Don't mess with a soprano  

Silence stings singers

The silence is deafening.

I have not been this browbeaten by silence since first grade when I joined my first choir.

Silence is golden, but many voices raised in song, coming together as one, is more precious than gold; it’s platinum.

Millions of Canadians agree with me on that score. The silence hurts their soul. More than three million choral singers in Canada haven’t had any collective voice for six months.

There are 50% more adult choral singers than hockey players in Canada, which means choral singing should be a national sport. Unfortunately, choir singers tend to be quiet about their art and definitely not as franchise-able.

But just because they’re quiet doesn’t mean choirs aren’t important. There are a myriad of reasons why choral singing is important.

“Singing reduces stress and releases endorphins,” said Sara Crawford, a writer for Lifehack.org.

Could it be better than wine for relaxing you? Absolutely! Ask anyone who has sung for two hours how well they sleep.

“Our choir rehearses Wednesday night and I find it a wonderful hump-day stress reliever,” said Barb Graham, a member of the Kelowna Community Choir (KCC).

Choirs help our cognitive functioning. 

Every year, choir members learn new music, new rhythms, new cultures, and languages through the music chosen by their conductor. This learning is challenging, especially as we age, but members show up year after year for their choir night rehearsal.

The most exciting night for choristers is the first rehearsal of the season when they open their choral package and see the new music they will be learning. 

It is thrilling to put sounds to the notes on the page. You feel like an explorer uncovering new lands. And you are not alone on this journey.

It is inclusive unless you belong to an auditioned choir, one that requires an audition and invitation to join.

You just show up.

  • You don’t need an expensive instrument.
  • You don’t need lessons.
  • You don’t have to be a fantastic singer to enjoy it. 

You take your singing voice and combine it with the others, and, voila, together you created an incredible sound that isn’t possible alone. The feeling of being surrounded by voices so close to you is addicting.

“It’s a bit like choral yoga — to blend with other people and be a part of something outside myself,” said KCC member Sarah Murdoch Black.

It is my job as a conductor, to make all those individuals sound like one voice. That’s the magic of music — the singers, the conductor, and the audience are changed. They feel more alive and in tune with those around them.

Perhaps that is why nine million Canadians attend a choral performance each year, according to a survey conducted in 2017 by Hill Strategies.

Choirs make a difference in their communities and lighten the days of the aging in care homes and hospitals. They support their community events by often providing free entertainment. They give bursaries to young musicians.

 Choirs make their own communities. Week after week, year after year sitting next to the same person makes deep and lasting friendships with such kindred spirits possible.

“I find that choir offers an opportunity like no other,” said KCC member Ron Henderson. “Choir is an extended family, but without the small things that irritate. “

“I really look forward to at least two hours a week to escape because when one is truly consumed in music, the rest of the world falls away.”

Join a choir and see the world

Kelowna Community Chorus, Spectrum Singers, and Unity Choir of Christ Lutheran Church have enjoyed joining voices with other singers to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City. KCC is considering accepting an offer to sing in Croatia if COVID ends soon enough. 

There are many opportunities each year to join voices with fellow singers everywhere in the world, just not now.

Cracks in the wall of silence began to appear in September. 

Although the public voice has gone silent, behind the wall some choirs have been hard at work. 

They have been socially meeting on Zoom. Some have even met outside in small groups, socially distanced and with masks, which is not ideal, but members are starving for their choral fix. They are anxious to fill the hole that the silence has created in their lives.

KCC even started its season early on Zoom in August. The members have been learning music rudiments, having contests, and collectively singing together alone at home every Wednesday night. When they are allowed to meet again, they will be stronger than ever.

Is it fun? Not always, but they are together again and won’t always be without a voice.

Choirs are self-supporting. They make their revenue from their concerts. KCC had just under 100 people preCOVID — 56 paid in full singers at present. Their membership is over the allotted size for a gathering.  

No gathering, no revenue for practice space, conductor and accompanist, publicity, or hall rental.

Bigger cracks in the wall of silence are needed. It can't come soon enough for those silenced.

When this wall of silence finally comes down, voices will join in a cacophony of sound that will resound around the world.


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About the Author

Sue Skinner is a singer of opera and musical theatre, a choral conductor and a teacher/coach of voice. 

She has travelled the world, learned many languages, seen every little town in Alberta and supported herself with music all her life.

She has sung at weddings, funerals, musicals, operettas, opera, with symphonies, guitars, jazz groups, rock bands and at play schools. 

Skinner has taken two choirs to Carnegie Hall, sung around the world, and teaches for Wentworth Music on Zoom.

[email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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