A new name for a new normal?
by Stephen Deazley, Artistic Director ~ Sept 2020
I was wondering if we needed a new name for our choir, a new name for a new normal… Love Music Community Choir is already quite wordy; Love Music Virtual Community Choir – please no, there’s nothing virtual about it; Love Music Digitally Distanced Community Choir – eek, run away from that one too.
I also wonder – and this is a general musing – if instead of always rushing to the thing that’s new, the shiny toy of the moment, the latest update, or the need for innovation (I have quite a bit to say around this, especially in the context of arts funding), whether there’s wisdom in taking a slower approach.
I remember a good and proper debate, back in 2013, about the choir’s name. What would we call it? Would the word community somehow downgrade people’s expectations of the experience or the offer, or undersell our artistic ambition? It certainly met with our ethos and plans around wider accessibility, no auditions, free places for those who need it, but hey, we had BIG plans to make musical experiences that were honest, profound and as challenging as anything you’ll find on a professional arts platform – does the word community fit into that? “Raising aspirations and changing lives” still sits proudly in our mission statement.
It was an honest debate, right for the moment, but a bit naive. Not only does it fit, it underpins the entire programme, fuels creative imagination and purpose, and rings loudly in our ears, because when you feel you are a valued and valuable part of a community, especially one as emotionally rich as a choir, there is no better motivation or driver for artistic ambition or to feel you might actually be “changing lives”.
Our community choir is not a machine, it’s not fixed, or locked down even. It develops and changes, and is fluid, constantly adapting but in a manner that is gradual and organic, not abrupt. I would argue it’s this nature, enjoying the benefits of slower organic growth rather than the adrenalin of shock, that has made us able to deal with today’s challenges and made us more resilient. This, and our ability to remain in a constant state of enquiry and questioning – the natural habitat of the artist. We’ve been shape-shifting since our first rehearsal in 2013, challenging our own way of thinking. We know the value of change. It is not new. It is normal.
I once heard a slightly exasperated plea from Julian West, an excellent musician vastly experienced in community participation, at a conference debating innovation in participatory community opera. It was directed, I think, towards the protagonists of some seemingly shiny new approaches, and it was a plea to look back as well as look forward (I’m paraphrasing), because there was as much to be learned from the past as there was to be explored in the future. None of us, he suggested, are the originators, the innovators, we are all standing on the shoulders of giants, and we would do as well to acknowledge that, to remember who has influenced our work and turned us to face in one direction or another, with a gentle hand on the back and an affirming comment. There is wisdom in the past if you have the humility to look. The great American poet, writer and teacher Maya Angelou expresses it more clearly than I ever could, through a prism of kindness.
So no, I don’t think we want or need a shiny new name for our choir. Love Music Community Choir still fits, even better perhaps in equal parts: Love – Music – Community – Choir. That’ll do just fine, and of course it’s the community that has entirely enriched the other three components.
The only thing that seems normal today is the uncertainty of tomorrow, and in any case, normal for us is to adapt and remake and enquire, so we’ll keep doing that. For sure, there’ll be challenges ahead, but we’ll do what we’ve always tried to do and ask for the trust of our wonderful community, we’ll ask them to travel with us: you bring yourself and your energy and spirit and we’ll do our best to match it; let’s see what we can do together. There’s plenty of motivation right there.
A few days ago, I had a look at our choir manifesto – it was written and voted on by the membership of the choir in our very first term at our beloved home, the Usher Hall. They are pledges of a kind, but also instructions to our future selves. I haven’t looked at it in years, but I really should have.
Here’s what it says:
1. Don’t take yourself seriously, take the music seriously
2. Thou shalt laugh out loud at least once every rehearsal
3. Leave your worries behind, unwind and enjoy
4. Thou shalt be unafraid to sing with a smile or a tear
5. Thou shalt endeavour to remember there are no “wrong” notes, only “alternative” ones
6. Only do cool stuff
There is wisdom here, but I feel there might be something missing, something we didn’t know back then that we know now.
I don’t know what it is, but I’ll ask the choir, they’ll know.