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Singing at home

Film crew

A couple of students from Ex’pression College for the Digital Arts asked for permission to come film the weekly singing at Berkeley. During the break tonight, they came in and set up their camera and microphones. A few singers left after the break: we had perhaps 25 singers before the break, and perhaps 16-18 singers after the break.

We started singing again, and the students started filming. Even though there were a lot of strong singers in the class, we did not sing particularly well. We did not sing badly, and we got most of the notes right, but there was no real drive to our singing. The singing even sounded all right (some of the time), but it just didn’t feel as good as yesterday’s singing in Palo Alto.

At the end of the singing, the students packed up their camera and microphones. We broke down the hollow square and arranged the chairs and pews the way the church usually has them set up. Carl and I were about the last people out of the building. “I hope the film students got what they wanted,” I said.

Carl said yes, he hoped so too.

“It wasn’t our best singing,” I said. I was thinking that it wasn’t as uplifting as yesterday’s singing, and I was thinking about sometimes the singing never really gets off the ground, even when there are a lot of good singers in the class.

“It wasn’t our worst, either,” he said.

“That’s true,” I said. And I got to thinking: We singers know that our weekly singing is not a performance, and when people come to listen to us, we drive that home by handing them a book and asking them to sing with us. I had wanted to do that to the film students, hand them a book and invite them to sing; but I didn’t. But I wonder: Did the film students get it? Did they get that the singing was just for us? Or was their experience of our singing colored by the dominant mode of doing music in our culture, that of listening to a performance? Did they judge it as a performance, or were they able to judge it as Carl and I did?