Having just finished singing a concert with the Duke Chapel Choir, it seems appropriate to continue my irregular series looking at archival work from a variety of perspectives.  I suggest three ways that choral singing parallels archival work:

Accountability.  There is both an individual and a corporate accountability in a choir.  Many rehearsals come before any service or concert performance, and singers have a responsibility to attend these rehearsals in order to learn the music — but also to put in the time outside of rehearsal to learn any parts that are not mastered during rehearsals.  Anyone who chooses not to do so will likely be called out by fellow singers as well as by the conductor.  Similarly, in many archival shops, archivists have discrete tasks to perform that come together to preserve and provide access to collections.  The work of arrangement and description, preservation, and reference are all necessary, and if any person along the way doesn’t complete a job, the whole product suffers.

Being part of a whole.  Unlike the work of soloists, choral singing demands a consistent tone and volume from all singers.  A singer who has too bright a tone or who sings more loudly than anyone else will stand out in an inappropriate way for choral singing.  I argue that archivists also need to see the bigger picture, from records creation to accessioning to preservation to access.  Especially for archivists in government positions, it can be useful to encourage conversations about how records are created and maintained rather than merely waiting around for the occasional deliveries of archival materials.

Protocols and procedures.  Just like archivists are fond of protocols and procedures for everything from donor agreements to finding aids, choral singing demands a uniformity from all performers.

  • Singers walk onto stage carrying music in the hand away from the audience.
  • When accompanied by an orchestra, singers rise when the concertmaster enters.
  • The oboe is usually the instrument that plays the A pitch to which the other instruments tune.  Absolutely no talking should occur during this tuning.
  • And just as archivists expect patrons to follow certain rules when they visit our repositories, musicians for a formal classical concert expect the audience to remain quiet during the performance and to clap only at the end of the piece, when the conductor lowers the baton.

These sorts of rules allow both performers and audience members to have certain expectations that can transcend locale, just like writing finding aids with certain metadata standards allows for the creation of union catalogs of archival materials.