17 January 2011

Community and Family Choirs

I've sung in many choirs - church youth choirs, school choirs, college chorals, and a community choral in Auckland among them. Most are targeted at singers of a particular age and faith. There are a number of choirs not affiliated with a particular church or educational institution, but most of these are highly selective audition only affairs oriented towards performing rather than experiencing music.

But, there is an emerging trend to develop choirs that serve entire communities rather than particular churches, and are inclusive in terms of ability expectations, such as the choirs of the Ubuntu Choirs Network (with many choirs in coastal British Columbia, two elsewhere in Canada, four in Washington State, two in Virginia, one in New York City, two in Minnesota, one in Massachusetts, one in Los Angeles and one in Arkansas). As the network explains:

“I am because we are.” This ancient concept, expressed in the Zulu word ubuntu, is at the root of many of the world’s wisdom traditions. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said so well: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. This is the interrelated structure of all reality. You can never be what you ought to be until I become what I ought to be.” The spirit of ubuntu reminds us of the power of joining soulfully with others.

This word has become commonplace, although not always with understanding, as the name of a popular version of the Linux operating system.

Another parallel and not unrelated trend is for communities to develop "family choirs" a.k.a. intergenerational choirs, such as the Boston Intergenerational Chorus, The Harmonious Family Choir of Victoria, British Columbia, the Singing in the Rain Family Choir in Seattle, WA, the Joyful Noise Family Choir in New York City, the Family Folk Chorale based in Arlington, MA, and The All Together Now Family Chorus in the Boston area, the Leverett Community Chorus in Leverett, MA.

The trend seems to be driven powerfully by imitation in the Pacific Northwest and Massachusetts, both Yankee strongholds that are trending secular, with only a handful elsewhere at this point. It may reflect the desire of unchurched people or people in mainline churches with fading memberships to enjoy the joy of choral singing that is hard to find in other institutions. It may reflect a trend toward reviving social capital in communities after a long period in which it has subsided. It may simply reflect some successful efforts to do something entirely new in a couple of places that have been copied because they worked. It will be interesting to see how this cultural trend evolves.

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