Each fall, at about this time, Chorale meets at a site other than our regular rehearsal venue, and spends an entire day, placing voices, reviewing our past, digging into our new repertoire, getting to know our new members, and leaving most of the outside world behind. This year is no exception. We will meet this Saturday, September 27, at Ellis Avenue Church, and kick off our new season with a total immersion experience, from donuts and coffee to brats and beer. Chorale’s members live all over the Chicago region, from St. Charles to Northern Indiana, from Evanston to Crete. Some of them drive as much as two hours through rush hour traffic, every Wednesday, to get to rehearsals; they arrive just as the singing starts, and drive home as soon as it is over, and haven’t a lot of time, before and after rehearsal, to socialize with other members. And, because we tend to rehearse only once a week, it can be difficult for singers to remain fresh and engaged with the repertoire, and with Chorale’s approach to singing it. Membership could all too easily become an encapsulated blip on ones weekly radar, providing far less of the overall, exhilarating experience than we intend. Our opening retreat allows us to really roll around in our music, absorb the smell of it, and become comfortable with the people with whom we share it.
We start out drinking coffee and eating, of course. Our librarian, Erielle Bakkum, will distribute music—which, this fall, is Mozart’s Mass in C minor, ‘The Great’, which we will sing with Civic Orchestra of Chicago on November 24, at Symphony Center. We begin rehearsing, as always, with a period of vocal warm up, both because we need it, and to introduce our sound and production ideals to the new members. At this time they will meet our accompanist, Kit Bridges, whose leadership from the keyboard is so integral a part of our musicality. After warm up, we will divide into sections, and I will place the voices in each section in an order which is both most comfortable for the individual singers, and best sounding from the outside. Once placed, the choir will reconvene and begin work on the “easier” movements of the Mass, finding their sound, their balance, their “place in the choir.” After a break for lunch, Frisbee, and conversation, we will gather in the rehearsal space again, and continue rehearsing, touching on at least one of the more difficult movements (they are all difficult, whom am I trying to kid; but one with some challenging polyphony). Interspersed amongst both the morning and afternoon rehearsal periods, we will hear about “the state of the choir” from our board president, Angela Grimes, and be informed of specific details and housekeeping items by our managing director, Megan Balderston. In the meantime, Megan and a team of non-singing volunteers will take care of food, culminating in a bratwurst and beer celebration at the end of the day. By this time, many families, including children, will have arrived to join us in eating both the brats and all the other, potluck items members have provided.
Later in the Fall we will rehearse on a couple of Saturdays, as well, to help us keep our edge and forward momentum, right up to our conductor’s piano rehearsal with Nicholas Kraemer, who will take over at that point and conduct our performance with Civic.
A choir is so much more than a group of singers, each of whom turns their talent on and off at the touch of a button once a week. We are an “ensemble”—together, in so many senses. Without that togetherness, we tend to lose direction, motivation, commitment—and this loss shows up in the quality of our performances, as well as in the enthusiasm with which we sell tickets to our friends, and fill our halls. A choir that enjoys brats, beer, and Frisbee together, has an irreplaceable advantage, over one that does not.