5 January 2013

Small chorus of women

It continues to surprise me that new musical groups come out of the woodwork. This one was the Chorus of Women. It’s a simple descriptive name, so maybe that’s why I didn’t remember them, but this group is quite a celebrity and has been performing for a decade. It first sang at Parliament House in March 2003 when 150 women gathered to protest Australia’s entry into Gulf War II. We all know it made no difference, despite a massive movement around the world and the obvious deceptions (think aluminium tubes and portable chemical factories and many more). But this group got a feature on the ABC’s 7.30 Report and Phillip Adams described them as “the most controversial chorus in Australian history” and they have since appeared in theatres and pubs and universities and toured Australia and Bulgaria so they are renowned.

They come from a folk tradition and are non-adversarial and specifically claim lineage from the ancient choruses that spoke truth to power. We certainly need some of that. This concert featured a quartet from the larger choir. They introduced and sang nine songs and an encore over ~40 minutes, so some tunes were surprisingly short. This was four female voices, honest lyrics and original songs, accompanied by occasional guitar and bodrhan and recorder, predominantly triple times, frequent drones, sweet harmonies, some counterpoint, scales that sounded of the middle East or Scotland or olde England, Bulgarian female ululations. It’s not a music I normally hear, but I’m sure it’s common at the folk festival and vigils of all sorts. It’s honest and true and quite lovely, but I’m not sure it communicates too well these days. The audience was quite grey and I noticed a wry smile from a 20-something passing through the foyer. Despite my boomer status, it was too earnest and folksy for my tastes, but then I’m more ‘70’s than ‘60’s and I prefer Motown to Neil Young. But I admire Leonard Cohen and I can respect these singers and enjoy their skills and I respect what they stand for and highly regard that they stand for anything. So few of us do these days. It may be communitarian and folksy and it’s not the way of the Shiny Bums or the Cashews, but it’s immediately democratic and that’s citizenship in action (even if, in practice, it’s rolled by corporate lobbying). They sing of poverty and peace and Canberra’s fire and Gaia and they strive for wisdom and they are an open choir and welcoming (although I'm not sure where blokes stand in this openness) and they had some lovely soaring female voices, so all good.

A quartet from the Chorus of Women performed in the National Library foyer for the Canberra 100 Musical Offering. The quartet comprised Judith Clingan (soprano, recorder, drum), Meg Rigby (soprano, guitar flute), Johanna McBride (mezzo soprano) and Glenda Cloughley (alto). BTW, the stone from the Pantainos Library in the Agora, Athens, was a gift of the Greek Government to Australia. It’s embedded below one of the columns in the NLA’s foyer.

Chorus of Women website

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