Susie Frame and Sue Mepham
Every Monday evening in a suburban Dunedin church we have the privilege of being part of a little bit of magic – Flagstaff Community Choir magic. FCC started in 2008 but prior to that we had been working together, teaching and leading music in various settings, both in schools and in the community. During this time, we observed the benefits of group singing. Not just a musical activity, group singing is a workout for the body and mind, promoting self-esteem, enhancing mood, and providing opportunities for friendship.
Initially FCC started with a very small but enthusiastic group of seven. The numbers have grown to about 50, the members enjoying the flexibility to ‘come when you can’. As an ‘all-comers’ choir there are no auditions, and reading music or prior experience isn’t essential. The range of music we sing is as eclectic as the members themselves: waiata, spirituals, world music, blues, old-time, modern and works by local composers. Our melodies bounce of the walls and at the end of each practice, those who perhaps weren’t feeling bouncy when they arrived will feel a little bouncier when they leave.
At its inception, the major (no pun intended) goal for FCC was to have fun in a choral environment – and boy, do we have fun! That being said, our diverse group of people produces some seriously amazing sounds with its musical story telling.
Our ‘stories’ expose us to foreign languages and can be educational, poetic or historic. More importantly – and this is a well-documented phenomenon – it promotes an internal emotional shift in the singer, and when that singer is flanked by thirty or so like-minded people, the experience could be described as spiritual.
We liken choir to life. Sometimes we muddle along, tentatively moving forward from bar to bar trying to get to grips with all the tricky parts; other times we throw caution to the wind and are brave and exuberant. We make mistakes! As in life they are expected … and accepted. The best fun comes from the mistakes, especially when they are made by the conductor or the accompanist!
We also liken choir to gardening. With only an hour a week together we are like annuals, giving it everything we have to achieve the best result possible in the short time available. Then by some miracle, the cumulation of these short bursts of energy contributes to a perennial repertoire – an ever-expanding repertoire – that we wear like a second skin, adding colour to the special occasions we have been invited to sing at: Oh, Happy Day at a wedding, Wairua O Te Puna at one of our choir member’s funeral, and Tihore Mai at Arai Te Uru’s Parihaka service last year.
As humans we are all, by nature, social beings. Being in a choir gives us an opportunity to relate and to make what Michigan Professor Jane Dutton refers to as an HQC: a ‘high-quality connection that promotes a feeling of aliveness and vitality’.
Connections lead to a sense of fellowship and trust, and as far as FCC is concerned, these connections are plainly evident as choir finishes at 8.30. The FCC post-choir catch-ups – sharing the happy news and the not-so-happy news – is a wonderful by-product of our choral group experience. As the time inches closer to 9pm it’s not uncommon for some to keep chatting until Tim makes the ‘lights are going off’ call!
We are human beings, not human ‘doings’. Singing in a community choir is a constant reminder to take time to recharge, fill the tank, to just … well, be. It doesn’t pay the bills but it pays social, psychological and emotional dividends that you just can’t put a price on.
So, every Monday night, think of us: a diverse group of individuals, each with a separate story, singing in unity, making a little bit of magic – Monday night magic.
- View American composer and ‘virtual’ choirmaster Eric Whitacre talking about the health and wellbeing benefits of group singing here.
Susie Frame is a writer and musician/accompanist.
Sue Mepham is a music teacher, composer and choral leader.
Both Susie and Sue live in Dunedin, New Zealand.
More about singing on Corpus here: The Gospel of Singing by Chris Nichol