Philadelphia classical music events, discussion, and directory
I've discovered that I love witnessing the process involved in the creation of music. This is why I jumped at the chance to attend the Crossing choir's workshop at the Philadelphia University on Saturday afternoon. The workshop was scheduled to practice and fine tune newly commissioned works that will be performed in June, and two of the composers were there.
Scores were available to the handful of attendees (non choir members) to the workshop but when I glanced through the pages I thought I had been given an electrical schematic, not a musical score. Though my music reading skills are rudimentary, at best, this music was so full of special symbols that it looked like it came from another world. In fact, a glossary was included to define special symbols such as a small circle with a long vertical line below. It described special effects such as: "a very high "disembodied" sound, almost electronic character" and another symbol was described as "articulation of the murmuring should be faster and more "pointed" than normal". The challenges of producing these sound effects and characteristics such as the microtonal changes made me realize the immense privilege it is to have one of only two choirs focused on new music in the USA right here in Philadelphia. This choir is quite literally speaking its own language, and that requires a great deal of practice and experience to achieve. Replacing a member would involve far more than simply finding an outstanding choir or opera singer. The singer would need to learn the language and practice vocal techniques that would not appear in the majority western music scores. It would also help if that singer had perfect pitch. One part of the score was marked with what appeared to be a sine wave instead of individual notes. The difficulty in "sliding" rather than singing notes is understanding what would be the highest note in that almost infinite range. I asked member of the choir about this, and she revealed that a few members, including herself, had perfect pitch. It is estimated that only one in 10,000 people have this trait, so the high percentage in this small choir with that ability would be very useful, indeed.
The chairs were setup directly behind the choir, which made me almost feel like I was a part of the group, and it was tempting to participate. Luckily for them, I had the good sense to keep my mouth shut. Another process in the workshop was fine tuning the score. The composers had likely only heard electronic renditions of their music plus whatever vision they had in their own minds. The limitations of the human voice - especially when coordinated with others meant that adjustments were necessary to match that reality. Music director, Donald Nally, was so well versed in the capabilities of his choir that he could often make brief suggestions to the composers and detailed interpretations to choir members to produce sounds that matched the composer's vision.
I am surely looking forward to hearing the final results in June during the Crossing Choir's "Month of Moderns".