Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
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Not a Spectator Sport

With great anticipation I turned to Nis Kildegaard's story on the Island Community Chorus (M.V. Times, March 30). What?! No photos of choristers in their skivvies? No prominent faces barely concealed by empty wine bottles? What a letdown!

Overcoming my disappointment, I read on. When I got to the end, I thought, "Well written, and great PR for the chorus -- but something's missing." The contributor's note at the end of the piece did not mention that Mr. Kildegaard not only sings in the Island Community Chorus, he belongs to its board of directors. Perhaps more important, he joined the chorus fairly recently -- too recently to see all the ghosts.

At a rehearsal last fall, with much hooplah being made of the tenth anniversary, those of us who'd been around since "the beginning" were asked to raise our hands. I raised mine. I was shocked by how few of us remained. That's part of the Island Community Chorus story: where did we all go? Some have left the Island, for all the usual reasons. Some grew tired of the repertoire rut: you'd hardly guess from the usual Island Community Chorus concert that there's choral music out there that isn't Christian or European or written by men. For some it was the size: who knows or cares if you show up or not?

I'm not a musician, but I need music in my life. I hung on, and on, and on. Last fall the chorus was given a significant no-strings-attached grant by an off-island admirer. In two seconds I thought of a dozen uses for the money: bring back the annual performance of Messiah that was part of the Christmas tradition for so many Islanders but was way too lowbrow for the current chorus directorship? make it possible for especially talented and dedicated singers to take classes and become proficient soloists? The possibilities were myriad, but they chose instead to hire a brass band -- a pickup ensemble of off-Island pros. I survived till the first dress rehearsal, then I bailed. This was no longer about the chorus, or about the community, or about the Island. I needed music, but I didn't need this.

Strange but true: sometimes you need to slam a door shut before the other doors open. In early January I saw a notice in the Martha's Vineyard Times: Steve Maxner was offering a 10-week course in beginning folk guitar -- for free. I signed up. The course ended last week. Not only did I survive, I can hardly believe how much I've learned. The other thing I wanted to do was to sing with other people. Roberta Kirn just started offering a biweekly group-singing workshop, emphasizing music from the African American tradition. I signed up for that too. We can see each other's faces as we sing. Every person's voice matters. I didn't think this existed any more on Martha's Vineyard, but it does. I'm so glad I was wrong.

Music isn't a spectator sport. This Island, with its long tradition of "musicales," of sisters and brothers doing it for ourselves, knows it. I'm not sure the Island Community Chorus does.


P.S. I've blogged here and there about learning guitar and singing in general, but when I scroll back to "Sing Sing Sing," my blog about the first chorus rehearsal of the fall 2005 season, I can see that was the beginning of the end for me and the chorus. I couldn't see then what I'd be doing now; the exchange looks pretty good. The time had definitely come.


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