“Keeping it spicy… surviving choral globalisation “

Presentation by Stephen Leek
at the World Symposium on Choral Music #9, 2011, Argentina
©Stephen Leek (www.stephenleek.com)

Understanding that choral music is intrinsically linked to the human voice and has the ability to express the full spectrum of the human condition like nothing else, do you ever wonder what choral music will be like in 10 years, 100 years, in 500 years time?

In today’s world, where the teaching of cultural history and an interest in historical significance is on the rapid decline, and where experimentation and risk-taking is generally not encouraged, do we, as artists, succumb to the ultimate loss of our cultural identities through globalisation, or do we actively and consciously do something about nurturing and encouraging innovation and risk-taking so that our art-form moves strongly and proudly forward into the future?

In choral music, are we doing enough to ensure a future for our choral art that is full of flavour and spice, diversity and unique regional characteristics, or are we succumbing passively to the loss of our unique artistic and musical identities through the adoption of a bland and shallow music idiom, spread across all cultures?

Do we, as leaders in the practice of our art-form, simply follow the trends set by populist culture and contemporary media, or do we actively go about leading them?

Are we losing the Art out of Choral Art?

Have we lost a sense of adventure, courage and risk-taking in contemporary choral composition – the innovation that has brought us to this point in our history? If so, why and what can we do about it?

Are we, as choral leaders, interested in the future directions of our art-form, or are we encouraging and condoning a safe, comfortable and perhaps static choral future, simply through complacency and neglect?

Are we doing enough to nurture experimentation and risk-taking in choral composition or are we simply tacitly condoning safe, comfortable music by simply accepting what is presented to us by the media and by commercial interests?

Should we indeed be more discerning in our aesthetic and compositional judgement?

How do we nurture and encourage innovation and experimentation in choral music in our own communities whilst maintaining the integrity of our practice?

How do we actively impact on the way that future directions are generated, nurtured or created? What can we do?

Some possible and achievable things that you can do to nurture experimentation and risk-taking in choral composition:

  • Instigate a compositional element into all regular choral rehearsals – warm-ups, activities, workshop pieces etc.
  • Be prepared as a conductor to take more risks, encouraging your choir to do the same – sometimes things won’t be perfect, sometimes things won’t work out, but encourage your singers to do things differently every time.
  • Instigate integrated choral composition programs into choral camps, events etc.
  • Become familiar with the compositional ‘risk-takers’ in your community and actively seek them out and get to know and understand them
  • Work with composers in your community – particularly young and emerging composers – show them you are interested in their ideas and their work, and ultimately they might be interested in you and your choir.
  • Understand that, for young composers, Composer Residencies are more beneficial and valuable for development than commissions.

Some simple suggestions to support composers so that they can be more active in choral music:

  • Never ever use illegal photocopies of music!
  • Work toward eradicating illegal photocopying of choral music around the world – to give choral composers a better chance of economic survival and to bring some monetary value and worth to the composition of choral music.
  • Work with composers, not against them. Respect their ideas even if you find them strange or awkward, and they may, in time, respect yours.
  • Realising ‘The Composer’ I the key element to our future, actively lift and support the status of choral composers within your choral community, within your general community and within your musical community.
  • Actively promote and perform the work of lesser known composers – even if it is not always successful.
  • Try to include in every performance at least one contemporary work that you know will challenge your audience – audiences need to be developed in the ways of courage too!
  • Let your choristers get to know the composers you are working with – through participation in rehearsals and in relaxed, informal situations.
  • Be prepared to be patient with new compositions.
  • Realising that composers are often of ‘individual character’ be prepared to be patient with them.
  • Invite composers to attend your annual camps and social events – invite them into your choral family.
  • As a matter of course, invite composers to your all your concerts as guests.
  • Always acknowledge the presence of a composer if their work is performed in your concert.
  • Always invite the composer onto the stage after a premiere performance – even if the applause has ceased.
  • If you, as Conductor, are not committed to new work or ideas, your singers will never be! Be positive and constructive, never judgemental!
  • Encourage Composition Departments of Universities, Conservatoriums and colleges to work with you and your choir.
  • Seek out composer school models that can significantly enhance every aspect of your current choral program.

For a full copy of the presentation please email stephen_leek@hotmail and request it. Please put WSCM PRESENTATION in the subject of the email.