Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photographing a choral festival: It’s in the details November 20, 2012

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MY VOLUNTEER ASSIGNMENT was to photograph the mass choir comprised of 250 singers from 11 churches.

Choir members from 11 churches sing four songs in closing the choral festival.

That shot came near the end of a 1 ½ hour Festival of Choirs event Sunday afternoon at my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault. Choir members from churches in Eagan, Faribault, Inver Grove Heights, Janesville, Morristown, Northfield, North Morristown, South St. Paul, Stewartville and Waseca performed separately before joining in singing four songs of praise, thanksgiving and hallelujahs.

Congregation and mass choir, a side view.

Now, when I cover an event like this, I do not simply stand at the back of the church aiming my camera lens forward. Oh, no. I rove, searching for photo ops and angles that will tell a story. That is the photojournalist, and artist, in me emerging.

A piano’s player’s hands.

That same piano player and the choir she accompanied.

And, of course, the piano player’s feet working the pedals.

My pastor promised that if anyone got upset about me ranging here and there taking photos, they could speak to him. With that pastoral blessing, I set to work, moving from side-to-side of the sanctuary, tucking myself behind pillars, crouching beside pews, scooting along pews, crawling, squatting and, finally, for that mega choir group shot, climbing onto a chair.

Proof that even kids need someone to lean on while standing on a pew. This is not technically a perfect image. But look at that little girl’s face. Pure joy as she and, I assume, grandma, clap to the music.

At one point, I even slipped off my shoes and stepped onto a back pew, leaning on a stranger’s shoulder for balance. A spongy pew cushion does not make for a stable perch.

Because I shoot without flash, I knew I had to hold my camera perfectly still with each shot. I also knew that would not happen. But that is the beauty of shooting digital. Overshoot and you’re bound to have enough “good” photos.

I watched this boy, a member of the Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown, choir, for awhile before capturing this moment.

I was also acutely aware that simply photographing choirs performing at the front of the church would not make for particularly interesting shots. So I watched for the personal moments, the snippets that comprise the whole.

My favorite photo of the day came quite unexpectedly as I was walking through the narthex. These brothers, brothers to the boy in the above image, were hanging out in the narthex with their mom, one watching the concert, the other not.

That takes patience and observation—consciously choosing to notice individuals and details—and often a bit of luck.

I wanted to show all perspectives of the concert, including that of the pianists.

I happened to be on the floor, saw the men from Peace Lutheran walking toward the steps and took one quick shot.

And then I raced to the opposite side of the sanctuary to get this photo of the Peace, Faribault, choir singing.

The director of the Trinity Lutheran Church, Northfield, choir exhibited such enthusiasm that I simply had to catch her in motion.

Remember that little girl from earlier? There she is again, watching. She makes me smile.

I set my camera on a front pew and aimed up for this perspective.

The mass choir can quickly become that, simply a mass, unless you focus. I chose to see the individuals, specifically the little boy in the front row who had lost his place in the music.

While noticing the details is vital to a photo essay, so is the broader view.

The light of late afternoon made the western stained glass window glow in golden tones. Here’s a snippet, Christ’s face.

I placed my camera on the floor and shot this mass choir and congregation image, the angle drawing your eye to the cross.

The mass choir disbands and the concert ends.

TO THE ORGANIZERS OF and participants in the choral festival, thank you for blessing us with your musical talents. I cannot read a single note and thus so appreciate those of you who do and who share your gifts.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling