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A Choral Reckoning with the Imperfect History of the United States

Tuesday, July 21, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Stephen Stuempfle
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A Choral Reckoning with the Imperfect History of the United States
By Charlie Weber

Folklife, July 20, 2020

In the society of the United States, we place great merit in the idea of the individual, but we also understand that great strength is found in community.

I love music and appreciate a fine soloist—one soul, reaching out to find and communicate with others—but here too is the concept of the group, that when voices seek out other voices, their effect is stronger, more resonant, even freeing.

America loves its choruses. I hadn’t known this until popular television proved it to me.

In 2009, Glee became a hit. In a chimeric Lima, Ohio, a group of characters—arguably the most diverse set in any series on television—manages their differences well enough to sing together, to succeed in competitions, and eventually become friends. (The recent outpouring of grief after the tragic death of actress Naya Rivera suggests the show still has a passionate fanbase.) Then in 2012 came the birth of the Pitch Perfect series of films, and, to me, their popularity seemed to cement the deal. Choruses did mean something in our broader American culture.

But we all have other things to do, work takes us other places. It wasn’t until last year that I did some research. Chorus America, an advocacy organization, conducted a study (coincidentally during Glee’s first season) which claimed that 42.6 million Americans sing in choruses, and that there were over 270,000 active choruses in the United States: 41,000 in high schools, 216,000 religious choirs, and 12,000 professional groups.

Continue reading . . .

Folklife is the digital magazine of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage.


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