I spent the weekend in Motueka with half a dozen community choirs. Singing in four-part harmony with 160 people was good for the soul. Mainly middle-aged Pakeha people with a touch of the hippy. The choir leaders were exceptionally skillful people, able to coax a Georgian song out of the group in thirty minutes. But as one of them said, You can get to 80% of acceptable standard in 20% of the time; the final 20% takes 80% of the time. And on this sort of occasion 80% was fine. It reminded me of the psycho analyst, Donald Winnicott’s concept of ‘the good enough mother’. As long as mothering is good enough, the kid will be okay. Relax. Things don’t have to be perfect.
I joined the choir when it first started four years ago because a community choir in Gryemouth/Mawhera seemed like a good idea, to support a mate who leads it and because I wanted to learn to sing in harmony – a skill a Pacific Islander learns with walking and talking. And it is a skill basic to democracy; diversity blending into a whole. No place for control freaks or loose canons, although choir leaders have to be control freaks – to an extent. The song is the song. In fact leadership, facilitation and who has the skills is the next big question. The party? The charismatic leader? The hard working organizer? The one with the need?Enough. Back to singing.
There’s a joy being in a huddle with thirty basses. Although basses aren’t huddly blokes, rather see themselves as the pillars of society, or the foundation. Something like that, the others adding decoration. Although the sopranos (the high ones) often have the melody, with the basses mere drones in comparison. And then the ones in between. The tenors can provide a low sound when the basses are exploring higher moments and there is a nice cross over of gender in the tenor (to start rhyming). While the alto is something of a mystery, but seem to provide a minor key and occasional dissidence.
And then there’s the question of content; often world music with the Georgians as favourites, closely followed by the South African Zulu. But there’s also Gospel, Celtic, Folk, Maori and Polynesian. But can songs be separated from their culture without becoming commodity and the privileged Westerner a parasite? Does it matter if there’s no money involved? Just people learning other people? Although I do find, within the harmonious blend, moments of greater authenticity, when something is not just good for the soul and body, but goes deeper, a connection of meaning has been found which produces a ‘holy’ space.
Generally, the political is avoided, although South African songs are apt to be political and the rich Israeli tradition is problematic these days, so quietly bypassed. A bit of Scottish nationalism is okay, as is Nga Iwi E. Interestingly enough my choir presented a medley of Brechtian-flavour songs from the play, and these were well received. And then there is the interesting fact that despite the harmonious mixing of voices, at a personal level, the people from other choirs remained strangers compared to one’s own group.
I could find a mirroring of society arising from this, and a model – but best to leave it at this stage – as an occasion good for the soul.