Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Choir Practice

And now for something completely different ...

The last few weeks I've built up quite a little obsession with The Choir Practice. Not my usual style, but I've been paying much closer attention to the vocals in what I listen to recently than previously, so it is logical that I'd drift towards contemporary choral ...

Which is exactly what The Choir Practice performs. This somewhat loose-knit group of 12 or so Vancouver-based indie rockers sings in the tradition of European religious music - think Vienna Boys Choir. Although syncopated hand claps suggest a foot-stomping type of beat, this isn't gospel. Think of what you might hear from a charismatic Southern Baptist church choir for an example of what this isn't. Tracks on the group's debut like "Red Fox" would fit that style, but other tracks such as "Running On" are much freer of vocal gymnastics than gospel would be.

There are other differences with choral music as perceived in the mainstream as well - the most obvious being that the material is secular, not religious. (Arguments about inherent spirituality - "make a joyful noise" - aside.) Reviewers often compare the group to sunshiny 60s vocal/folk bands such as the New Christy Minstrels, acknowledging that there is more going on here than a bunch of indie rockers taking a try a choir music.

The group's 1987 self-titled debut is available for download on eMusic. If for some reason you can only pick up one track I'd suggest "Failsafe", my personal favorite on this album. The popular vote for standout track seems to go to "Red Fox", but I prefer "Failsafe".

Some of the lyrics on the latter track are absolutely gorgeous ("signing my checks with a name that's not mine" is possibly the best one-line description of marriage I have ever read.) As a bonus the song leads us to ask questions about the very nature of such things. It is usually called a cover. Indeed the song was written and performed by New Pornographers. However, the Choir Practice version actually saw the light of day BEFORE the New Pornographers'. And just to add an extra layer of complexity, one of the members of The Choir Practice is ALSO in New Pornographers. Whoah. So is this a cover or not?

Discuss. :)

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