Blog: Donna Brown, Choir Director

Why I Do What I Do (or Musings of a Mu-U)

I think most members of the congregation would be surprised to find out how much time the choir spends learning and perfecting our music.  In fact, it is a little scary to do the math. On Thursday, Jan. 10, we started practising the Faure Requiem, which is the main piece for our April concert.  The Requiem is about 35 minutes long and we spent about 45 minutes working on the first of the seven movements. Between that rehearsal and our concert, we have approximately 18 rehearsals and we will spend between 30 and 60 minutes of each rehearsal working on the Faure.  That’s a total of about 15 hours. If you count person-hours you will have to multiply by the 45 members of the choir. And that doesn’t count all of the time that each of us will spend working on the music independently!  

What takes so long?  Well, first of all we have to learn the notes. In some places, the choir sings in unison (everyone on the same note, an octave apart for the men and women), but in many places there are at least four different notes and sometimes each part splits and there can be as many as eight notes. Then there is the rhythm and the language. The Requiem is in Latin, which is not a first language for anyone any more. Add to that the articulation (starting and ending together, or at least in the right place), the phrasing (musical sentences) and the dynamics (volume). There is lots to learn. And all of those things must be in place for us to make music – to express the emotion that is inherent in the music, to move beyond the technical.

But the big question is why? Why do we put so much time and effort into something so ephemeral, so fleeting as a musical performance?  I have pondered that question often and there are many possible answers. First of all, it feels good when we get it right. The music is incredibly beautiful. It is also fun to do. The choir members enjoy each other’s company. And of course, we enjoy sharing our music with the congregation. But it is more than that. I believe that making music together is a spiritual experience. For me, it is one version of prayer or meditation and helps me to be a better person.  

I met an American minister during the UUMN conference that was held at UCV in 2002.  She explained to me that she and many others call themselves Bu-U’s because they are Unitarian Universalists whose primary spiritual path is Buddhism. Well, I guess I’m a Mu-U, a Unitarian whose primary spiritual path is music. And I would guess that many in the choir would feel the same way.

When I first started conducting the Chalice Choir in 1999, I struggled a bit in justifying how much time and energy I was spending on my work with the choir. I have organizational ability and I worried that I should be spending my time doing something more directly beneficial to others, like volunteering in the DTES.  A very wise man – Phillip Hewett – helped me to find peace with my calling. He shared a quote with me, and although I’ve lost the exact words, the gist has stayed with me. Art and music exist to show the beauty that is possible in the world. And I would take it one step further – a choir helps us to experience the beauty that can be created by a group of people working together.  That is why I do what I do.

I hope that you enjoy sharing that beauty with us on Sunday mornings and I invite you to join us in experiencing the beauty that is the Faure Requiem at our spring concert on Sunday, April 28 at 7:30 pm.  

Donna Brown

Director, Chalice Choir

Unitarian Church of Vancouver

February 2014

 


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