Thursday, December 23, 2010

The other night I heard a concert by what must be called a perfect vocal ensemble. It was a kind of sound that is, I am happy to say, becoming increasingly fashionable: a cappella singing by small ensembles of highly individual voices.

My reaction on seeing the program was that it was too short. As the evening progressed, however, my reaction about halfway through the program was that it was too long: too much of the same sound. It was like listening to a CD end-to-end: not something I enjoy doing, but the "going" thing in sound marketing. I craved variation.

When, at the encore, they broke into a modern harmonization of "In the Bleak Midwinter" my reaction was laughter: at last, something fun! It felt like barbershop. Greatly to their credit they did not throw this lovely carol away but delivered it with the simplicity of which it is fully worthy.

I believe that chant is a vehicle for introspection, for reflection. It is not well served by being part of a concert program; the timing of the whole event somehow misses the essential point.

Perhaps deliberately loosening up of the sound for the purely secular numbers would help.