[Interview] The Silver Lake Chorus at LACMA, Part 2


Part 2 of our coverage and interview with The Silver Lake Chorus at LACMA continues. Click here for Part 1.

Q. How did it feel for everyone to be surrounded by pieces of art as they performed? How was it different from any other gig?

Wells: It was a truly magical experience. The exhibit halls have the most amazing natural acoustics, and the combination of our vocals swimming in the butter of the exhibit hall along with the timeless, gorgeous works of art was really amazing. Still art is both alive and… still, so I humbly like to think that bringing all that energy and harmony to the space helped to enliven people’s experience of the paintings.

KC Daugirdas: When the audience is free to come or go, it’s a different feeling. You know for a fact that everyone standing and listening is there by choice. Personally, I feel especially grateful for the gift of their attention in that moment, and it inspires me to reward them in the best way that I can with my performance. The art was most inspirational in rehearsal, actually… when we were alone, after hours, in those cavernous gallery spaces, quietly surrounded by masterworks… it was hard not to feel a sense of reverence.

Kevin Kim: It definitely felt more special being surrounded by Van Goghs and Cezannes. The audience was receptive in a reverent manner that made us feel like we were performing art.

Barasz: I had one of those magnificent life appreciation moments during the performance. Looking around at all the artwork, watching people respond to our music, everyone so present in the moment…. All I could think was, “How is it I get to stand here, in this museum, in front of all these lovely people, and these astonishing pieces of art, next to all these amazing singers and make music?” It was joyful, and humbling, and incredibly rewarding.

Fordham: Singing while surrounded by beautiful art – in rooms whose acoustics rivaled top-notch concert halls – was definitely an unforgettable experience. It was downright magical the two times we rehearsed in the museum when it was just us, the paintings, and a couple of security guards. During the performance itself, it was pretty amazing to be at eye-level with lots of strangers who were very clearly digging the music, rather than separated from the crowd by a stage and bright lights.

O’Malley: It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life! I was especially moved because, unlike a show where audience members are watching us, I felt an incredible connection to everyone listening to us in the gallery space, knowing that we were all there in admiration of the art. To feel our voices fill the space between the paintings, connected to both the artwork on the walls and the listeners in the space, and of course that space being the near-perfect acoustics of the galleries (so perfectly suited to choral music!) was a dream.

Starble: It felt like I was a part of something truly extraordinary. It’s not every day you get to see those pieces, let alone perform with them as a backdrop. It was definitely a moment that will go down in the “highlights of your life” section of my journal.

Stephanie Chan: LACMA was an awesome experience for me because we were able to create a musical experience for people while being surrounded on all sides by the artistic creations of others. I really felt the energy of the audience in that space and will never forget when the power went out in the gallery and people in the audience lit up their phones like little fireflies in the darkness as we continued to sing.

Q. Three adjectives to describe TSLC’s sound:

Wells: Heart, rainbow, massive.

Mazzone: Warm, lush, joyful.

Kim: Layered, lush, and eclectic.

Chan: Warm, unique, personal.

Starble: Reflective, healing, joyous.

Q. What do you believe makes TSLC stand out in the realm of chorus lines?

Barasz: We are neither a traditional chorus nor a traditional band, but we occupy this space in between that allows us to take the best of both those worlds. We have a regular drummer, we do some really up-tempo indie rock songs; but we also have a mature choral sound that you hear in songs like “Home Come Home” and “From the Snow-Tipped Hills.” We know who we are, an indie chorus based in a vibrant, artistic community in Los Angeles – not an a cappella group, not a cover band – and we use that sense of identity as a springboard to constantly improve and try new things.

Kim: The fact that we have such diverse and talented artists such as Bon Iver, Ben Gibbard, and Aimee Mann writing songs for us gives us a legitimacy and varying styles that are unparalleled.

Daugirdas: Our treatment of choral music as something neither antiquated nor novel, but rather as a form of expression that will exist in every heartfelt society. We don’t put on airs; we don’t try to sound like this or that. Our sound and aesthetic emerges honestly and organically.

Fordham: We aren’t afraid to be musically flexible and really take advantage of the vast number of options you have with a 20-person group – in large part thanks to great arrangements from Mikey and Heather. That adaptability has become part of the group’s DNA, and it’s not something you see in other choruses. For example, one song is females-only backed by a few acoustic instruments; another features basses taking the melody supported by an ethereal pad of voices, strings, and keyboard; still others are drum-driven pop tunes with solos. Each song reveals a different, and perhaps surprising, dimension of the group.

Chan: TSLC is different from every other group I’ve been a part of because it mixes choral singing, which is usually very precise and structured, with an indie sensibility. It’s common to find one or the other among certain groups but rare to discover a true mix of the two.

O’Malley: I think our repertoire is at the heart of what makes our group special. We are blessed to have been given these original and rarely heard songs by such incredible artists (Sia, Bon Iver, Tegan and Sara, etc…). We have really tried to stay true to the content of the songs, and to the art of choral music in each arrangement. That combination of choral beauty with new, indie music is our calling card. Our chorus is also a passion project in the truest sense of the words. We are each so passionate about singing, which drives us all! I’m always amazed that, although members have varied professions, we all carve out this space in our lives to make this music together so consistently and deeply.

Q. How has TSLC’s sound and character developed since its inception?

Wells: We’ve worked for years to carve out our own choral sound that borrows from many different choral traditions, attempting to hone in on an arranging style and sound that is all our own. Like most things it took lots of time, growing pains, and experimentation to develop that sound and direction.

Barasz: Musicianship has always been key, as well as pride in our Silver Lake community and the joy and passion we put into our singing. But from the outset we were just a little Silver Lake based chorus with an indie aesthetic; we weren’t collaborating with talented established musicians until Ben Lee came into our lives. That connection with him and other artists added gravitas to what we do and challenges us to constantly improve and take advantage of our amazing and unique repertoire.

Chan: The evolution of the chorus is a lot like what a kid experiences growing up. In the beginning I think we had a lot of energy and enthusiasm; we were very eager to please and were still developing our identity and figuring out what we had to offer the world. We’re obviously still doing that now, but I think a maturity and a confidence in ourselves as a group and what we stand for has blossomed over time and I can hear it reflected in our sound.

Kim: Some faces have changed since the inception four years ago, but the sound has become tighter and more focused as the group’s chemistry and identity have developed.

O’Malley: We have stayed true to our mission since we began – focusing on the quality of the music first, and approaching it with an independent spirit.

Fordham: I think we formed a pretty clear sense of our identity early on, and ever since then, we’ve been working hard to focus, sharpen, and improve our sound.

Ani is a twenty-something SoCal native driven by all things pop culture. Armed with a Master’s in communication studies, she spends her days analyzing her surroundings, enjoying live shows and film, traveling the world, eating pho, and being an opinionated individual. She also happens to be the biggest I Love Lucy fan of her generation.

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