Last week SFGC co-hosted the national Chorus
Webster’s Dictionary (online version) variously defines the word community as:
- a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society <a community of retired persons
- a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests <the international community
- a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society <the academic community
I think some hybrid of the definitions above is appropriate for the community a chorister becomes part of when she joins the San Francisco Girls Chorus. At the recent Chorus School spring concert and graduation, Beth Avakian talked about one of the important attributes that all her graduates shared – through SFGC they had learned what it meant to be part of a community – working together for a common goal and focusing on communal, rather than strictly individual achievements. As in all team sports, an individual is responsible for the quality of her own performance. She is expected to do and be her personal best, not just for herself, but for the good of the community.
Last week SFGC co-hosted the national Chorus America conference with the men’s vocal ensemble, Chanticleer. About 350 people attended, and we were proud to be recognized by the greater choral community, to show off our beautiful facility, the Kanbar Center for the Performing Arts, to showcase our young artists in concert, and to take part in many inspiring discussions and performances. The conference schedule included an event called a Community Sing, which was led by Chanticleer and based on a model developed by the Weill Institute of Music at Carnegie Hall. The idea behind the program is that everyday people get the opportunity to sing with professional choruses. However, it was clear that Chanticleer and the WIM folks had chosen the repertoire for this Sing – a transcription of Mahler’s Ich bin der Welt -- with a very specialized audience (a community of choral experts) in mind. Or maybe not. The Mahler song (along with Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria) is probably among Chanticleer’s greatest hits. If anyone/everyone is going to sing with Chanticleer, why not aim high?
Often in the arts, the word community can be used as code for “something for everyone,” or even “lowest common denominator.” Arts organizations must be accessible, vital, and relevant to their communities, but that should never mean dumbing down the art. This is especially important in youth arts programs, where adults often set the bar too low, thinking that young performers aren’t up to the challenge of excellence, or that audiences for youth music expect something childish, silly, or “lite.” But who wants to play on a losing baseball team or sing in a mediocre chorus?
Thankfully, in the SFGC community, I’m mostly preaching to the choir…
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