Far from the image of solemn and exclusive spaces for scholars and initiates, other types of choirs have emerged as diverse and open spaces in which people of all ages and backgrounds meet. Some know music and others do not, some have specialized training in an instrument, and others do not know how to read a score. Leaning on these differences, they come together to sing and put into practice a form of collective expression and, sometimes, demand that the world change.
"Symbolically, a choir is a very powerful weapon, you see thirty or forty people enjoying themselves and creating beauty in unison, and that has enormous political potential," says Malela Durán, co-director of El Molino de Santa Isabel, a music school that wanted include, in addition to training, the dreams of integration, support networks and joy of its founders, according to its website.
"For me, a choir has to become a small community," Durán explains. A place "where everyone pursues the same goal, which is to make music as beautiful as possible. That goal, and the pleasure of working to achieve it in rehearsals, also using the most sentimental instrument, which is your own voice, is like making a small town. Common codes and networks of affection and support are generated that are essential to sustain life".
Building community, in a system that encourages individualism and mistrust of others, is an exception to the every man for himself. His practice is an inspiring experience and a powerful element of transformation: "Something happens to someone and the choir responds as a group, it is not your family, but it is your community. If there is no good atmosphere, the music suffers, there is an obligation of doing good for the community, and that's wonderful. Music interests me but not more than the social part," says Durán, who is the director of the six classical choirs of El Molino de Santa Isabel.
Malela Durán comes from pop, she participated in the group Nosoträsh in her native Gijón, and in Madrid she was in the group Garzón, which later became known as Grande-Marlaska. She set up her first choir in the associative space La Dinamo, in the Madrid neighborhood of Lavapiés. And when she occupied a building in the center of the city, she wanted to take her experience there, and with it she drew a new path along which no longer only rap, hardcore or batucadas traveled: Bach entered a squatted house . "It was a magical moment, I had the feeling of stepping on unknown ground. I thought why not sing Bach in a squatted social center, even if it doesn't have purely political lyrics. Singing for the beauty and harmony of the group as a political and transformative tool Duran recalls.
That occupied building was called Patio Maravillas, and one day its cafeteria played violin duets by Telemann or Beethoven piano sonatas. "It was revolutionary, there were certain tensions with people who did not understand that religious music was sung, because it seemed contradictory to what was lived there, but we ended up finding our space, and we sang at 7 o'clock one morning when there was a threat of eviction That was exciting," he says.
The Patio thus became permeable for people who otherwise would not have reached a squat: "We gave a concert for our fathers and mothers and for the first time, people in their 70s or 80s without an activist profile entered a squat Professional musicians also came who were going to give vocal technique classes and thus knew a space that was not dangerous, was open and polite, with a great sense of community, those people with a profile not predisposed to the Patio at first, ended up attending demonstrations against the eviction," recalls Malela Durán.
In a choir no one stands out, a group of voices create a unique voice and work for a common result, and that means controlling egos so that no one stands out. "You have to try to ensure that no one is left hanging from the bottom, but also that they do not stick their heads out too much, because the sound has to be that of group filling, not that of three leaders and then some people who follow them. And this is something very nice, because it is the result of joint action, if not, it makes no sense. It means looking for beauty together, and that has a very strong political potential", explains the director of the choir.
Nacho Vegas knows Malela Durán from Gijón and called her so that the Patio choir would participate in his album Resituación, in 2014, in two of the songs. Later, the musician looked for a choir for the live shows, and Al Altu la Lleva was formed, a choir that defines itself as matriarchal, international and anti-fascist that performed with Nacho Vegas in a concert at the Palau in Barcelona with a song about the PAH criticizing to Banco Sabadell that sponsored the concert, and also in a bank headquarters in Gijón against evictions, among many other acts of vindication and protest since then.
Along the same lines, the La Solfónica choir and orchestra was born in 2011 in the shelter of the squares occupied by the 15 M in Madrid, with musicians and music teachers, and many other people without musical training. Since then they have sung in demonstrations, escraches and evictions, classic and popular songs, often adapting the lyrics to social demands. They always sing in the streets and squares, thus proposing a form of protest that expresses rage with music and song. Their performances, like those of the Asturian choir Al Altu la Lleva, cause deep emotion in those who listen to them.
The idea of a choir has changed a lot and it is already known that there are many types of choir that in turn face different types of music. "But classical music is still seen as something remote, elitist, too serious. This is something that we try to break, we firmly believe that classical music is for everyone, that it is also fun, that it can be for boys and girls, that you can spend a wonderful afternoon singing rock or singing Bach", says Durán, who admits that technique sometimes takes us away, and knows that popular music or folklore are closer than classical music.
That is shared by María Quiroga, trumpeter and singer, who composes jazz and directs a gospel choir at the Ateneo Varillas, an associative space in León. "Gospel is black and religious music, from Baptist churches. Less virguerías are done than in classical music, where there is a specialization in an instrument. In jazz or gospel this is very open, you can be a pianist and learn to play the trumpet", explains Quiroga, who up to now has rehearsed gospel classics, such as Amazing Grace, Oh Happy Day or The Lion Sleeps Tonight. The course that she comes wants to include songs from The Beatles, Freddy Mercury or Stevie Wonder.
The gospel choir has rehearsed on Wednesdays since last October and there are people in it who can read music and others who can't. "We see how to learn to sing and that the ear gets its batteries singing intervallic, I make games so that it is not only to make a repertoire, but also for people to acquire tuning and vocal technique, and I explain all the spelling for those who do not know how to read music. In the end, practicing, you end up understanding many things in a score", says María Quiroga.
Malela Duran agrees on this. "I direct six choirs and I calculate that 70% of the people do not know music. At first you start with memory and hearing if you are lucky enough to have them with you, and little by little you learn with the scores and you get used to the codes ", Explain.
When the pandemic exploded and the world stopped, singing became a highly dangerous activity, sharing space with your mouth open, at the top of your voice, became impossible. "The beginning was very difficult, it was a terrible blow, the news that arrived was that singing was the worst thing you could do. When we could, there were classes on the screen, and the best thing we got out of it was to continue together in the distance, at least we we could see each other's faces. But we had no technical way of coordinating to sound at the same time, so I taught like a master class and people later rehearsed, it was a simulation of what a choir is. Many people endured and as soon as they could return to sing, although it was a smaller group, with masks, we verified that a hole had not been made, but a valley," says the teacher.
The first time they got together again was to sing for public health in front of a health center. Many of Malela Durán's students are retired, and most did not dare to go to school. Those who did, took extreme precautions. Videos of the school can be seen online with the street doors open, people singing with masks and coats. "It was difficult but we decided that it was better than not doing it. The good thing is that being smaller groups, and with more distance, people had to get their act together, they were not as covered by the group and had to study. And So many people improved, since there were fewer people, we had to rehearse more at home so that the group sounded good", explains Durán.
Now they rehearse at school and also in some nearby churches, because they are spaces with good acoustics where they can sound good. "There are very cool sites that sound very bad, and a church almost always guarantees you great satisfaction in that sense. We relate to two neighboring churches, which have some social work, are open, have a not so conservative profile. We rehearse or we act in them and instead of paying rent, we collaborate with the social action that they carry out in the neighborhood with a donation, which with the confinement has organized food banks, and all kinds of support", concludes Durán.