TIC – The Improvisers’ Choir – Rehearsal 3
In Jenni Roditi’s stunning loft apartment, light streaming in through the windows that are three sides of the space, seven unique individuals entered one by one to greet Jenni. “The warming up is done! The bonding is done! Now it’s time to get down to it!” These were some of Jenni’s first words to the group as they commenced their third rehearsal.
The singers were encouraged to accept their present state; to honour their history of singing as part of their musical language: “What is the music that you carry without a score? Honour the music that is inside you.”
Jenni led the singers in duets and trios, a process of ‘finding each other.’ The diversity of styles, traditions and idiosyncrasies began to emerge immediately. The differences of timbre, intensity, types of agility, articulation and approach displayed this distinct collection of sonic personalities. The term timbre feels inadequate to describe the rich differences in tonal quality, colour, texture and depth that were conversing and weaving around each other. This created a sumptuous complexity, even to a held unison.
Seven of the ten singers: from left to right (front) Kate Smith, Veronica Chacon, Irene Pujol-Torres, Sarah Jenkin, Uran Apak. left to right (back) Dilara Aydin-Corbett, Helen Burnett, Jenni Roditi. Missing from the photo, choir members – Davide Basso, Sylvia Medina and Ben Zucker.
In discussion about this ‘meeting of voices’ the singers revealed, not just a great imagination of performance, but also of listening. The listeners experience of their fellow performers was as varied as the sounds that were produced.
The singers also revealed the intimate nature of the exercise. There were feelings of shyness, of feeling exposed and of expressing something deep – a “heart – soul voice”. This set the tone for the depth that the group would be working on throughout the session.
Once seated in a choir formation the singers were then encouraged not to hold back, to “step out on to the ledge,” whilst always working together, supporting each other, giving each other space.
Part of Jenni’s mission brief for the choir was “the directed conducting (that) will focus the shape of what is emergent. The emergent process will subtly determine the shape of the directed conducting.” I was intrigued by this bold idea and wondered how it would work. And boy! – did it work!
As the choir began its first tutti exploration, Jenni would pick up on an idea, take it in to her hands and improvise a gesture to express it – expand it, shape it, pass it around the group. In this way, they followed the direction of an idea, went with it, others were directed to follow or change it, support or contrast. This felt like new territory between performer and conductor – a conversation not a direction. Even the body language of the performer could inform the conducting.
The idiosyncrasies of the performers came to the fore and were taken by Jenni and put into the melting pot of performance. She was also ready to let go of the reigns and let the singers try something on their own. Different voices met, their worlds combining, igniting into dynamic, scintillating possibilities. There were serene, glass-like tones; tribal pulsing and hocketting; rich chords woven together, shifting across varied harmonic and timbal palettes. There were moments of repose, and of the urgent. There was both the conventional and unconventional, the serious and the silly, experience and innocence.
It was decided to give space to all these elements; to honour both the conventional and the avant-garde, the consonant and the challenging. This seemed to me to be real ‘free’ improvisation – where anything goes – even the harmonious and predictable that free improvisation players sometimes avoid.
The pace of learning for these eight unique individuals was fast and unrelenting. It was a stimulating, revealing and emotional experience, both challenging and satisfying. All acknowledged that there was deep work going on within them, a process of such honest expression that this was bound to happen. In fact I would say that one thing that unites these sonic personalities is honesty – for me the essential core feature of a great voice.
The possibilities of this group and their approach to making music are vast, extremely exciting and inspiring. I can’t wait to hear more…and more.
Alistair Smith – composer, guitarist.