TOC – The Open Choir On Tour – Crouch End Festival
By Alistair Smith
It was a beautiful sun filled Sunday in June and the Crouch End festival was in full swing. One of our first gigs as a choir was at the festival last year and it was good to be back, this time with a little more experience and a few more gigs under our belts. This year we would be playing two gigs during the festival, another at the Meadow Orchard Project in Crouch End and at a street party in Inderwick Road. It was TOC on tour!
We had a strong setlist, comprised of all the various approaches we had experimented with in rehearsal and the group had solidified into a cohesive and consistent ensemble. We also had the wonderful Sarah Jenkins, Veronica Chacon and Dilara Aydin-Corbett from TIC to enhance our endeavours.
Listening back to the Town Hall concerts, the most striking thing I notice is what I already mentioned above, Cohesion! With a consistent and committed group in rehearsal, this year we have developed stronger bonds, both musically and in friendship. Individuals have become more comfortable in their own voice and musical elements such as pitching, imitation, locking into rhythms and holding the pulse are all improving.
Jenni has devised clear approaches to improvisation that give each piece a trajectory and sense of purpose. My favourites are the Monologue Reflections and Invocation. These two serve as platforms for individuals to solo and explore, supported and encouraged by the group. With the former, ideas emerging from the solo line are reflected back by other members of the choir, thereby becoming an appreciative accompaniment to the soloists ideas. On deeper reflection, this process reveals itself to be an almost ritualistic honouring of the individuals unique creativity and harks back to Vocal Tai Chi, the practice from which Jenni’s choir emerged.
This highlights the essence of the nature of our choir – the honouring of another’s authentic voice. It is worth pointing out that, in contrast to the usual kind of choir, we are not trying to become a solid, unified sound. We are all about the uniqueness of each members vocal expression and ideas. The type of cohesion that I am talking about here is the way in which all these, sometimes strikingly different voices meet and mingle. We are not one sound. We are many sounds coming together, interweaving, forming new and exciting compounds and then parting again to find our own centres. An individual is not compromised for the good of the whole, rather they are encouraged to be themselves as part of the goodness of the whole.
Listening back to my friends monologues I am moved and inspired by their courage to be honest voices, sometimes tender and delicate, other times raw and vital. Honesty is the quality I most prize in a voice, so I feel privileged and very lucky to be singing in Jenni’s choir with such lovely people.