Cover for AHLQUIST: Chorus and Community. Click for larger image

Chorus and Community

The chorus and its effect on music and the world

Although organized group singing appears world wide, in a great variety of circumstances, from church to worksite, school to civic club, parlor to concert hall, amateur setting to professional, quartets to monster concerts, in groups brought together by race, class, gender, or political, social, national, or ethnic heritage, this collection is the first to give it serious musicological attention. The chorus is a musical instrument and a social organization that crosses cultural, historical, and geographical boundaries. The essays discuss an East African chorus; groups from nineteenth-century England, Germany, and America; Hall Johnson; the Fisk Jubilee Singers; early twentieth-century Russian Mennonites; barbershop; Soviet workers’ clubs; a Sardinian brotherhood; women’s garment workers in Pennsylvania; choral groups in a small Illinois town (Decatur); semi-professional symphony choruses; and gay and lesbian choruses. Within this wide variety, these choruses do have characteristics in common. All of them have a more or less fixed membership. They all rehearse and perform, distinguishing between preparation and a culminating musical event given for listeners. They all have a chosen repertoire. They all have acknowledged musical leaders. With one exception, their members are not soloists; sounds are produced by an aggregate of voices, either in sections or by the chorus as a whole (the performances of the Sardinian brotherhood in Lortat-Jacob’s essay are solo quartets selected from the membership). However, the choruses do not necessarily read from musical scores or sing “classical” music. And none creates income for its members individually. The accompanying CD illustrates virtually all the choruses or traditions presented in the book.

"This pioneering collection offers anthropological profiles of a variety of choral cultures, from Russian Mennonites to American gays and lesbians. . . . Those who sing in choirs will find their choral experience enhanced by this book, which applies ethnomusicological techniques to the choral environment. Recommended."--Choice

"The essays give the reader insight into multiculturalism, choral traditions, the complexity of choral ensembles, and myriad social issues, with first-person opinions and reflections from the choristers. . . . The essays are candidly written, and some are especially effective at portraying the emotional characteristics attached to singing, which are different from those experiences by instrumentalists."--Music Educators Journal

"This book represents a timely and excellent contribution to choral music scholarship, and it is the first-ever collection of essays on the relationship of chorus and community. . . . Chorus and Community is a fascinating and enlightening volume. "--Journal of Folklore Research

Karen Ahlquist is chair and an associate professor in the department of music at George Washington University. She is the author of Democracy at the Opera: Music, Theater, and Culture in New York City, 1815-60.

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