Gramophone Magazine asked various experts to name their favourite choir. The list is dominated by British groups. American composer Eric Whitacre explained why:
Tuning: perhaps the most powerful weapon in the technical arsenal of a choir, choristers in the UK are taught from a very early age not only to sing in tune but to listen to those around them. A perfect example is Alamire, David Skinner’s phenomenal early music group to which I have recently been introduced, a choir that sings so in tune that the music seems to shimmer and float in front of the speakers.
Sight-reading: the Brits are possibly the world’s greatest sight-readers. In my travels I’ve certainly never seen anything like it. Every time I rehearse a choir here I am astonished at how quickly they parse the music and absorb it. When we recorded “Light & Gold”, the Eric Whitacre Singers and Laudibus had just six hours to read through and rehearse 80 minutes of my music. Good singers here are simply expected to read.
Tone: bright and clear, with a healthy spin and not too much vibrato. I love the warm, long, open vowels, the purity of the vowel colour being perfect for the close harmonies in my music. I love the way the women can sing in their upper registers, rich and crystalline. And when a British choir truly dedicate themselves to the consonants – like in the line “giving their kisses like clouds exchanging foam”, a line from my a cappella work A Boy and a Girl – there is little that’s more sweet or more affecting.
Knowledge: British choirs simply get it. I’m sure it comes from the centuries-old tradition of singing but there is a seasoned polish and an attitude about the music-making that is at once soulful and unsentimental, expressive without being maudlin. They have the beating hearts of singers and the brains of trained musicians and this places them among the most potent and versatile artists on the planet.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.