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Why We Sing

April 29, 2009

I've been "collecting" films about choral singing lately. As I was watching Lawrence Dillon and Eric Jansen's moving 2006 documentary about the gay and lesbian choral movement, Why We Sing! I realized that many of the films made about choral singing -- whether non-fiction or fiction -- have one thing in common: They're as much about community activism as they are about music.

Take Why We Sing! for instance. The movie focuses on the GALA Choruses' (Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses) 7th International Choral Festival in Montreal, Canada where more than 5,000 singers and 160 choruses gathered to sing. The interviews and songs (many of the latter having a protest or spiritual theme) delve into the personal lives of the performers and choir directors and connect their experiences to several issues on the public's mind today such as same-sex marriage, religious views on gay rights and the emerging transgender rights movement.

The style of the documentary is rather heavy-handed in places. When a gay singer at the festival is attacked one night in Montreal, the filmmakers interview him and other members of his choir before showing us a full-length rendition of the song that the choir sing in defiance of the brutal act: They dedicate a rousingly hokey song about how a Jewish family is persecuted by some of the Christians who live in the same town to the victim of the hate crime.

Although the segment is a bit mawkish, it's still powerful. Most importantly, it gets across the point that choral singing is about much more than making music as a group. It's an act of solidarity. It builds community. The people who sing in these choirs believe that they're engaging in activism by singing. They see their music as a path to improving not only their own lives but also the lives of those around them.

Here are some other films about choral singing that make a similar point about choral singing and community:

Young @ Heart

We are Together: The Children of Agape Choir

The Choir

Les Choristes

Master Singers: Two Choirs and a Valley

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