Are We Having Fun Yet?
A reasonably common point of debate within amateur choirs is whether the point is to have fun or to perform well. For the fun-faction, the requirements of choral discipline (watching the conductor, enunciating the text, not chatting all the time) are frustrating because they dampen the spirits and inhibit people’s enjoyment of a social occasion. For the performance posse, all the chattage and talkery and not following instructions very reliably is frustrating because it inhibits their opportunity for a flow experience and the specifically musical pleasures available from a really clean choral sound.
I suspect there are several things going on within this debate. One is a choral version of the difference in orientation between the people-focused and task-focused that you meet in any walk of life. Some people care about singing with other people because it’s singing with other people, while others are interested in singing with other people.
There are also differences in what is valued musically. If your primary interest is in spirit and energy you are likely to cultivate a different rehearsal atmosphere than if your interest is in clarity and precision. (Personally, I like all of these, but I’m just greedy that way….)
But notwithstanding these valid and real dichotomies, I still tend to think that we shouldn’t have to choose between excellence and entertainment. If challenge and skill acquisition weren’t inherently rewarding, there wouldn’t be a market for computer games. It’s fun to get good at something, especially something as intrinsically pleasurable as singing.
If people are experiencing intensive rehearsal as too much like ‘hard work’, that is a signal that we need to re-examine our rehearsal methods. Are we focusing on technical detail to the exclusion of musical meaning? Maybe we need to acknowledge the expressive purpose of the details more explicitly so that people have a reason to care about them. Are we remembering to celebrate when the choir gets things right? Maybe people will enjoy making the effort more if they reliably get their deserved pay-off for success.
I care about this for both human and musical reasons. People who experience fun as fundamentally opposed to excellence are missing out on that amazing feeling you get when you do something so much better than you thought you could. Everybody deserves that ‘I rule the world!’ sensation every so often – actually, every rehearsal if possible. And people who experience excellence as essentially serious are making the achievement of their goal so much harder for themselves. Music needs joy.