Choral Values, an Addendum

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magentalogoPartway through my recent reflections on choral values, I was suddenly visited with a memory from Magenta’s early days that I had not thought about for ages. I thought it might have slipped into one of those other posts as an example, but the place for it never arose. So, I thought I’d just share it with you in a different post.

Magenta started via a workshop evening which I advertised around the area and at which I gave a taster of the kind of things we’d be doing, then invited the attendees to be the founder members of this new choir. Those who were interested filled in an application form, first half of which was basically contact info, and the second half of which asked four questions:

  1. Whom do you most admire, and why?
  2. How would your friends describe you?
  3. On a scale of 1-10, how well do you read music? (Where 1 = I’ve not started learning this yet and 10 = I can sing pretty much anything at sight first time)
  4. Why did you come along tonight?

Our current form still asks these, by the way.

Now, my thinking in framing these questions was to signal that I was more interested in attitude and character than previous experience. If you have gumption and up-for-it-ness, you can learn skills. (The third question was in there mostly to tell me about what I could assume and what I would need to teach regarding sheet music, and has never been used as a filter to turn someone away. It does, of course, signal that we will be using sheet music as our primary tool for learning music.)

And what I found, reading through the forms, was the most inspiring set of beliefs and values. I found myself making a list of the adjectives and qualities people used to describe those they admired, and to articulate the reasons they wanted to sing. It made me feel so good about starting a choir - you get to hang out with really warm-hearted and dedicated people who really want to make music.

It was too good to keep to myself. So I copied my list out onto slips of paper, put them all into a blue velvet bag (that had originally contained a gift, I think), and then at the start of each rehearsal, I’d ask three different people to pick one out and read it out to us. Those became our guiding values for the evening.

It was fabulously random - one week we’d be brave, cheerful and love to sing, and the next we’d be reliable, dynamic and strange. I kept adding to the bag every time we got a new member, although the day finally came when we emptied the bag - we were using up the values faster than new members were arriving. So the tradition eventually lapsed.

But I think it kept us going well into our second year, by which time we had developed shared experiences and skills and repertoire to bind us into a group. And in those early days, when we didn’t yet know each other and were doing everything from scratch, those weekly guiding values helped glue us together and give us the courage to make it happen.

And you know, although that particular activity has long since gone, it did establish patterns that we still use. The structured harvesting of ideas from all members is still very much a feature of our activities, as is playful randomness that keeps us all on our toes and keeps us all flexible and responsive. It was also very good for establishing a culture of positive vocabulary.

I can’t believe I’ve not thought about this for so long. It was one of those rather wonderful things that emerged almost by chance - except that we had the infrastructure configured to let wonderful chance things emerge. And I think the main thing I notice on reflection is that it is in these spontaneous, happenstance elements of a choir’s activities where the values show most clearly. What you do intuitively, inadvertently, without forethought are the things that speak most clearly of who you are.

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