Searching For a Single Timbre

Choirs, like their instrumental counterpart, orchestras, must bring together a diverse group of people to create a single, unified sound. But choirs, unlike orchestras, bring together a group of people who are all holding the same instrument. This narrow timbral range increases the level of difficulty of choral singing – we are searching for a single timbre among men and women, rather than embracing and maneuvering the various timbres of strings, brass, and winds under a larger umbrella. Furthermore, decreasing the number of singers in your ensemble only increases the difficulty of blending – individual voices that could easily shine above a section of only four or five other singers must be trained to match one another and turn inwards to a common sound, sacrificing certain unique characteristics for the betterment of the group.

The process of painstakingly cultivating a group sound can be shortened if a group trusts one another, and spends time together outside of rehearsal. For this reason, Exultate holds an annual retreat at the start of the year, which focuses on team building, welcoming new members, and intensive rehearsal. This year, we were lucky enough to meet in the heart of the Distillery District, which, as well as being a picturesque setting and a neat rehearsal space, made for a great Saturday lunch break! (Brickstone Bakery, anyone?!) The rehearsal time on retreat is invaluable, allotting enough time to push through the technical early stages of a piece, so that post-retreat the choir is ready to tackle dynamics, blend, and the real “meat” of the repertoire. And this necessary core of the choir’s sound is grounded by the time spent together in both rehearsal and in leisure.

Our October 23rd concert includes a number of pieces which require significant blending skills, including the gorgeous “Rest” by Vaughan Williams, and Eleanor Daley’s “For the Fallen”. “Rest” experiments with varied phrase lengths, intense dynamic shifts, and adventurous harmonies. These tricky features of the piece necessitate a blended sound, so that the choir can efficiently direct the audience’s ear through the twisting phrases and surprising harmonic progressions without sounding messy or uncoordinated. Daley’s “For the Fallen” contains dense chords contained in a homorhythmic texture, but with constantly shifting time signatures – this density and inconsistent metre similarly necessitates expert blend. We love the challenge and so does Dr. Apfelstadt!

By choir member Sadie Menicanin

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