Finding Alabama’s Voice:

The Process of Developing a Statewide Choral Ensemble

Brady McNeil

Throughout history, music is well established as an essential contributor to the cultural fabric that weaves communities together. Gregorian chant fostered a shared sense of religion in the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages (Marier, 2014); Chopin reflected his strong Polish roots with his nationalistic mazurkas (Loeffler, 2015); and bandstands became an avenue for amateur bands to provide a sense of shared community (Battisti, 2002). Today, in the music world, we tend to qualify cities by the existence of a professional orchestra, opera, or theatre. With the explosion of community bands and choirs in the last century, the modern musician has innumerable opportunities for continuing amateur or professional participation in a music ensemble throughout adulthood (Bell, 2004). Some of the smallest towns are still represented by community music ensembles who exist simply for the sake of making music. On a slightly larger scale, performing ensembles formed to represent the whole state have grown in popularity as these groups are typically comprised of professional musicians across the state in which the ensemble resides. Community music ensembles are essential to culture and the

unification of communities because often they represent individuals of different ages with diverse backgrounds, political affiliations, occupations, ethnicities, musical experiences, and so much more (Veblen et al., 2013). These ensembles serve as a vital part of the cultural and social tapestry that represents each of their respective communities (Langston & Barrett, 2008).

Despite the growing emergence of state community ensembles, Alabama seems to be behind. Instrumental music is well represented by Alabama Winds, a premier community band comprised of band directors and other professional musicians across the state of Alabama. The vocal and orchestral facets of continuing music performance are still lacking. Bell (2008) states that statewide ensembles differ in overall scope and formality than traditional community ensembles, but explains that confining these community ensembles to a particular definition can be limiting. Simply to avoid confusion, I have defined “town community choir/band” as a performing ensemble of non-paid, amateur members that represents a particular town or city. I have defined “state

community choir/band” as a professional, though still non-paid, auditioned ensemble who may exist to represent the state on a larger scale, to promote social justice, or to purely serve as an outlet for professional musicians to continue performing.

Why We Do What We Do Community ensembles exist for a variety of reasons. Veblen et al. (2013) states, “while some programs are geared toward marginalized and disadvantaged populations…others are intended to celebrate and entertain. A variety of alternative structures, formal and informal, planned and unplanned, exist to teach, experience and perform music” (p. 4). Town community choruses are vital to establishing arts culture in their respective towns, and often provide a more casual rehearsal atmosphere for individuals who wish to join for personal musical fulfillment (Bell, 2004). Many community groups allow singers to join with little to no previous experience, but what if there were more avenues for continued choral participation past college that we could offer those who wanted to be challenged at a higher level? Why should college choirs be the peak


May/June 2019

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