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Hitting new highs

The local choir scene, like all performing arts, has also been a casualty of COVID-19 – with singing being considered particularly risky for the spread of the virus. But the newly appointed cultural advisor to KorMalta, Dr Joseph Lia, is not about to the let the ravages of the pandemic stop him from pushing for Malta’s first national choir to reach a more professional level in the future – and in so doing, create a benchmark for others.

Kor Malta needs to up its game and set the level for the rest of the local choir scene, Dr Lia maintains.

But the plan is to devise a strategy for the way forward and Dr Lia, who comes with a wealth of experience under his belt, wants to raise the bar for KorMalta, knowing it would also mean heightening the aspirations of the many local amateur and voluntary choirs.

Interest in choral groups in Malta is not lacking, Dr Lia highlights. Nevertheless, however, both the national and amateur choirs are drawing from the same limited pool of choristers and major concerts mean an overlap of the same circle of singers.

That is one of the issues on the local scene. Then, there is also the question of mentality, approach and quality, points out Dr Lia, adding that attitude changes are required.

Choir singing is generally considered more of a pastime locally, and while it should also retain the fun element, this modus operandi needs to be “broken”, with a focus on more professionalism and improved quality.

The idea is to ‘professionalise’ KorMalta – and this would result in refining standards across the board, Dr Lia believes.

As things stand, more training is required and artistic development constantly needs to be nurtured, he says, pointing to problems of resources and even rehearsal space for amateur choirs.

Dr Lia, 41, has been singing in a choir since he was 10, moving on to pursue his studies in Russia and becoming the first and only Maltese to be chosen to join the World Youth Choir. A freelance soloist, he is also a part-time university lecturer in History of Opera, and Opera, Symphony and Ballet in Russia, as well as head of the Creative Europe Desk in Malta.

But his focus today is not as much his own choir singing as is his role behind the scenes. And together with KorMalta’s artistic director, he plans to work on programming, recruitment, strategy and the “philosophy” of the national choir.

Projects are already in the pipeline, including the upcoming Baroque Festival, although it is still early days, Dr Lia says. And he is looking beyond the near future for a strategy to strengthen the national choir.

Harping on about its importance in strengthening the country’s whole vocal sector, Dr Lia maintains that anyone studying voice would have had nowhere to go unless they went down the freelance soloist route. Singers can now aspire to grow, and vocal studies could be stimulated.

Just as the national orchestra and dance company attract the best in their respective fields, KorMalta gathers the crème de la crème of voices, and it would no longer be a case of a one-off performance.

Uniting a ‘team’ and creating the right spirit is essential, but could take years to develop, Dr Lia acknowledges. But that is the goal.

Meanwhile, the Manoel Theatre, for example, would finally have an established choir to turn to. This would work from a logistical point of view because it would not need to be set up each time, but just tweaked, depending on the performance.

Things may still be in an embryonic stage at KorMalta, but Dr Lia wants to see it on a par with international choirs in terms of quality, as well as being invited to perform at prestigious festivals and venues overseas.

He also looks forward to the “internationalisation” of the national choir, even though reaching the standards of its more established foreign counterparts is a long journey.

On a personal note, one of his own ambitions is for the national choristers to work on a full-time basis, but that would also depend on allocated funds.

For now, however, the aim is to rise above the level of amateur choirs locally, and with a serious plan and the concerted effort of all stakeholders, it can not only happen but also hit new highs.

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