A chamber singing group is a fairly small group of singers. While a good sized concert choir might have anywhere from 30-100 voices an average chamber signing group has 16-24 voices. That’s 2-3 people singing per part.
The former can be an experience in vocal dynamics – great energy, dense lines, and lots of volume. The latter presents a more agile and generally more detailed sort of performance. Both fine, but the latter much more intimate and personal.
Being a part of Dr. Baxter’s Chamber Singers meant the opportunity to go on small tours. I think this touring was much more common placed in the 1970s given the support for education at that time. As a result we traveled by bus through the southern part of the state. Lots of college aged folks, musicians no less, learning and making their art and often losing themselves to the love of the road and sometimes to each other. But I digress…
Earlier this week I mentioned the tour to Santa Barbara where we experienced a group moment of ecstasy. A moment where the muse and our spirits were one. There was another moment we shared that was exquisite.
Over the three years I was in the chamber singers, folks “came out” – sort of, women chose to go braless, and ‘fros were grown. We reflected the changes going on in society. I share so that you might imagine what we looked like. Exuberant, free, focused on today.
In the spring of the school year we went on tour. One of our first stops was Hearst Castle. Toured the mansion; mostly we behaved rather nicely. A few of us who are eternally goofy had trouble behaving; not in a particularly bad way, but in that way that promotes giggles and a lack of attention to the poor tour guide. The art of antiquities pointed out, but not necessarily seen by all of us. Hard to focus on antiquities when you’re focused on the tenor beside you.
Up stairs, down stairs, in rooms and out of rooms, mostly keeping in line. Murmurs, listening, looks to one another, more soft giggles. The cleverness of youth surrounding us. Hormones abounding.
By the time we arrived at the Roman Pool we’d gotten most of the giggles out.
The pool is at the end of the tour. It is a compressed bit of glory; a bit of mission architecture, a bit of classical lines, and an homage to a Roman Bath. All of this and more in a beautiful mix of blue with highlights of gilt and light. There are alcoves and high ceilings. It’s a wondrous sound chamber. Many of us enjoying singing in the shower because the way our voice resonates. Imagine what you might sound like in a space like this.
I don’t have to imagine because while our tour was stopped in the Roman Pool one of us was emboldened and began to sing. In so few measures, one voice then another joined in until we filled the chamber with our shared love. No hesitation because it was what we were meant to do. Not too exuberant or bold; this was about the intimacy of our voices. Each vocal line, each voice, embraced the other.
We sang only one verse of the Liebelieder Walzer because more would have been too much.
I suspect we were not the first group nor the last group to do this.
But this was the first time we had done this together. Oh, youth.
Photos courtesy Wikipedia