Composer Mark Growden finds his calling with the Calling All Choir
"It's a classic round that the older generations know," Growden said. "It's important to keep those rounds alive in our culture." So how do amateurs go from zero experience to singing in Latin? Growden said it usually comes down to practice: "There were people who couldn't match pitch, but I kept having them come in early to work with them one-on-one or with a buddy," he said. "People who I thought absolutely couldn't sing, end up being able to sing."
During a recent rehearsal, his patience seemed endless and his energy infectious. When the choir formed a circle grouped by vocal ranges — sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses — Growden sprinted from section to section, signaling with his arms and voice when and how to sing. He encouraged them "to lean" into their next notes, reminded them not to bury their heads in their black binders filled with sheet music, and even stopped them when they sounded flat. Sure, there were a few off-key, cringe-worthy moments.
But there was also something beautiful in those imperfections. "I don't like to use the word spiritual – it's way overused – but there is something sacred in people singing together. Even if they're just drinking together," Growden said later by phone.
Each rehearsal begins with vocal exercises, many of which Growden borrowed from theater, and usually some form of dancing to encourage people to use their entire body as an instrument. The rehearsals also end with a dance party, for which Growden lowers the lights and blasts everything from hip-hop to ABBA. For the rehearsal he let us sit in on, it happened to be James Brown.
The second season will culminate with a finale June 20, at a venue TBD, and the third season will begin in September 2014. The choir accepts members within the first three weeks of the season, though Growden said he makes exceptions for experienced singers who know how to read music.
"When you're writing for amateurs, it's harder. I've got to set them up for success," he said. "But as a composer, I am really lucky. Vivaldi was a music teacher at an all-girls orphanage, Duke Ellington had his band...I mean, do you know how hard it is for composers to have their music made?"
For upcoming shows and more information: www.callingallchoir.org