Happy Birthday to Magenta
Tomorrow, my choir will be five years old. I will do my best not to be too self-indulgent in this moment of celebration, but anyone who has ever started anything from scratch will understand that combination of astonishment and gratitude that arises from the discovery that other people are not just willing, but happy to join in your project and make it happen.
I shouldn’t be surprised of course. People like to sing; choirs are popping up all the time. But this was the first time it was my fault the choir existed. Scary.
And the nicest thing, five years on, is that it is no longer just my fault. Magenta isn’t just mine, it’s ours. There is a sense of identity, of teamwork, of ethos that has emerged from all the members over that five years. And, over time, it takes on its own life, too. People leave, new people join, and yet there’s a coherence to the group identity.
Of the 20 of us the group now comprises (and these statistics are very much today’s – we are about send one singer away to study in Cambridge, and only last week saw another off to Hong Kong), 8 of us joined in the first year, 6 are new for 2011, and the rest have come along at various points in between. I haven’t worked out exactly what the choir half-life is, but there’s a fair bit of churn.
But still the sense of identity persists. I think this is partly – these days – because we have become quite self-aware about what the ethos is. There are some values that have been there from the start (celebration of both individuality and cohesion in performance, a focus on audience delight, valuing a willingness to acquire skills more overtly than prior experience), but they have accrued shared narratives and rituals that embed it into lived experience.
In terms of my professional life, what Magenta does is to keep me honest, both as an arranger and as a coach. The mental short-cuts an arranger may be tempted to take (‘oh, the baritones will manage that…’) aren’t available when you know that if there’s anything they can’t manage, it’s your responsibility to help them. And the week-on-week work with same group of singers means that opportunities and development needs you face today are the legacy of all your previous weeks’ work.
That sense of follow-through is both the biggest joy and the biggest responsibility of leading a group on a regular basis. I have learned, and continue to learn so much from these wonderful people. They gently and persistently turn me into a better musician by the end of each rehearsal than I was at the start. Thank you, my friends.