The Cultish Appeal of Singing Together

Nina Shen Rastogi at Slate Magazine nailed the joy in creating music as a group in today’s review of Pitch Perfect, a book about collegiate a capella:

Singing with other people is fun, even if you’re not very good. What many people don’t realize is that, for singers, there’s an extra, physical dimension to that pleasure. Belting out a clean high C is like executing a slam-dunk or a crisp pirouette—there’s an exhilaration that comes with feeling your body reach its limits.

She’s exactly right. Not only does singing give you the usual buzz of musical communication, but it picks up an extra emotional and physical aspect. If, as Rostagi ventures, collegiate a capella is a cult, then perhaps singing itself is its kool-aid.

It’s nice when some article you stumble upon matches up to exactly what you’ve been thinking about.

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2 Responses to “The Cultish Appeal of Singing Together”

  1. So like the world of marching band competitions with its traditions, rivalries and small-world dramas. (A few years ago, I believe a Princeton sociology major wrote her senior thesis on the social dynamics of one of the New Jersey Drum & Bugle Corps.) Which raises this question…Nina Rastogi says there is an extra, physical dimension to the pleasure of making music together for singers. Do you think there is a difference in physical or psychic reward in making music together with our voices rather than with musical instruments?

  2. Yes.

    Which is not to say anything against instrumental music. I LOVE instrumental music. Instruments are capable of things voices simply aren’t (namely, nine chords that don’t sound cheesy), and they can handle a lot of genres– indeed, most– better than voices can. Vocal jazz is nothing like real jazz. Symphonies are written for instruments for a reason. And marching choir might be the only thing more interminable than show choir.

    But realizing that ensemble vocal performance has a different physical and emotional return– I’d almost call it a spiritual return– was a big step in my musical development. Today, the director of the voice program here at Northwestern discussed a moment when, as an undergrad, he sang a full mass– directed by Robert Shaw. There was one moment in particular, he said, when, in the penultimate movement:

    “I started to realize something really good was happening. And then suddenly– we were *together.* The roof collapsed, the walls fell down, the heavens opened, and we were all linked together as one. And after that moment, there was no way I wasn’t not going to somehow do music for the rest of my life.”

    This followed his previous comment:

    “It doesn’t get any better than performing chamber music.”

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