Singing in a Choir is Music to Your Heart
Have you ever wondered what it would take to establish, maintain and develop a local choir, provide it with music, and with opportunities to perform?
Kathryn Tahiri and Ludwig Tuman are the co-authors of the booklet “Nine Steps to Raise and Nurture a Community Choir.” Kathryn is a composer, choral and orchestral conductor, performer, educator, and former director of the Bahá'í Temple Choir in Wilmette, Illinois. Ludwig is actively engaged as a composer, music producer, educator, writer, and speaker.
The booklet is designed to help communities establish and manage their own choir. Ludwig says: “The human voice is perhaps the most basic and magical of musical instruments, and choral singing is inherently both an artistic and a social activity. These common features make the process of creating and maintaining a choir remarkably consistent in cultures around the world.”
When asked how important is music to the development of a community? Ludwig replied, "Singing in a choir is one of life's most joyful and rewarding experiences. Making music together is a wonderful way to build communities. It brings hearts together in unified effort. It builds friendships and a sense of belonging. It immerses us in a shared artistic experience that lifts our spirits while subtly teaching us about many spiritual truths. To have such an activity is a major social and spiritual asset.”
We wanted to know how Kathryn saw the difference between sing-alongs and choirs. She explained that both have great merit and the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive; but they differ in thrust and purpose and their requirements are different in terms of official support, leadership, membership and logistical feasibility. During sing-alongs, participants sing whatever part they want, high, low, in between, make it up as they go along, or do not sing at all; the idea is to have an enjoyable experience and forge bonds of friendship. A sustained choral group, on the other hand, usually requires personal and group discipline on the part of the participants.
In many choral traditions, vocal parts need to be meticulously delineated and fit together in delicate balance. Great effort is made toward artistic merit, and in the spirit of providing an uplifting service for the audience. Sing-alongs, informal by definition, can be hosted anywhere and can be led by any strong singer or instrumentalist and participation will change from event to event.
On the other hand, while a choir may make presentations with an air of either formality or informality, it is common for hundreds of person-hours’ worth of formalized effort to be behind each presentation.
One of the best ways to overcome intolerance and exclusiveness in society, particularly in a culturally diverse society, is by embracing and performing as many different musical styles as possible, thus providing a smorgasbord of spiritual food for everyone. A well rounded choral director can successfully navigate a wide range of artistic diversity.
With great excitement, we could not resist asking Ludwig, “So where do we begin?” He replied that one of the most loving and supportive things a community can do for its choir is to provide a good rehearsal space. When it comes to the choice of repertoire, this is best accomplished by consultation. One important factor to take into account is the cultural and ethnic makeup of the community served by the choir. All will have their favorite pieces they want to sing, or want to recommend. Explore as many possibilities as you can find. Remember to make "unity in diversity" apply not only to the membership of your group, but also to its repertoire.
Here are a few suggestions they offered for creating and nurturing a choir to serve your community: It is desirable for choir directors to have had enough voice training themselves to understand the mechanics of the vocal instrument, what it can and cannot do, and to know how to impart this knowledge to a group of singers. One who does not understand the vocal instrument can do as much damage as good, especially when young or inexperienced choral singers are involved. Similarly, a singer may be satisfactory as a performer, yet may not have the skills needed to conduct and lead a group.
Two hours is a good length for a rehearsal, according to Kathryn. From a practical standpoint, most people can find two hours to dedicate to such an effort. Showing up on time and beginning on time are courtesies we show toward each other, acts of love and respect for the service the group is about to render, and acts of love and respect for the importance of one another’s life and time availability. Collaboration is very important.
Education researchers have discovered that it takes people approximately six hours to master a new skill. Applying this formula very simply to the rehearsal process, if one were to work on a new piece of music for 30 minutes at a stretch, it would take 12 sessions in order to learn that piece well. Of course, this can vary a lot, depending on how long and how involved the piece is.
You need to decide, says Ludwig, if you want "a cappella choir" (meaning voices only, with no instruments), or if you will have, say, a pianist or guitarist to accompany the choir. When deciding whether to use written music, one common misconception is that those who know how to read music supposedly cannot learn music by ear. The reality is, at least half of formal musical training is ear training. A musician cannot stay in tune or in rhythm with any other performer without a good ear (with the exception of deaf and partially deaf performers who are able to feel the rhythm and play an instrument that does not require tuning).
We wanted to know how they gained these insights. Ludwig’s musical experience is extensive. He was a choir director for many years. He also taught on the faculty of the Chicago Conservatory College, where he designed courses in music composition, theory, and non-Western music. One of his courses, surveying the extensive influence of the music of Africa upon that of North and South America, featured a series of guest lecturers, including the well-known Baha’i and jazz legend, Dizzy Gillespie. His musical works have been performed internationally as well as in several television and radio broadcasts. As a pianist, he has given numerous recitals and has performed as a soloist with orchestras. He is also a music producer and has owned and managed a professional production facility, where he created and produced music for television.
Like many others, Ludwig received encouragement from Writer and editor, “poet laureate” Roger White (2 June 1929-10 April 1993) and was bitten by his “encouragement bug.” Ever since, Ludwig has been enthusiastically encouraging aspiring students and colleagues in the pursuit of their careers. In his efforts as an artist, his long-term priority has been twofold: to help provide fellow artists with an outlook and practical tools that might prove useful on their path of service to humanity; and to promote the use of the arts in building healthy, vibrant communities based on spiritual values. In this latter pursuit, he encourages artists to channel their efforts to support key community building activities such as study circles, devotional gatherings, children’s classes and youth activities. His book, Mirror of the Divine: Art in the Bahá’í World Community, together with numerous articles, talks and musical presentations have been part of this ongoing orientation to service.
After serving sixteen years as a pioneer in Venezuela, Ludwig returned to the United States and resumed his career as a musician in 1995. His compositions span a variety of cultures and styles, from east and west, north and south, present and past, reflecting the kind of world-embracing perspective that a growing number of artists are adopting.
The booklet, Nine Steps to Raise and Nurture a Community Choir, along with a number of his musical compositions and writings mentioned above, are available online. As a public service, they can be downloaded without charge from his web site: www.LudwigTuman.com
Kathryn Tahiri has been composing and arranging and performing professionally since her teens. She holds a bachelor’s degree in composition, a masters degree in conducting, and is about to embark upon her doctorate in composition. She has published three volumes of works for choir, piano, and flute, authored an annotated Inventory of Bahá’í Choral Music, co-authored Nine Steps with Ludwig Tuman, and compiled A Gift of the Holy Spirit, a comprehensive compilation of Bahá’í quotations relating to the arts.
During her tenure as Music Director and resident composer at the Bahá’í Temple in Wilmette, Illinois, she composed choral pieces and researched and arranged many more, expanding the choir’s repertoire to over 100 pieces in 15 languages besides English, in styles as varied as folk, gospel, pop, classical, and Native American and other indigenous styles. Under her direction, the choir performed not only at the Temple, but at many high profile events throughout Illinois and Michigan. She also served at several international Bahá’í conferences as a speaker and devotions and music coordinator, conducting choral workshops and special ensembles for presentations at these occasions. After her service at the Temple was completed, she continued her work with the Fifth Street Choir, based in Wilmette; most recently she has directed, arranged, accompanied, and conducted musical theatre productions throughout the greater Chicago area. She keeps her vocal skills honed by singing with the DaCorneto Opera Company.
"Nine Steps to Raise and Nurture a Community Choir" is available for free downloading at www.LudwigTuman.com