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APPLAUSE:

JOURNAL OF THEATRE AND MEDIA


STUDIES

VOL. 1, NO.2, 2006

Department of Theatre Arts


University of Calabar,
Calabar

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THE CHORISTER AS A PERFORMER

Felix A. Akinsipe
Department of Theatre Arts, Ahmadu
Bello University, Zaria

Introduction

The fight and romance between the church and the theatre is
a long one. However, the fact has been established that the spoken
drama and the musical dance (theatre) must have both probably
developed from religion or as a means of religious worship (Hodgson
1972:72). All through the ages however rind the theatre being
sometimes totally embraced by the church and sometimes sternly
denounced by it. For example, the church had begun to attack the
minstrel or Harper or dancer, actors and stage players - the theatre - as
early as A. D. 348 when the Third Council at Cartage:

...declared such people to be


excommunicated and the council of Eliberis adds,
' I f a Sooth-sayer or stage player have a mind to
become believers, that is, to be baptized, let them
be received on condition that they first bid adieu
to their arts, and return not to them again 1
(Edwards 1984: 24).

However, around the same time, the theater was embraced


in some churches so much that Basil (Bishop of Caesarea in 370)
called dance the noblest act of the angels and

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by the sixth century, there is evidence of dance in the churches
especially at Christmas Rasters and other festivals. (Edwards,
1984:25). This ancient trend has continued till modern times. For
example,

In May 1967 a dramatic presentation of the mass


was performed in Liverpool's Roman Catholic
Cathedral. It was planned for two years,
involved thirty-six dancers, a choir of eighty,
an orchestra of fifty and cost 50.000 (Edwards
1984: 4).

Up till today, the argument persists. Has the church anything


to do with the theatre? While some churches embrace the theater
there are some that will have nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, we
shall go on to establish in this paper that the church has some
common grounds with the theater in function, purpose and practice.
The paper therefore examines who the theatre artists and the
choristers are, and their interrelationships. Since the church and
the theatre, as well as, the chorister and the theatre artist are seen
differently by different people, there is need to define their
characters see if they have anything in common.

The Theatre and the Theatre Artist.


The theatre may refer to the building where different
performance arts take place. The theatre also entails the
performance of the different arts, i.e. music, dance and drama. The
theatre (building) usually consists of the acting space (stage) and
the audience's position (auditorium). Barringer (1991: 9) posits
that the three basic components of theatre are the actor, the space,
and the audience. For a theatre performance to take place
therefore, there have to be the

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performers (actors, actresses, singers, musicians, dancers etc.) who
perform on the stage (usually a raised platform) before an audience
(who might have paid or not to see the performance).
The theatre may also refer to the performance that is going on.
When an experience (message) is being shared by the performers and
the audience with or without other elements of the theatre such as;
lighting, scenery, sound effects etc. a theatre is said to be taking
place. This simply means that the theatre aims, very importantly, to,
pass across a message, that is, communicate with the audience. That
is why Antonin Artaud says:

The theatre
Is the state
The place
The point
Where we can get hold of man's anatomy
And through it heal and dominate life.
(Akinwale 1993: 12).
The theatre artists therefore, are the creative thinkers (people or group)
behind any theatrical and artistic experience. They are the vehicles
through which theatre is achieved. They include the directors,
choreographers, playwrights, librettists, composers, conductors,
actors, actresses, dancers, singers, stage managers, theatre
technicians and designers etc. who attempt through their creative
visions to recreate life experiences for the audience's better
understanding, appraisal or entertainment. The artist is therefore
seen 'as a Seer, a Visioner, Thinker, a Creator, the Conscience of the
society, Gadfly, a Prophet, a Town Crier, a Teacher and a Revealer of
Divine mind (Sofola 1994: 2). The theatre artist is therefore tasked
with representing, educating, entertaining, as well us, correcting his
society.

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The Church and the Chorister
The church may refer to the (building) where different people
(Christians) converge to worship. The church (building) usually
consists of an altar (a flat-topped raised platform where the priests
and, sometimes, the choristers sit) and the congregation's
position. The church can also refer to the service (form of
worship, prayer, and sermons, singing and other activities) taking
place in such building, which is usually aimed at fostering
communication, relationship and understanding between God and
human beings. The church attempts to say things (preach) and do
things directed at man (the congregation) to make them confirm to
norms especially the divine norms or standard. That is why Rene
Padilla stated without mincing words that 'preaching continues to
be unavoidable to the church, as burning is to fire. If the church
ever ceased to preach she would cease to be the church
(Edwards! 984: 117-8).
The choir is therefore one of the groups in the church through
whom the Church achieves it objectives. They are vehicles of
carrying messages across to the congregation to enhance or buttress
the service. The Chambers Dictionary' defines the choir as 'an
organised group of trained singers, especially one that performs in
the church' (Robinson 1996: 244, emptiasis mine). The choir is a
recognised part of the Christian worship in the bible. Thus we have
such choirs as David's (lChro.16: 4-9) Zerubabel's (Ezra 3: 10-11)
and Nehemiali's temple choir (Neh.12: 27-30). In the same way
music is very vital to Christian worship. Song was used to perform
many miracles in the bible. The book of psalms in the Old Testament
is a bundle of examples in this line while the prison experience of
Paul and Silas in the New Testament (Actsl6:25-29) is vivid
example. It is also worthy of note that the bible records that God
himself rejoices in singing (Zeph.3:

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17), as well as, the hosts of angels (Job 38: 7). In the New Testament
Jesus Christ, the son of God was recorded as singing hymns with his
disciples (Mark 14: 26; Matt.26: 30). Paul at various times also
called on Christian to sing hymns and praises to the Lord (lCor.14:
15; Eph.19: 26). The bible is full of books of songs, hymns and
several occasions in which music is used. No wonder the Psalmist
said:

Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his


sanctuary... Praise him with the sound
of the trumpet; Praise him with the
psaltery and harp! Praise him with the
tumbrel and dance; Praise with stringed
instruments and organ Praise him upon
the loud cymbals: praise him upon the
high sounding cymbals. Let every
thing that hath breath praise the lord.
Praise ye the Lord (Ps 150: 1,3-5).

If music is so much loved by God and so dear in his worship it


is therefore very important that it should be done very well. This is
because the art of singing in the church, if it is done well, can be the
best way of moving closer to the Lord spiritually, knowing His mind,
finding His face and presenting oneself or the entire
service/congregation before Him.
There is no doubt that all these can only be best achieved if the
choristers who are responsible for organising, coordinating and
rendering songs in the church see themselves as the (artistic) vessel
being used in reaching God and their medium as an art. Of all the
various media of communication in the theatre the choristers
rightly belong to the music medium. They are the creative artists
(people) behind any musical experience in the church. This
therefore, puts them

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within the context of the performing (theatre) artists of the church. It
is only when they realize this and see their roles as artistic and
themselves as artists in the church that they can put on all the
professional commitment of theatre artists toward making a great
performance for the Lord. This is also when they can be business-
like in their approach to the choral performances.
From all the above, a fundamental link has been established
between the theatre and the church and between the chorister and the
theatre artist. The church as a building is not different to the theatre as
a building. The 'stage' is common to both as they usually have a
raised platform in the front where the theatre artist performs and where
the choristers and (priests, etc.) also perform. The auditorium is also
common to both. This is where the audience seats in the theatre
and the congregation in the church.
Having established the above, we shall now focus on the
common grounds between the theatre artist and the chorister to
show how they are closely linked and perform the same function.
There is however, emphasis on what the chorister should do or not
do to be a good artist in the church.

The Chorister and the Theatre Artist: The Common


Grounds (a) Communication
As stated earlier, to communication is the major function of the
theatre artist. He aims at passing messages across to the audience and
once this fails, it can be concluded that no meaningful theatre has
taken place. The same way the message is very important to the
chorister. The choir is known to use music to preach, worship, teach,
encourage, praise, pray and entertain among other things. So, once
the aim is lost the chorister also becomes irrelevant. Obviously,
what the

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chorister aims at is also the ultimate goal of the theatre artist. Sofola
(1994: 22) defines art as:

The medium through which the soul of man


reaches out beyond itself. To transform and
make intelligible the prodding within the inner
recesses for the ultimate truth, the meaning of
existence, man's place in the cosmos, his
relationship to the supreme creator and his fellow
creatures, and finally the ultimate end of man.

To communicate effectively therefore, the artist makes use of


various artistic techniques of effective communication. This includes
projection, audibility and clarity. The same way the chorister must be
loud enough without shouting. Every word of the lyrics must be
pronounced distinctively and appropriately. It is observed that some
choristers omit or swallow (do not articulate) some parts of the lyrics
in their renditions especially the last one or two letters of some words.
For example many choristers do not pronounce the last letter of the
word 'Lord'. The 'd' is usually removed therefore what is pronounced is
'Law'. This gives a different meaning entirely to the song. Let us
consider the praise song below as an example in this line:

He is Lord, He is Lord amen.


He has risen from the dead
He is Lord.
Every knee shall bow
Every tongue confess, that
Jesus Christ is Lord.

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As a theatre artist, proper attention must be paid to attending
to such problem because the choristers might be communicating
another thing entirely if the congregation misconstrues his words for
something else.
The body carriage and facial expression of the choristers
are of paramount importance to the expressiveness of the choir. The
body posture must be straight, firm and attractive. If a solo singer
comes forward and cuts a bad posture, this will not only make people
lose interest in him, that posture will affect the voice quality too. The
neck and head of the singer must be held upright.
The chorister sometimes may have to stand for a long time but
should not be seen leaning on the wall, chair or anything for that
matter. Standing should be part of the training the chorister is used to
already. Choristers must not express weakness or tiredness even if
they actually are. The faces of the choristers must express the type of
songs they are singing. When singing of love and joy the faces should
be full of beams and smiles to accompany the mood of the song. Also,
when singing songs of warning or about hell, the faces should be
serious: There is going to be a sort of confusion and
contradiction if the choristers' faces are hardened when they are
singing about the joy and bliss of being a church worker like them.
The chorister must realize that he/she is not an ordinary member of
the church. He is a person who after being a member for some time,
voluntarily joins the choir knowing fully well that he is taking up
another responsibly or role - as a performer.

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(b) Rehearsal
Rehearsal is another common ground between the chorister
and the theatre artist. Rehearsal forms the basis of any good artistic
work. The theatre artist will not just mount the stage without
adequate rehearsals. This is well noted by Rkwueme (1972: 45-46)
when he asserts that:

Any serious celebration or demonstration by a


performing group, for example a dancing group
or an age set band, or some such organised group,
requires hard work, week or months of rehearsals,
clear cut divisions of labour and strong discipline.
Without these, the group cannot prosper and its
efforts to put up a reasonable performance are in
vain.

Rehearsal is what the chorister normally refers to as 'practice' in


the church setting. This they know is so important to their output that
it cannot be played with. Therefore, like the theatre artist it has been
noted of the choir rehearsals that:

It is important that all members attend rehearsals


regularly. Absenteeism is a most disturbing and
destructive problem in any choir. If members are
not all there, the parts are not balanced. Absent
members will miss learning what others have
learnt and the whole choir will more or less begin
afresh when the absent members do come. Time
and energy are therefore wasted unnecessarily
(Ekwueme 1993: 14).

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Concentration is a must for the choristers at rehearsals and in
performance. If a chorister does not concentrate at rehearsal he may
miss some of the very important instructions given about how they are
going to render a piece - when to sing twice, or skip, in the piece for
instance. We then see that after everybody had stopped singing, a non-
concentrating chorister begins the first two words of the refrain before
keeping shut. That as it may be, is a minus against that performance.
Therefore, side talks, unnecessary jests and comments should
be discouraged in rehearsal and during performance. Efforts should be
made to avoid distractions and distractive elements among the
choristers. Nobody should be egoistic or arrogant, the use of foul
language should be discouraged and keeping malice should be done
away with.

However, the choristers themselves should discipline their


individual minds so that it will not wonder away at anything. The
mind should not be engaged in thinking about other thing(s) during a
choir engagement. The chorister should also avoid searching out or
concentrating on some particular people among the congregation. This
can lead to a momentary loss of concentration. In all, the chorister
should avoid noise making. Noise from within the choir will be
competing with their songs and thus, affect it negatively. They
should discourage having to tap or call another member of the choir,
scratching the body and other things like that should also be minimized
or totally done away with.

(c) Discipline
The theatre discipline is also a paramount ingredient for a
chorister. There are various levels of discipline in the theatre like
obeying the call time, obeying the director or the stage manager and
generally submitting oneself to directions and control. The director
no matter how young is the overall boss

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of a production and his decisions are final. The artist must obey him no
matter how old. In any case, the director today might become an artiste
in another production tomorrow and one of his former artistes the
director. Likewise, a boy of twenty-five years may play the role of a
husband and the lady playing the wife may be far older. However in
the play, the lady may have to kneel down for 'her husband'. Age has
nothing to do here. It takes a disciplined mind to undertake any of the
tasks of an artist.

This should also be a case with the choristers. He must be


properly disciplined. There has to be individual and group discipline
among the choristers. They, for example, must obey their leaders at all
times. They must be ready to take instruction and submit themselves to
the direction. Any suggestion or idea from the chorister must be made
with wisdom. Even a good idea may not pass through if the chorister
engages his leader in argument. Albright el. al. (1968: 457) suggest
that:

The tactful actor, when he disagrees with the


director on some matter, and sees that the director
is trying to terminate the discussion, waits until
after the rehearsal to protest. He is more likely to
win the argument then.

Any of such idea or suggestion that were not agreed upon must be
dropped no matter how bright they seem. So they must obey also their
conductor even if he 'misses' or changes the original decision on a
particular piece in performance. At that stage the conductor's direction is
superior. What will happen if some members of the choir stick to the
original plan and others follow the new or changed pattern of the
conductor is a disaster.

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The chorister just like a theatre artist must also maintain
individual discipline; the artist must be seen to carry proper ethical
bearing in appearance, moral conduct and general demeanor (Sofola
1994: 2). As a preacher, that he is, the chorister must not be seen
going against what he preaches even outside the church. He should be
aware that all eyes are on him and the impression he creates in people's
minds will affect their appreciation of his work.

(d) Picturization and Composition


One of those things that make the theatre so interesting and
attractive is the arrangement of the stage. The picturization of a work of
art is made to unfold and change at all times. The stage is not allowed
to be stagnant. The director makes sure that pleasant pictures are
presented always and the entire work is arranged beautifully. This is
another factor that the chorister should emulate. As much as we may
want the different parts to be together in the choir, it will be wrong to
place a fat and tall lady in the middle of the front row and a slim and
short one behind her. This arrangement, apart from the fact that the
lady at the back will be masked (covered) in person her voice will
also be drowned. Such a fat lady is best placed at one of the extreme
sides of the first row.
The choir should not be arranged anyhow. They must be
arranged in a way that must be pleasing to the congregation. It must be
in a way that all the choristers are visible and no one seems to be hiding
behind anybody. The best way to achieve this will be to create levels
among the rows by the use of risers (raised platform) for each row so
that the row behind is about a foot higher than the one in front. Such
arrangement as this is not only neat, it is also beautiful and it will in no
small measure engage the interest of the congregation.
The placement of the instruments and instrumentalists is also
part of the stage arrangement to be taken care of. They

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like the choristers, must be seen and pleasantly arranged. The
choristers should know that in spite of the message or ministry, they
must be entertaining, as well, to be able to sustain (he congregation's
interest in their performance.

(e) Technical Theatre and Stage Design


Design and technical theatre provides visual and aural
accompaniment to the various productions in the theatre. They

include costumes and props, stage set and make-ups, lighting and
sound effects. Good uses of them not only aid the aesthetic value of a
production but help the audience in proper understanding of it.
The use of costumes and some props will, in a big way, help
the choristers in achieving their objectives. Some choristers dress
in such sophisticated 'worldly' attires that one wonders if they are of
God. In such cases, some members of the congregation would be
put off. While some will concentrate on appreciating these
dresses only few will hem the song. In the same way, an improper
dress will have the same effect. Costumes are used to enhance the
production in the theatre, and proper use of it, tells one at a glance,
the period, time, setting, culture and genre of a production.
The choristers may also emulate the use of sound/visual
effects in the theatre especially during concert/cantata/carols or any
other performance organized specially as choir activity or outdoor
events. It will not be too much if when singing about the police
pursuing a robber the sound effect of police siren is mixed with the
music at that point. Other sound effects like thunder, rain etc. will
also be of great advantage if used at appropriate time. When singing
of hell the use of fire/smoke effects to represent hell will be helpful.
Going all out to build a set for particular occasion of the choir like
the Christmas cantata, choir annual anniversaries etc., will
definitely not be

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out of place. The set may then depict the sky; the throne of God, the
manger of any other place the music is set.
One other thing that is often removed from most choir
performances is the use of lights. Apart from illuminating, lights
produce so many effects in the theatre, ranging from creation of
atmosphere, mood, and time to adding more to the beauty of the
performance through the use of relevant colours. It is not always good
for the intensity of the lights to remain the same throughout the
performance of a choir. Different lighting will complement when
singing of praise, worship, hope, joy, warning etc. The fact that the
auditorium lights are off and the auditorium is in darkness while, lights
are only on the choristers help to emphasize them, focus all attention
and concentration on them throughout the performance. Lighting is
said to be:

as much a part of the artistic process


as any other aspect of work in the
theatre. The lighting designer helps to tell
the story by illuminating the text and
creating the emotional world of colour
and light that brings the production
to the light. (Cited in Oni 1999: 39).

Engaging the services of experts in these areas may be necessary.


As long as they strife to get good hands for the keyboard and other
instruments the technical design must be included.

(0 General
Since the choir falls within the music arm of the performing
arts, it is also good if elements of the other arms are brought in to
enhance the performance. The various arms of the

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performing arts have been used so much to complement one another
successfully in theatre. So, an introduction of choreographed dance,
(especially when the music calls for it), handled by an expert, will not
in any way disrupt but in many ways enhance the output of the choir
performance. The expert choreographer will know the type of steps
to give them and when. Similarly, little gestures and acting here and
there may also to a very large extent boost the choir's performance.

Lastly, the chorister cannot afford to be shy. The artist is the


focus of the audience. He is the one they are there to watch and so
he cannot recoil or hide. He should be aware that the audience is
there to enjoy themselves and his own performance. The audience is
most often filled with people that will give credits to the artists than
those that will condemn him. While 'stage fright' is normal to anybody
facing the crowd for the first time, it will naturally wear away with
consequent and continuous performance. And for the fist timer a
total concentration on what he had rehearsed and perfected will take
his mind away from the crowd.

Conclusion
So far, this paper has tried to examine the relationship and
draw analogies between the chorister and a theatre artist. The various
attributes that make the chorister qualify as a performer are
highlighted. It has been established that in terns of purpose, functions
and operational method the chorister shares a lot of common grounds
with the theatre artist. It am therefore be concluded that until
choristers learn certain specific techniques and skills of theatre
artists and apply them to their performances in the church, even
their best performances cannot be excellent. They will always
remain near perfection thus they cannot reach the peak of their desired
impact on their congregation.

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Barranger, M., 1991, Theatre: A Way of Seeing, California:


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Edwards, B., 1984, Shall we Dance? - Dance and Drama in Worship,


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Ekwueme, L., 1972, Ibo Choral Music: Its Theory and Practice,
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