Anyone can introduce singing into their life, as long as they want to

Sofia Gioldasi

Faith in choral power

Text: Dimitra Kehagia
Sofia Gioldasi

Sofia still remembers the pleasure, the exaltation, the satisfaction she gained from hearing and performing polyphonies in her adolescence. “At the conservatory, we were a group of great girls expressing all their worries through song, and we considered our choir a musical family. I think that this sense, that a choir can become someone’s ‘family’, captivated me and defined me.”

She felt early on the urge to explore the deeper connection between the voice as an instrument and as a source of sound and the body. “For years, I watched children’s and youth choirs, their little faces hiding behind huge songbooks singing without moving, and I felt that this lack of movement brought lack of flexibility and a rigidity in the choral sound.” This made her wonder whether these children’s bodies were being appropriately utilized to best support healthy, quality performance.

Meanwhile, she also found choirs where body movements were integral to their performances. “I felt that body movement gave the sound flow, contributed to ‘supporting the song’ as we singers say. This muscle memory brought positive results for the children even when songs required them to be immobile and not use movement in the delivery. As I had already started working with children’s choirs in Amsterdam and understood their dynamic, I wanted to find out more about this philosophy and started looking for answers in the existing literature and research.” This was consequently the subject of her thesis, titled “Clap Your Hands: Body movement in choral performance and education”.

The figurative keys she uses to ‘unlock’ the choir’s children are her smile and energy. She has as her primary goal to ensure they have a good time at practice, enjoying themselves and thus evolving. This is why, as she explains, “in children’s choirs, everything happens through play, and singing is taught through movement.” By no means is she less demanding with children than with adults. “I do not distinguish between them because I believe in children’s potential and I’m not satisfied until I see them blossom to the best of their ability. My main aim is to combine hard work with enjoyment for all – choir members and maestro.”

She discovered her love for children’s choirs thanks to Dutch conductor Caro Kindt, who invited her to collaborate in 2011. “She generously shared her knowledge and advice on young children’s phonetic needs – and topics beyond – and unlocked a hidden love I had for these ages.”

Sofia Gioldasi serves as a regular member of judges’ panels at international choir competitions. She is frequently invited to lead seminars, masterclasses and workshops in countries such as Turkey, Italy and the Netherlands. She loves this exchange of ideas and thoughts with colleagues about their shared art. “I always gain something from such experiences and, though it’s me who’s off to teach somewhere, I get the feeling that I’m the first to learn and evolve from this whole process.” Her favorite aspect of teaching is being asked to lead a choir workshop: “I always look forward to feeling the warmth in the choir members’ eyes, hear the heartfelt welcomes, and to take the satisfaction that I left something indelible in their memory using music – something that will give them life and strength every day, for a long time.”

She has made wonderful memories as choral conductor for female vocal ensemble Voci Contra Tempo, including their summer 2021 tour in Italy, where they performed demanding repertories every day – sometimes even twice a day – in very important venues, broadcast online via live streaming. As she notes, “this tight schedule kept us in perpetual readiness and we had to give 100% of our concentration and our energy. It was a draining mission but also an important lesson. By the time we returned to Greece, all of us had made our personal leap, and I personally reached the conclusion once again that these are the type of circumstances where I feel most comfortable.”

She would like to see Voci Contra Tempo on stage at several other places in Greece and abroad, at international festivals, as part of diverse projects – but she is equally interested in synergies with other art forms. “I’d like us to do some more alternative shows featuring jazz music, world music, contemporary music, musical theater and everything else that comes our way that’s worthwhile. After all, there is quality music in all genres and I don’t reject any of them.”

Due to the pandemic, several of the projects she’d been working on in recent years were canceled or postponed – such as Italy’s Festival di Primavera, and the Europa Cantat summer festival in Slovenia, for which she collaborated with Turkish singer Çigdem Aytepe to adapt six songs from Pontus and Asia Minor sang in both languages.

On the agenda in April 2022, Voci Contra Tempo will collaborate for the first time with the National Opera, participating in the “Days of Worship Music” with an Easter program of contemporary choral music. The concert will take place on Wednesday, 20/4, at the Acropolis Museum in Athens. Dubbed Leading Voices 2022, it will be offering more than 90 workshops aimed at professional and amateur conductors, choral conducting students as well as vocal leaders and choir managers and others. Her workshop will be on choral dramaturgy, from ideation to presentation, while she is also giving a speech on vocal warm-up and its benefits in singing.

For Sofia Gioldasi, you don’t need a good voice to become part of a choir. “There are choirs with ambitious goals who are certainly seeking members that help them achieve this, but there are also community choirs with a therapeutic role, which attract people who choose this activity to de-stress, let off steam and improve their daily life. Anyone can introduce singing into their life, as long as they want to.”