Singing in unison for love of music.
With 36 singers from 15 nationalities, the Dubai Chamber Choir might not seem like they have much in common. The one thing they do have in common, however, is their love for music, performance and the art of the choral scene.
"One of the roles that this choir should take is not just give the city of Dubai what it thinks it wants," Stuart Squire, conductor, told Gulf News in an exclusive interview at a choir rehearsal the night before its latest performance.
What it thinks it wants, he continued, is "normal classics, recognisable music". Fair enough, he conceded, it will be a crowd-pleaser, citing Mozart's Requiem.
"I would love to bring new music to this city; and for the audience to leave and say "I really, really liked that" or "well it was interesting but it wasn't quite what I like", so they actually hear something new. I think that's quite important," he said enthusiastically.
The non-profit choir has been running for the past seven years u Squire has been its conductor for the past six.
The Kindermusik villa u a music programme for six-month to six year-old children u allows the choir to rehearse in its basement room free of charge. With the members not taking a salary from the choir, any donations are given to the centre, to donate to a charity of their choice.
Debra Dixon, mother of three, choir manager and soprano, has been singing her whole life. After she had her two sons (now aged 12 and 13) she wanted to take the hobby more seriously "to stimulate my brain, but I also wanted to be a stay-at-home mum," she said at the rehearsal.
Dixon's voice coach at the time asked her "where have you been!" after hearing her perfectly toned voice. Unfortunately, with two sons and a comfortable life in Dubai, plus her age, she wasn't going to make it to the West End. However, her coach gave her insight into teaching music and she's now a peripatetic teacher at numerous schools in the emirate.
Dixon has played leading roles in theatre when her sons were little, but felt she was "lacking in choral repertoire". She felt she wanted to grow in this area and so joined the choir. "It's an all-new repertoire and it's very exciting. I love it," she said.
Peter Casey, who works for the Dubai Commercial Financial Services Authority by day, sings second bass in the choir, which he likes performing in for its challenges.
"What I like about being in choirs in general, is getting from a set of notes that mean nothing on a page, to a finished performance of a work that is suddenly moving you and other people. What I like about this choir in particular though, is that it pushes me harder than I've ever been pushed before in a choir.
"The music is difficult. I'm sort of singing at my limits, so that's great you get more concentration on tone, on notes, dynamics," he said.
The choir recently performed a number of pieces by modern composer Eric Whitacre at The Fridge in Dubai.
The classical composer only wrote one choral piece in his life, and is a composer that "writes for instruments u so he writes for voices in the same way he writes for a violin," Squire said.
This, he continued, makes it all the more difficult for the singers to perform: "He's written it purely for how it's going to sound on a mass level, but for individual singers it's extremely challenging," Squire said.
Casey said he likes the Rachmaninov piece as "it's a campaign for real bass parts. It's right down the bottom b flat of the scale, which is lower than most basses can sing. I can do it, which is really pushing it down". Casey has been singing for around 50 years and joined the Dubai Chamber Choir in 2004.
For Agnieszka Veriga, Second Soprano, singing is like going to the gym: "People go to the gym to exercise, I do the mental exercise. For me, this is the workout," she told Gulf News.
Elizabeth Hill, also second soprano says that singing releases her.
"What I like about the choir is the spiritualness. There's nothing quite like a wall of sound from a group of people u it releases you spiritually."
Celebrating Whitacre's compositions
The contemporary composer Eric Whitacre has risen to fame as one of the most talented in his field. Whitacre studied music at the Julliard School, and his compositions have recently been the subject of doctoral dissertations and scholarly works. To date, his 44 published concert pieces have sold more than 100,000 copies.
The Dubai Chamber Choir performance was the first in the Gulf Region u something they discovered by speaking to Whitacre himself.
"It's brilliant, it's exciting, it's just incredible," Squire said of the choice to perform his compositions.
"He's a very, very bright guy - he's a guy who just knows perfectly how to write for singers," Squire said.
The Dubai Chamber Choir will be performing Whitacre and Rachmaninov on June 10, 8pm, at Christ Church, Jebel Ali.
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