As bell hooks observes in her book All About Love, we give ‘so much attention to individual self-improvement and so little to the practice of love within the context of community’. I have to be honest. When I first joined HCS Voices I was thinking more about myself than community. I certainly wasn’t thinking about love. How can I improve my singing? How can I become a better sight-reader? How can I hit the high notes? Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to get better at something. But what I found instead, or perhaps in addition to gaining all these skills, was something much closer to what I think bell hooks is talking about when she refers to the practice of love in a community.
HCS Voices is first and foremost a community. Within the magnificent walls of a former nineteenth-century church (St Paul’s Hall) where we often rehearse, a different kind of spirituality is fostered. It’s not one based on a shared religion or a shared politics, but rather a love for making beautiful music together that none of us could make alone, as individuals. It’s no surprise really with a choral director, Abi Kitching, who is infinitely compassionate and sensitive to our diverse musical backgrounds. Abi’s careful leadership has given way to a pretty unique communal environment in a world that all too often encourages us to be self-interested and self-involved.
For some members this is not their first choir and their knowledge and experience help us all to tick along when faced with the challenge of a new piece or a difficult harmony. Then there are others, like myself, who are new to singing in a choir and who are only just starting to learn how to read music. Alongside Abi’s regular humorous asides (notably the ‘Where’s Wally?’ exercise) we newbies are often the first to crack a smile. Imagine a group of people trying not to laugh because they’ve collectively lost their place in the score but who are still defiantly committed to keep going, singing on an ooooo like a parliament of confused owls. This was the alto section just last week!
As a choir, we laugh (a lot), we support each other, we are serious about learning, and we’ve experienced many moments where something really special occurs. When the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. No words can capture that feeling, but we all know when it happens. We’re steadily learning to listen to each other and, in that shared pursuit, we have the best role model in our talented and experienced accompanist Tim Wilkes. He shows us what it means to practise listening carefully, just as he follows Abi’s lead and instinctively senses when each section of the choir might need a little more help from the piano to lock in their harmony. Angus, Helen and all the other volunteers are another vital part of our community, doing all the backstage work that actually allows it to happen.
To end this blogpost, I’ve been trying to find the words to sum up what HCS Voices means to me. I think it’s this … The term amateur comes from the Latin amare meaning ‘to love’ and every time we rehearse it feels like we are collectively celebrating what it means to be an amateur; to love what you do. I feel so privileged and grateful to be a small part of that experience. HCS Voices has taught me that there is no greater pursuit than doing something not for the love of oneself but for the love of singing together, which is infinitely more nourishing for the soul.
Choral member, HCS Voices