and do something slightly better next week having hopefully learnt something from the group discussions.
If choirs followed this policy of meeting to have a bit of fun singing and then got other like minded people in to comment and give them feedback on their private performance, that would be entirely reasonable. They could then work on improving their singing skills together and in turn learn a new skill.
My issue is with the choirs who, despite acknowledging the fact that they can’t sing, can’t read music and have no understanding of musical notation, go out and charge people money for inflicting their poor quality performance in public. To me this is literally insane and doesn’t happen in any other walk of life.
As I write this post i am currently sat in the customer lounge of my local BMW dealership having maintenance done on my car. To me this is entirely reasonable. I will be paying money to people trained by the same people who made the car and so there is an expectation they will know how to maintain it. The engineers, despite all wearing baseball caps the wrong way round and looking like they are age 12, have been trained to a high standard to understand the work they are required to do. And if they get it wrong, the manufacturer will underwrite and resolve any defects through the warranty.
Naturally all this comes at a cost, but it seems perfectly reasonable to pay someone who has been professionally trained to do something that I cannot do myself.
Imagine the state of things if your local solicitor started a recruitment campaign…. “Trainee Solicitor wanted to deal with Commercial litigation cases. No previous experience or knowledge of the law necessary. No requirements to have any qualifications whatsoever. Come along to our welcome evening and start straight away without an interview.”
By contrast, an amateur choir has the audacity to expect me to leave my house, travel to a cold and uncomfortable venue, hand over £15 or more and then sit in silence whilst a bunch of untrained people hack their way through what they think are ‘choral favourites’ (for which read ‘the same songs that every amateur choir has been singing badly for the past 30 years’).
Most of the time these inept amateurs disguise their lack of musicality by claiming “all proceeds to charity”. From what I can see on social media, charities must be absolutely raking it in given the number of choirs out there inflicting their noise on the unsuspecting public.
But here’s the thing. Why not cut out the middle man and give a donation to charity directly from your own sofa whilst you enjoy a professional performance of your favourite song sung by someone who has more than a passing understanding of music.
I’d be interested to know what people think about this? You might think I am just having a rant but the reality is I think a bit more serious than that. I don’t have a problem with amateur societies and would certainly encourage people to sing if they enjoy doing so. I enjoyed being in the camera club back in 1987 and still maintain an interest in photography. However, no one was ever charged to view the photographs and certainly nobody profited from this bunch of amateur photographers. Nowadays, I only take photos on my phone and do not promote this as a service. I have no intention of becoming a ‘Professional’ photographer and would not expect any of my images to be worth monetary reward.
Maybe if amateur choirs followed the same policy as Camera Clubs, Supper Clubs and Book Clubs, by meeting together in private to enjoy singing and learn the art of musical performance i might have a slightly less dim view of these organisations. For now, however, I will stick to my annual outing to pay and hear Stacy Kent perform at Ronnie Scotts Club.