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DIY music

Every year, it seems to me, the number of Messiah sing-alongs before Christmas grows by one or two. It isn’t enough for a chorus to put on a Christmas program; they have to also offer a Messiah for everyone to join in. This is one manifestation of a general trend, not only in music but in other fields, to want to get involved: not just to consume art and culture passively, but to take a hand oneself. It’s particularly gratifying to see in classical music, where for decades the trend has been very much in the opposite direction: families who 150 years ago would have learned new music by playing it at the piano now buy recordings or attend concerts where they listen in stony silence.

I always wonder, though, where all those chorus singers able to sing Messiah (which is not the easiest music in the world) go for the other 11 months of the year. The New Dominion Chorale offers one answer with its annual summer sings: four weeks of what one might term karaoke choral music, where everyone shows up with a score (or rents one on the spot) and reads through some of the greatest choral literature. The events are held on Tuesdays, and there are two left this year: tonight, Robert Shafer leads the Brahms Requiem, and next Tuesday Tom Hall leads the Mozart Requiem. (The singing starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Western Presbyterian Church, 2401 Virginia Avenue in Foggy Bottom; admission is $10, with an extra $2 for score rental.)
(read more after the jump)

It’s been interesting this year watching the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra try to tap into their audience’s urge to make music themselves. When they announced the Rusty Musicians event in February - a chance for adult amateurs to play with the orchestra - more than 400 people signed up. They promptly announced the BSO Academy, a week-long program for the same kind of musician: adults who don’t play professionally but are good enough to play serious repertory and willing to spend a healthy sum to spend an intensive week playing with professionals in sectional rehearsals, chamber music ensembles, and lessons. The final performance is on Saturday, the 19th, at 3.

And in the spirit of the YouTube Symphony -- for which, you’ll remember, participants were selected via YouTube videos, in part by public voting -- the National Orchestral Institute is inviting public contributions to its ongoing sessions. Anyone who uploads a video of his or her version of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (sheet music is available on the site; click the link above) by Wednesday is eligible to win tickets to Saturday’s orchestral concert; those who submit their version of the clarinet solo from the Brahms 3rd Symphony by Friday can win a free music lesson. I suspect shower-singers need not apply, but feel free to prove me wrong on that one.

These are just random manifestations of a trend that I think is getting to the substance of the field. I’ve said before that a young composer today may write music, find some people to perform it with her, put together a recording and sell it at concerts or via the internet, while playing standard literature at the same time in other venues. It’s not even seen as enterprising: just as a way to do what interests you.

Does anyone have other examples of DIY music, good or bad?

By Anne Midgette  |  June 15, 2010; 5:59 AM ET
Categories:  Washington , news , random musings  
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The most obvious example I can think of is church choirs; some programs (including my church, Pasadena Presbyterian Church) offer major concert series in addition to regular Sunday services. Interested singers are always welcome at our church. For our Good Friday concert, we invite interested singers who just want to sing that concert to join us for rehearsals in the six weeks leading up to the concert. Beyond that, the Berkshire Choral Festival offers singers a chance to come for a week of intensive rehearsals leading up to a concert at the end of the week. A bit pricey but the time I went was a great experience. ( The First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica in California is offering a series similar to what you're describing: four Thursday evenings in the summer, each with a major choral work (or two) directed by a significant Southern California choral conductor. The Baltimore examples are unusual because they're for instrumentalists; glad they're successful.

Posted by: BobTatFORE | June 15, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Oops! Followup to last post. The church in Santa Monica is First United Methodist, not Presbyterian. Mea culpa!

Posted by: BobTatFORE | June 15, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

J. Reilly Lewis has being doing singalongs at the Cathedral for years, and there is an upcoming one on June 27. Unfortunately, I will be traveling that weekend and will have to miss it but anyone who is for loud choruses and high Cs of Carmina Banana should attend this:

Posted by: akimon | June 15, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

The DC-based Adult Student Music Forum has as its purpose the creation of performance opportunities for adult amateur musicians. More info at

Posted by: kashe | June 15, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I'm not trying to be snide, but I would really, really, really like to sing "Carmina Banana." I'm also trying to avoid making a Golijov joke here.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | June 15, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

The Northwest Mahler Festival has been around 15 or so years; every summer, community-orch. players and other interested nonprofessionals gather for reading sessions of Mahler, Strauss, Shostakovich, and other big works, culminating in a mid-July public concert (this year, Mahler's 7th, I think). A few seasons ago they gave the Seattle premiere of Turangalila. The Seattle Symphony Chorus also hosts four reading sessions, similar to the New Dominion Chorale's.

Posted by: gborchert | June 15, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Composer Eric Whitacre recently assembled a Virtual Choir, where individuals submitted a video of themselves singing their part while watching a video of Whitacre conducting. A producer friend of Whitacre edited the videos and spliced them together to create a virtual choir. The final product was amazingly good:

Posted by: stephanied1971 | June 16, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

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