It’s all in the detail

GWH Trust Choir, Wiltshire

Every week, despite not being religiously minded, I find myself attending church.  Of course, as I’m sure most of you know, this is because I am currently organist at St Thomas a Becket Church in Bath rather than because of any deep desire to pray to a higher power.  St Thomas’ is a delightful little church nestled in the midst of Widcombe and is allegedly the oldest continuous place of worship in the City.  The congregation and clergy are all extremely positive and welcoming – from my perspective the only downside is the dreadful electronic organ which is entirely unsuitable in every possible way! I am still hopeful this might be replaced in time, although knowing how little value most churches ascribe to music, I am not holding my breath!

Over the last weekend, in addition to the clocks going forward, the church launched a new website. At first glance, this seems to be a very positive step forward and will certainly be a great way of keeping in contact with the congregation, both current and prospective.  It has a good fresh design and will help to promote the church as a significant place of worship in the City of Bath.  I am hopeful that in time that music might get more of a mention on the site, as I am keen to develop the role of music within the church, beyond just singing hymns.

Anyway, I digress!  With today being the fifth Sunday of lent, and with me being ever so slightly pedantic (some would say weird!), this morning was a final opportunity to wear a purple tie to the morning service. At least certainly until we reach the season of Advent.  For a number of years now, I have always felt the organist’s attire should match the colour of the altar cloth.  I’m quite sure no one has ever noticed this little detail – probably half the time they wouldn’t notice if the organist wasn’t even there.  The only drawback to this plan of colour co-ordination is the altar cloth is never blue!  Luckily green and blue go fairly well together (certainly in my mind anyway) and this gets me through the long season of green which starts after Easter.

All of this got me thinking about choir ‘uniforms’ or perhaps ‘uniformity’ is a better word for it.  Perhaps, because of the lack of blue in the church calendar (and with it being my favourite colour), blue is in fact the ‘official’ colour for at least 3 of my choirs.   And this should not be underestimated as  ‘what to wear’ for most choirs is often the biggest debate they will ever have!  I think the only choir of mine who don’t seem to have any issues with ‘uniform’ is my Male Voice Choir. They adopt the traditional look of blazer with choir logo, blue tie and grey trousers.   Yes it’s the ‘norm’ for a Male voice choir, but it does look good when they are on stage together.

I think trying to find a suitable ‘uniform’ for an adult choir will always be a challenge.  So far I have always adopted the ‘wear something black and smart’ and then provided choir members with an adornment of some sort. This usually takes the form of a fake flower or scarf for the ladies and a tie for the men, in the agreed colour. For the most part this works quite well and there aren’t too many complaints! The only time there is sometimes a debate is when choirs get asked to sing at a wedding and they all want to wear something other than black.  In principle I think this is a perfectly reasonable idea but there still needs to be some co-ordination. I once gave into a ladies choir who all wanted to wear summer dresses and hats to sing at a wedding, and quite frankly it was an utter shambles just looked like they were members of the congregation who had been roped in to sing.

I’ve recently started taking part in #choralhour which is a twitter discussion every Friday at 9pm where choirs and choir leaders get together to discuss anything and everything to do with choirs.  The topic of choir ‘uniforms’ seems to come up a lot and it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who has to endure endless debate over what to wear!

Some of the main thoughts which seem to emerge are:

1. Does the choir actually need to be ‘identical’? A lot of choirs are increasingly going for the black lower half plus coloured top. Some say it should be the same coloured top whilst some give a range of colours for people to choose from.

2. The uniform should reflect the type of choir.    I certainly try to ensure my choirs don’t look like choral societies.  A gospel choir will most likely have a different view on outfits compared to for example a chamber choir specialising in renaissance music.

3. Vary the uniform according to the event.  A pashmina or coloured scarf can be a great item to wear in the winter, particularly if you are performing outdoors, but is far from ideal on a hot summers day!

4. Does it matter?  I certainly think a uniform makes a choir look good – but it won’t actually improve the singing.  A well dressed choir who sing well will always be appreciated and I think any public performance should warrant reasonably smart attire. But certainly you don’t need a uniform to sing well!

I would be interested to know your opinion on this, whether as a choir member or a concert goer. What do you think – should all choirs wear a ‘uniform’ or does it really not matter provided they can sing well?

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Jules Addison is Musical Director for The BlueBelles, The Pewsey Belles, Cirencester Male Voice Choir, The GWH Trust Choir and Transeamus Chamber Choir