One evening last summer, I made my way to a crumbling, cobbled plaza in the Meatpacking district of New York City to participate in Make Music New York, a festival of free concerts in public spaces. On this hot June evening, about 60 singers, conductor Kent Tritle, some soloists, and a keyboard player gathered to sing choral works for all who passed by. Seeing the look of surprise and wonder as dog-walkers, parents with little kids, and people rushing from A to B stumbled upon a choir singing on their corner was a delight to watch. For individual singers and choirs of all sizes and styles, special choral events, collaborations, and guest performances can bring a whole new range of experiences to choral musicians and take the choral repertoire to a vast new audience.
Conductors and choir organizers who are open to collaborative ideas also have an opportunity to incorporate choral music into multi-disciplinary projects. These collaborations allow choral singers to perform with world-class artists and bring the choral arts to audiences that would not usually attend a choral concert. In Meredith Monk’s Ascension Variations, choral singers from The Stonewall Chorale and Montclair State University were among 120 performers of a site-specific work that flowed through the spiraling galleries of the Guggenheim Museum. The Young People’s Chorus of New York could be heard from the balcony at the Joyce Theatre during performances with the Stephen Petronio Company in Nico Muhly’s I Drink the Air Before Me. The same choir can be spotted at wide-ranging events that include the unveiling of Lord & Taylor’s holiday windows, TV appearances, and international tours that bring choral music to an immense audience.
Invitations to participate in community-based events also help to bring the choral arts to a new platform, and they can be tied to a choir’s specific focus. For Melodia Women’s Choir, the ensemble I started eight years ago, Women’s History Month has brought a host of invitations for collaborations and performances. For example, for two years the choir sang at the New York City Comptroller’s Women’s History Month celebration at the New York Surrogate’s Courthouse. Crowded onto a marble staircase, the choir sang to an audience of more than 400 people from a widely diverse community not present at our regular concerts.
Scheduling guest performances and special projects can be challenging for choir organizers already under pressure to prepare for their regular concert programs. But these events represent unique opportunities to bring choral music beyond the confines of concert hall walls, keeping it present and alive in a broader world.
Have you ever been asked to bring music to an unusual place or event?