Voices pealing out in joy, part 1

Music choir in SyriaThe singers have all filed into their place. They’ve seen each other a lot over the last three months, if not longer, yet they still find a lot to talk about. They’re happy to see each other and to be there, and the bubbly chatter is resisting being stopped by the conductor waving her hands calling them to attention. Then it happens; with a snap, they’re suddenly locked on her every move, and with laser-like precision, their undivided focus and youthful exuberance has been set forth towards one goal. Along with the orchestra, who playing music they probably have only been practicing for a week with expert deftness, all four voice-types are dancing around each other, complementing and emphasizing the other, and offering rock solid support to the soloist.

I’m immediately impressed. The conductor, however, is not. “You need to allow the soloist’s voice to rise above yours. Also, take your cues from the orchestra more carefully. Let’s start from bar…” Many would think Rajaa al-Amir, conductor for the university-age section of the al-Farah Choir, is too harsh on these college age students, who have been giving their all to this concert. I, on the other hand, have sung in choir concerts, and know that she can hear something I cannot: a note held too long, perhaps, or an entrance offered a nanosecond too late. Professor Paul Meers, who I interviewed for November’s FW, and who I sang with for four years when I was in AUB, always pushed us that much harder the week before concert time. “We’re never really ready by concert time,” says Amir. “The conductor always has to let go in the end, and the performances are always superb, but not complete.”

Practicing the current program since August 19, the concert is going to be derived from Arab Heritage, from the different regions of the Arab World, such as North Western Africa, Central North Africa, Eastern North Africa, the Levant, and the Arab Gulf. At the end of the concert, there will be a panorama of different national anthems. Everyone is feeling the pressure, and there is a lot of fatigue involved, but everyone is very determined. “The choir is free to join, and all the staff works for free, and therefore it’s hard to be demanding at the level that you need to be in order to put on a professional concert, as you can’t ask for more than they can possibly give,” explains Amir. “Of course, I’m very confident about my singers’ abilities, and we’re going to have a really great concert this Thursday.

The al-Farah Choir was established by Father Elias Zehlaoui in 1977, with only 55 children singing in it. It has now blossomed into a choral association with more than 500 members, divided into 5 choirs set at different ages. The concert mentioned above is going to take place this Thursday November 20 at 8 pm, at the Dar al-Assad Opera House, and FW: will be there to cover the concert, and give you more information on the history of the concert itself.

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