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Make Our Garden Grow

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Some years ago, I participated in Birmingham Opera Company’s production of Candide, and one of the abidingly inspirational memories it left is of the final chorus, ‘Make Our Garden Grow’. You get the sense of the musical lushness from this extract, but you need the full context of the opera’s moral journey to get the full effect.

At the time, I was a novice and intermittent gardener. In fact, I seem to recall that quite a lot of our overwintering plants perished through lack of water in an unusually dry January and February while we were busy rehearsing for the show. But as I have grown in experience and confidence in my relationship with plants, the ethical resonances of that piece has stayed at the back of my mind.

It came to the front of my mind recently, what with some good weather to get out amongst the plants, and gardening being a good activity when you have some thinking to do. It struck me that as an activity, it is an excellent metaphor for Choice Theory. You can’t force a plant to grow, all you can do is endeavour to create an environment in which it will flourish. And since my primary reason for thinking about Choice Theory was its implications for directing a choir, I got to mulling on gardening as a metaphor for this too.

Tending plants, for instance, is a good model for rehearsing singers. You have to let the plant grow, the chorister sing, before you can respond, but the more closely and intelligently you attend to their progress, the better the results. Does it need trimming or tying in? Does it need to be rescued from pests? Do they need help with their vocal technique or their understanding of the music? Patience and assiduousness are rewarded in both contexts.

And planting is a good metaphor for choice of repertoire. You need to consider suitability – can the singers manage it? will the plant thrive in that soil and aspect? You need to think about balance of programming – not too samey, but still going together coherently and pleasingly. You need to consider both present and future – how long it will take to master a substantial piece, or for a shrub to reach full size, and what you can do in the present that will give pleasure immediately. Songs that are catchy and quick to learn are the bedding plants in your musical garden.

Both gardening and choral singing can be undertaken, and produce great rewards, at all levels from the novice to the highly professional. And they both encompass a wide variety of styles and associated philosophies.

A garden make-over is like creating an auditioned choir. You can select and import a lot of the qualities you seek much faster than if you developed the soil and grew the seeds from scratch. You get impressive results much faster if you don’t have to train your singers to use their voices or understand music first. But for stellar results, you still need to dedicate time and care for either choir or landscaped garden to grow to their full potential. Good singers, if not nurtured, will under-perform and eventually leave; good plants won’t stay looking good if not maintained. Hearing a professional choir singing without joy is like seeing a garden that has been ‘done’ but not subsequently weeded.

You see? This metaphor can run and run. I’ll stop there for now, and leave you to work out what the choral equivalents are for composting and slug pellets.

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