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Tempest in a Teacup

December 27, 2010 at 6:55 am UTC

In early November I was walking and talking with the editor of Gramophone magazine and he told me about an upcoming issue naming the world’s top 20 choirs. The jury that Gramophone had assembled had chosen mostly British choirs for the list, and as I had been spending so much time working with British groups he invited me to write a 500 word essay about this phenomenon. Although I was not on the jury, I am big fan of the British choral tradition, and of Gramophone, so I was honored and only too happy to write for the magazine.

When the article appeared in print a headline had been added: “Composer Eric Whitacre on why British choirs are the Best.”  That title was not written by me. I wrote, as asked, about what I admire about British choirs and what places them ‘up there’ with the world’s best.

If you read my entire article, you’ll notice that never once do I say that British choirs are better than other choirs. I write about how well they sing in tune; how brilliant and beautiful and clear the singing is; how knowledgeable they are as singers and artists. I do say that “the Brits MAY be the worlds best sight readers. In my travels I’ve never seen anything like it”, and I will stand by that statement – I’ve personally never seen anything like it. I write about all of the things I love about British choirs but never once do I compare British choirs to any other choirs from different countries. I never would.

At the end of the day, I was asked to write about my love of British choirs, so that is what I did. If I would have been asked to write about my love of American choirs, I would have written a completely different article, about the American choir’s extraordinary stylistic range, their deep understanding of the texts, their natural musicianship, their freedom of sound. And I would have written different articles had I been asked to write about my love of Scandinavian choirs, or Asian choirs, or European choirs, or African choirs, or Australian choirs, or South American choirs. It’s true, I absolutely adore British choirs. But I adore all choirs, and all singing, wherever it may be happening. I feel grateful to live in a world where we can all sing together – no competitions, no lists, just beauty and truth expressed through our shared voices.

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