by Owen Scrivener
I remember an attempt I made in high-school to pull a choir together. The singers I’d assembled were skilled as individuals but collectively unworkable. Pride was an immense stumbling block, and they weren’t absorbent to criticism. I had a choir full of soloists and too many cooks spoiled the broth.
In contrast, the wooden conformity of disciplined choirs seemed at the time, to rob any of its members of a sense of identity. I wanted a choir with input, variety and personality. I wanted to know how a voice in unison with so many parts keeps their singers distinct.
On Wednesday night I discovered that fantastic broth recipe, a balance of uniqueness and unity during a rehearsal of Rhythmos, an acapella choir based in Curtin University. A melting pot of voices and characters have volunteered to be a piece of a great polyphony, a choir with professional ambitions.
Director Jonathan Paxman had directed the PUCS choir at UWA and, following a brief break from choir-directing, continued that role with Rhythmos. A voluntary position he’s taken on the side of teaching engineers at Curtin. He helped launch the choir in the first semester of 2014. The group have since performed concerts at various Perth venues, including Relay For Life Curtin, Singing in the City and as an opening act for Naturally 7.
Members audition, the most recent audition drew eighty-five hopefuls. they consist of students and post-graduates from Curtin, though being a student isn’t essential. However as a Curtin Guild group, the choir requires a committee of Curtin students. Among which is president and soprano Claire Battista, who’s been a member of Rhythmos since launch.
Claire says many of the choristers are not trained to read music, but more than willing to learn, a criterion for entry into the choir. They each bring their own unique tonalities which give the choir a dash of flavour.
Members who sight-read music buttress the others, they fortify the whole with their strengths. The choristers come from various disciplines, engineering, media studies, performance, though their love of music unifies them. All this is done on alternating schedules where most of them meet only once a week. This presents a unique challenge rehearsing for concerts. They absorb so much for the little time the choir is actually together. Skill, practice, guts and co-ordination play their part in this achievement.
Their performance numbers have ranged from acapella pop inspired by Youtube-sensation vocal-group Pentatonix to contemporary experimental and classical chorales such as those of the composer Eric Whitacre. During the rehearsal I heard Hamiltonian hip-hop, musical theater, gospel and folk chorales. They managed to sneak in a video game theme. Bubbling with versatility and each song in sequence seems to have been performed with understanding. A prime example being the opening chorale from the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd, a gothic and powerful work with some tricky harmonies. Rhythmos pulls this off with a fantastic sense of direction.
At one moment that night, I saw a campus choir, a patchwork of students after a day spent studying, and as if I’d snuck into a Broadway theatre performance, was confronted by an army of voices. I want to hear more incredible sounds from this young approachable group. You can find their Facebook page below.
You can hear some of the pieces I heard at Rhythmos’ next concert, “Soundtrack; Hits from screen and stage.” They will be performing at the Paul Latham Auditorium, Churchlands Senior High School on the 20th of August at 7pm. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for concession. Funds raised will be used to keep Rhythmos running.
Photo and video by Alan Arazo