Musical Terroir

terroir (noun, ter·roir \ˌter-ˈwär\) : the combination of factors including soil, climate, and sunlight that gives wine grapes their distinctive character.

Aficionados place terroir above all in fine wine: the particular taste that can only be imparted by a particular combination of factors unique to one place and time.

Our performances should have the same terroir. We tend to accept this at the highest levels (the Chicago Symphony brass section, e.g.) but do not apply it all the way down.

Objectives standards of excellence are great, but the best choirs, even at the middle school level, go beyond objective standards to subjective standards. Some of the peer choirs I love the most don’t sound anything like what my choir would sound like on the same piece – just as a vintner may love a wine she could never produce in her own vineyard.

Every choir – every singer – should strive to sound like the best version of themselves, to imbue their performances with their own terroir. Uniformity can be beautiful, but it can never be distinctive.

What is your choir’s terroir? What flavors do you consistently impart into your performances? What in particular this year shines forth? Can you foster more terroir in your choir this year?