Multisensory Choral Music Past, Present, and Future Trends

Mark Doerries


American community choirs and audiences show signs of maturation. Recent studies reveal high participation in community-based choral ensembles, yet these papers fail to capture the health and long-range sustainability of these organizations. A report published in the International Journal for Research in Choral Singing indicates singers 40 years or older encompass 80% of American choirs (Bell, 2000). A separate 2003 Chorus America investigation confirmed these statistics adding that women comprise 62% of participants. With the problem exposed several questions emerge: why are young singers no longer drawn to traditional choral music, and how can choirs be relevant to traditional and non-traditional singers and audiences? Creating concerts and choirs for a modern culture is part of the solution. In a culture where emails prevail over letters, iPpods outpace compact discs, and TeVo eliminates the VCR, it is only consistent that young potential singers seek multisensory musical experiences. A new holistic performance movement has gained strength fusing traditional and new choral music with extra musical stimuli: lighting, visual art, video, and theatre. Plagued by stigmas and fear of the unknown, these endeavours meet with great resistance. By reviewing recent successes and failures, this examination hopes to demystify the use of extramusical elements in choral concerts. Three contemporary performances will be explored: Jonathan Millers staged production of J.S. Bachs St. Matthew Passion, Alan Harler and Leah Steins improvisational dance collaboration of Orffs Carmina Burana, and Mark Doerries fusion of choral music with dramatic lighting in Luminescence: Experiments in Visual Acoustics.

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