Choral Singing Technique, Or, You Aren’t Leaving the House Wearing That, Young Lady

I sing in a small choir; we sang two Advent concerts last weekend.

When I sing in a choir, I hold my music folder almost horizontal just about at neck level, much like a waiter holding a tray. This has several advantages over holding it lower or at a greater angle. First, the sound of my voice can move freely past my folder and out into the hall, as opposed to bouncing off my folder back to my body. The audience can see my face better and if I am trying to emote in some way they’ll catch it better than if I’m looking down. But most important, I can focus on the notes in my music while at the same time keeping the conductor in the upper part of my peripheral vision. I can also glance very quickly between the conductor and my music. This lets me follow the conductor’s beat and direction while still reading my music.

Something strange happened at our first concert last weekend. As I was singing, a twinkling light began to appear and disappear in the blur of my peripheral vision just over the conductor’s left shoulder. I managed to keep singing and during some long held notes tried to figure out what was going on.

There was a gentleman in the audience who happened to appear just to the left of the conductor from where I was standing who was dressed for the season. He was wearing a bright red beret, an impressive set of sideburns and mustachios, and a red-and-black shirt with a bright red tie. He was evidently a nervous sort, because he kept picking up his program, reading it, and putting it down. Whenever he put it down, he revealed the flashing red and blue LED lights on his tie pin.

Just a tiny bit distracting when you’re trying to focus on an inherently multitasking effort — reading your music, watching the conductor, listening to your section, listening to the other sections. Oh, and singing too.

Mr. LED caused a triggered a lot of hilarity in the choir room afterwards, but as I was thinking about what would possess someone to wear such an ornament at all, let alone at a choir concert, it ocurred to me that this situation has some bearing on my future — a future that’s a decade or so away, but something I’ve thought about a bit.

You see, I have a two-year-old daughter.

Let’s set up the beginning of an analogy here. It is certainly within Mr. LED’s rights to wear all the (literally) flashy bling he wants, and no one would dispute it. It would have been impolite and uncharitable to ask him to leave, and obviously immoral and illegal to do violence to his person in response to his insensitivity to the distraction he was causing. But he was still causing a distraction, significantly degrading my and the other choir members’ powers of concentration, and causing not a little annoyance and frustration.

You see where I’m going here. Before my daughter is a teenager, I’m going to have to talk to her about the fact that although she has (or will have, once she’s no longer a minor) the right to wear anything she wants, it might actually be insensitive of her to do so.

It is obviously impolite to stare at or comment about a scantily-dressed female, and the pathetic loser who would make wardrobe an excuse for assault should feel the full force of the law.

However, she will need to be aware that her style of dress will have an immediate effect on any present male’s powers of concentration, and, for the well-socialized at least, cause not a little annoyance and frustration.

I read a fascinating article just this morning that talks about a recent study that found that when people (of either sex) see a scantily-dressed person, there is a reduction of activity in the region of the brain that is dedicated to modeling other peoples’ agency as independent thinking beings.

So it’s not a bad upbringing or choices that cause men to objectify women who show skin (and vice versa!). It’s a basic biological fact.

That is not to say that this fact is desirable! My poor eyesight is a basic biological fact too, but that didn’t stop me from wearing clumsy technological prostheses to compensate for it, and finally getting a doctor to cut the front part of each eyeball off and used a high-powered laser to burn layers of corneal tissue away.

This basic biological fact is actually detrimental, because it causes us to undervalue others’ abilities. If you are interviewing a prospective employee, for example, you need to evaluate them in a realistic fashion, not with half your brain shut down!