This is the first post in a two part series on Inshallah Choir and the lessons Chantal has gleaned from her time as part of this community, specifically how a sense of belonging resonates in rehearsals. (Part 2: Belonging in Lyrics.)
Inshallah Choir was born out of a study trip to Israel Palestine. The founding members endeavored to share the message of unity and peace through songs they learned from friends they met there.
In the years that followed, this small choir welcomed students, staff, faculty from Martin Luther University, Wilfrid Laurier, University of Waterloo, as well as community members from the surrounding area. The choir which traditionally came together in Keffer Chapel of Martin Luther University on Tuesday evenings has welcomed people of various genders, ages, races, ethnicities and musical abilities. It is now a place where at least 130 singers belong.
My experience with Inshallah
I joined as a seminary student and continue to the extent that I am able as an alumnus because it is an opportunity to experience community with 130 diverse friends; Inshallah Choir is one of the few places in my life where I do not feel like I have to be the best. This is partly because auditions are not required; Everyone can contribute what they are able to, and soak in the wisdom and insights of others. As members are willing to share something of their cultural and religious backgrounds the choir’s musical repertoire grows. Involvement in Inshallah Choir offers a rare opportunity to live out a theology of unity and peace, learning spiritual songs in various languages. My favourites are those from the global South that are upbeat.
One might think that people who cannot read English or music would be unable to participate. This was initially a concern for me since my visual impairment makes it difficult for me to read words on a page, let alone musical scores, but I memorize them instead. Choir and audience members alike have asked me, “how do you memorize all the music?” My answer is that this skill has developed with God’s help, and out of necessity rather than personal choice, since I love to sing but reading overcomplicates things for me.
People who are fully sited and able to read well might not master memorization of music because it is not required of them. However, if you would like to try memorizing some pieces of music in a choir setting or elsewhere, here are some practical tips and strategies that you could use. I include this especially for anyone else who might like to be part of a choir but does not have the skill of reading music or print. That does not need to prevent you from enjoying and enriching a choir.
Memorizing without reading
When trying to learn the words of a song in a group of people, I listen to others singing and then sing along without looking at the words written down. This is usually possible when different choir sections, bases, tenors, altos and Sopranos rehearse their parts in turn. Many of the words will be the same for each part so you can hear them over and over again and try repeating them to yourself. You may be surprised at how much you are able to learn by memory after hearing the various sections repeat. Note that it is important for some members of each section to continue singing. It will not be effective if everyone attempts to learn by listening at the same time because you would hear nothing but the sound of silence.
It may be most practical to join a choir that sings in the language you are most familiar with. However, it is possible to learn songs in other languages by ear. It maybe easier to learn songs in other languages when you are not reading the words typed. When I hear someone speaking or singing in a different language I imitate exactly what they are saying, exactly how I hear it. This is more challenging for people who are reading the words of another language as they are printed in a language they are familiar with because without thinking, everyone automatically imposes the speech sounds that they are used to on the words they are reading. When I am trying to learn by listening, in a language that I am not familiar with, I wander around the rehearsal space a bit in order to find the place where I can make out the melody or the lyrics best until I know the piece well.
An unexpected benefit
An unexpected benefit of memorizing music rather than reading it is the ability to recall it at any time and the ability to focus on other things such as prayer while singing it.
Sing, pray, love… and belong!