Choral Breathing

Updated: May 17, 2020

A choir in good voice, mid-song, is one of those human things that show the truth of us, something so essentially human as to be otherworldly. Choral singing is possibly one of the most unsafe activities you could engage in at the moment. Singers, learn (again) to breathe like babies, from the diaphragm. In choir, the challenges of singing your part, in time, on pitch, in tune and breathing chorally are added to the act of speech. Speech is a tertiary function of the human respiratory system.

Singers in a choir have to learn not only to breathe for themselves, in service of their own sound, but they have to be aware of the people around them and not take a breath at the same time as their neighbours. Its a thing both deeply centring and wholly expansive. To be in a choir is to take up the air in the space and share it. To take air in and use it to power song.

The Lydian Singers are one of those things that I think of when I think about the best of Trinidad and Tobago. I forget about the force of the Lydians, and then standing in front of them at rehearsal…when they gather themselves up and SING. I remember.

At SoundForge during rehearsals for Deo Gratias, I found myself having a conversation with the SoundForge crew about castrati. Choirs will do that to you…teach you arcane facts and give you opportunities to share them.

There is a gap of a half-century between the first performance of Verdi’s Requiem in 1874 and the invention of the Steel Pan, but if a thing was ever made to do a thing, steel pans were meant to play the cascade of impending doom that is Verdi’s Dies Irae.

The first time I heard…felt really the Dies Irae from Verdi’s requiem, is one of those clear, out of space and time memories…like crashing a car or falling in love. The force of the sound from the nave at the Anglican Cathedral. Not just the volume but the sheer living sforza of the wall of sound crashing into me took my breath. Maybe the world ends on a whisper, my wager, is on the sound of Verdi’s Dies Irae with steel pans and trumpets.

Dies irae

Day of wrath

dies illa

that day

Solvet saeclum in favilla:

Earth will be in ashes:

Teste David cum Sybilla.

As David and Sybil witness.

Quantus tremor est futurus

How great the tremors will be

Quando judex est venturus

When the judge comes

Cuncta stricte discussurus!

To examine everything strictly!

If you are in difficulty while swimming, you might be able to call for help. When you begin to drown, you can’t speak.

Singing together is one of the things we do because we can, a thing as necessary and essentially useless and fundamentally necessary as priceless as all art.

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