- May 10, 2018 at 9:05 am #564150
Jane DeLoach MorisonParticipant
I have singers who do not believe they should have to sing Ave Maria as one of their audition pieces or in concert next year because they are Protestant. I am Protestant, and have no problem with it, and this is the first time in the 30 year history of our choir that we have gotten any objection to singing this text. Our organization is not affiliated with any religion. I am very fond of these singers, and want to be kind to them, but we are not taking the piece out of our repertoire. Do my colleagues have experience with this? Any words of wisdom?May 11, 2018 at 11:49 am #564283
I share your singers’ religious sensibilities, but as a lover of music, I want to share with as many listeners as possible the treasures of our art—and many of those treasures come from traditions other than my own. Much of the history of Western music is sacred music, and much of that is outside of the Reformed tradition. To eliminate those pieces with which I’m not in doctrinal agreement would be to cut myself—and my listeners—off from works that could bring the world some sorely needed beauty. It’s also beneficial in educating myself and my listeners about other points of view; in a world that grows smaller by the day, our ability to get along as human beings depends in large part on appreciating that we may see things differently from one another. As far as performances, maybe a word from the podium or in the printed program could express the idea that “the only thing we’re preaching is music.” All the best!May 11, 2018 at 11:53 am #564284
This is always a difficult situation. Perhaps your organization should consider writing a policy statement about this issue with these poins:
Much great choral music has biblical, liturgical, or other religious texts. These works are frequently performed in non-religious concert situations. Our organization has been doing so for X years and will continue to do so. It does not imply theological acceptance of any particular religious position.. Thus we do not exclude repertory choices based on those grounds.
That can of course be reworded to best correspond to your organization’s policies. Having something like that set out on paper can sometimes avoid problems before they start.
Re the Ave Maria: the first half is biblical, quoting Gabriel and Elizabeth in Luke’s gospel.. The Biber setting is the signature of the world-famous Chanticleer. And what about Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus?
Good luck and best wishes with this!May 12, 2018 at 10:10 am #564289
This can be delicate territory, but can also afford an opportunity to do some deep exploration of non-musical issues of identity, sensitivity, etc. I often remind my students that “singing is acting”. Being a choral singer means assuming perspectives or personae that may not be your own, just as being a member of a theatrical performance does. In both cases, “trying on” another point of view can help to broaden our own understanding, and gives us a unique opportunity to look at the world in different ways without requiring us to give up our own beliefs.
Once in college, I participated in a performance of Dave Brubeck’s “The Gates of Justice” which required us to shout (not sing) offensive racial epithets. That’s a bit different but it does highlight the importance of context. Of course, the work as a whole framed that moment in a larger context, within a very different message. In the case of Ave Maria, it may be helpful to provide context in the way you frame the performance, both to your singers and to your audience. If the singers understand they are presenting someone else’s viewpoint (through a beautiful work of art) they may feel more at ease. Furthermore, if they feel reassured that the audience will also understand this (e.g. through introductions, program notes, etc.), rather than assuming the song reflects the personal beliefs of every singer, that may also help them feel more comfortable with the process.
Finally, I might add that if after all this, they still feel uncomfortable uttering those words (as some of my colleagues did with the Brubeck) it may be worthwhile to honor THEIR perspective as well. For example, you could allow them to substitute different underlay for the audition (to buy time for further discussion) and assure them that if they still feel uncomfortable by the concert they can “sit out” that piece in performance. (This can be a slippery slope, of course, but the hope would be that they would eventually come around, and sometimes group discussion in class can help that.)
The ability to assume another identity is a necessary skill for any singer, but it’s up to you to determine how much of that you require at the outset, versus how much you seek to cultivate in your students. This is just my $0.02, but hopefully you find something there to be helpful.
Dan RoihlMay 12, 2018 at 10:12 am #564388
The objecting singers are demonstrating religious bias, and that should not be tolerated.
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