As choruses go, the Choral Society of the Hamptons, which forwent a spring concert this year in order to allow enough rehearsal time for its concert of the Bach B Minor Mass on June 27, has gotten better and better. Now, under the heartfelt leadership of its longtime music director, Mark Mangini, and with its ranks expanded by the members of his New York City Greenwich Village Chamber Singers, it’s ready for Bach.
I am among a cohort who have been on the choral scene for more years than we necessarily want to admit. At rehearsal this week, however, I realized the long-timers like me were outnumbered by newer singers ranging from teenagers on up, and felt proud. In the old days, most participants were, well, amateur. Now, about a third are music teachers or instrumentalists, and a few who have retired from those careers have joined, as well, and what a difference it makes.
Then, too, in the old days, we were lucky to have about three tenors, two of whom were usually women. This week, there were eight, I believe, in the tenor section. I do look forward to learning their names and something of their backgrounds. The Choral Society is a friendly bunch, although it has been in a state of modest flux lately, as a search is conducted for a new administrative director. (How we miss Hannah Faye Huising, who has decided to concentrate her energies on her new baby and academic career!)
Well, if you don’t already know, Bach isn’t easy. In the piece we are preparing, I am thrilled to be able to take my place among the second sopranos rather than stick to being an alto, which has been my place over the years. A number of longtime altos stopped me at a break to ask how and why I had gone over to the other side. The answer was 1) there are always too many altos, and 2) I think I can do it . . . thanks to Mr. Bach.
Natalie Hahn, who first lured me to the Choral Society many years ago, couldn’t believe her eyes and wanted to know what I was doing on the second-soprano side. These matters are of fervent interest in choral circles; I guess you could say we are all proud classical-music news. The reason I say that I have Bach to thank is that the distinct second-soprano line in the work we are rehearsing includes only a rare note or two above those that are prudent for my range. Natalie wondered if aging had raised my tessitura — but, no, my move is specific to our upcoming performance. And, besides, in choral singing there are always a few notes you can let others handle.
I find it interesting and heartening to note that the Choral Society is becoming not just more diverse in age, but in multicultural and ethnic composition. In my memory, the Choral Society was for a long time 99 percent lily white. Today, the ranks boast many people of color, particularly among the younger singers. What a wonderful difference this makes. What a bonanza for morale. Change can, indeed, be good.
Listen up. If you can read music, even to an amateur degree, and are willing to take a chance, please turn out for the next rehearsal, which will be Monday evening at 7 in the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church. If you don’t recognize anyone, ask for a section leader — or anyone who looks like a know-it-all. Tell him or her you would like to audition. Of course, you’ve got to be able to sing on key if you are going to engage in choral music. You definitely don’t have to qualify as a soloist. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. It’s the blend that counts.