Far from being solemn and exclusive spaces for scholars and initiates, other types of choirs have emerged as diverse and open spaces in which people of all ages and backgrounds meet. Some understand music, others do not, some are specially trained to play the instrument, and still others cannot read scores. Based on these differences, they come together to sing and act as a form of collective expression and sometimes demand that the world change.
“Symbolically, the choir is a very powerful weapon, you see thirty or forty people having fun and creating beauty in unison, and this has huge political potential,” says Malela Duran, co-director of the music school El Molino de Santa Isabel. who wanted to include, in addition to learning, dreams of integration, support networks and the joy of her founders, according to her website.
“For me, the choir is meant to be a small community,” Duran explains. A place “where everyone has the same goal – to make music as beautiful as possible. This goal and the pleasure of working towards it in rehearsals, including using the most sentimental instrument that is your own voice, is like building a small town. Generic codes and networks of attachment and support are being created to sustain life.
Building a community in a system that encourages individualism and distrust of others is the exception when it’s every man for himself. His practice is an inspiring experience and a powerful element of transformation: “Someone happens to them and the choir reacts as a group, it’s not your family, it’s your community. If there is no good atmosphere, the music suffers, there is an obligation to do good for the society, and that is fine. Music interests me, but nothing more than the social part,” says Duran, director of the six classical choirs of El Molino de Santa Isabel.
Bach in the squat
Malela Duran is from pop music, she participated in the group Nosoträsh in her native Gijón, and in Madrid she was in the group Garzón, which later became known as Grande-Marlaska. He created his first choir in the associative space La Dinamo, in the Lavapies district of Madrid. And when a building was occupied in the center of the city, he wanted to transfer his experience there, and with it he drew a new path that was no longer just rap, hardcore or batukadas: Bach entered the squat house. “It was a magical moment, I had the feeling that I was stepping into unknown territory. I thought why not sing Bach in a squatting community center, even if it doesn’t have purely political lyrics. Singing for the beauty and harmony of the group as a political and transformative tool,” recalls Duran.
This occupied building was called the Patio Maravillas, and Telemann’s violin duets or Beethoven’s piano sonatas were once played in its cafeteria. “It was revolutionary, there were some tensions with people who didn’t understand that religious music was being sung, because it seemed to contradict what they lived there, but in the end we found our space, and we sang at 7 in the morning when there was a threat of eviction. It was exciting,” he says.
In this way, the Patio became permeable to people who would otherwise not be in the squat: “We gave a concert for our fathers and mothers, and for the first time people in their 70s or 80s entered the squat without an activist profile. There were also professional musicians who were going to give lessons in vocal technique and thus knew a space that was not dangerous, was open and polite, with a great sense of community, those people who were initially not predisposed to the Patio, eventually came to the demonstrations against eviction,” recalls Malela Duran.
Sing for the common good
In the choir, no one stands out, a group of voices creates a unique voice and works for a common result, which means controlling the ego so that no one stands out. “You need to try not to let anyone hang low, but also not to show your head too much, because the sound should be like a group paste, and not the three leaders, and then those who follow them. And this is something very beautiful, because it is the result of joint actions, otherwise it makes no sense. This means looking for beauty together, and there is a very great political potential in this,” explains the head of the choir.
Nacho Vegas knows Malela Duran from Gijón and called her to have the Patio choir participate in his album Resituación in 2014 in two songs. Later, the musician was looking for a choir for live performances, and Al Altu la Lleva, a choir that defines itself as matriarchal, international and anti-fascist, was formed, performing with Nacho Vegas at a concert in Palau in Barcelona with a song about PAH’s criticism of Banco Sabadell, who sponsored the concert, and at the bank’s headquarters in Gijón against the eviction, among many other acts of defense and protest since then.
In the same spirit, the choir and orchestra of La Solfónica was born in 2011 under the cover of the spaces occupied by 15 M in Madrid, with musicians and music teachers, as well as many other people without musical education. Since then they have sung classical and popular songs at demonstrations, escracks and evictions, often adapting the lyrics to social demands. They always sing in the streets and squares, thus offering a form of protest expressing rage with music and songs. Their performances, like those of the Asturian choir Al Altu la Lleva, evoke deep emotions in those who listen to them.
You don’t need to know music
The idea of the choir has changed a lot, and it is already known that there are many types of choir, which in turn clash with different types of music. “But classical music is still perceived as something distant, elitist, too serious. That’s what we’re trying to break down, we firmly believe that classical music is for everyone, that it’s also fun, that it can be for boys and girls, that you can have a great day singing rock or playing Bach,” Duran says. who recognizes that technology sometimes goes away and knows that popular music or folklore is closer than classical music.
This is shared by Maria Quiroga, a trumpeter and singer who composes jazz and directs a gospel choir at Ateneo Varillas, an association space in León. “Gospel is black and religious music from Baptist churches. There are fewer tricks than in classical music, where there is a specialization in one instrument. In jazz or gospel it’s very open, you can be a pianist and learn to play the trumpet,” explains Quiroga, who has so far rehearsed classic gospels such as Amazing Grace, Oh Happy Day or The Lion Sleeps Tonight. The next course wants to include songs from The Beatles, Freddie Mercury or Stevie Wonder.
The gospel choir has been rehearsing on Wednesdays since last October, and there are people who can read music and those who can’t. “We see how to learn to sing and so that the ear accumulates the singing of intervals, I make games not only to compose a repertoire, but so that people learn the tuning and vocal technique, and I explain all the spelling for those who cannot read music. After all, with practice, you understand many things in the score,” says Maria Quiroga.
Malela Duran agrees. “I lead six choirs and I calculated that 70% of people do not understand music. In the beginning you start with your memory and hearing, if you happen to have it with you, and gradually you learn from the score and get used to the codes,” he explains.
It is forbidden to sing during a pandemic
When the pandemic broke out and the world stopped, singing became an extremely dangerous activity, it became impossible to share space with your mouth open at the top of your voice. “The beginning was very difficult, it was a terrible blow, the news came that singing was the worst thing to do. There were lessons on screen whenever we could, and the best thing we got out of it was staying together at a distance, at least we could see each other’s faces. But we didn’t have a technical way of matching to sound at the same time, so I taught like a master class and then people rehearsed, it was a simulation of what a choir is. Many endured and as soon as it was possible to sing again, although it was a smaller group, with masks, we checked that it was not a hole, but a valley, ”says the teacher.
The first time they got together again to sing for public health in front of a health center. Many of Malela Duran’s students are retired, and most of them did not dare to go to school. Those who did this took extreme precautions. Videos of the school can be seen online with street doors open, people wearing masks and coats singing. “It was difficult, but we decided it was better than not doing it. The good thing is that, being in small groups and at a greater distance, people had to act together, they were not so embraced by the group and had to learn. And so many people improved because there were fewer people, we had to rehearse more at home to make the band sound good,” explains Duran.
Now they are rehearsing at the school and also in some nearby churches because these are good acoustic rooms where they can sound good. “There are some very cool sites that sound really bad, and the church almost always guarantees you great satisfaction in that sense. We belong to two neighboring churches that conduct social work, are open, have a not so conservative profile. We rehearse or perform in them, and instead of paying rent, we partner with a social action they are doing in the neighborhood, with a donation that organized food banks and all sorts of support while incarcerated,” Duran concludes.
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