Over the past ten years, The Shout has pursued a path of what one might call choral theatre – performance inspired by the innate theatricality of singing – which resulted in a series of site-specific events and non-narrative music-theatre pieces, including Tall Stories and Lip. In each, a series of songs was given a context, and was staged. In each, the combined power of the choir was set against the contribution of the individual.
Fingerprint was a continuation of this path – a non-narrative music-theatre piece about the tension between individual identity and group identity (and therefore in some way about The Shout itself). It considered the role of the individual in society through the medium of music-theatre: monologues, conversations, solo songs, group songs, ensemble songs.
The context was school, where many of the battles for individuality take place – think of, for example, the recent row about the wearing of the hoodie and the hijab in schools. The piece followed the performers through a school term – registration, assimilation, rules, illegal clothing problems, lessons, learning, failure to learn, insubordination and problematic individuality, bullying……..ending with an invasion of the stage by a large group of amateur singers, a sometimes benevolent, sometimes dangerous mob.
A citizenship test: the choir sings the questions, Manickam Yogeswaran (Yoga), who is from Sri Lanka, is being examined. He goes through his normal repertoire –alaap, konakol – before obligingly singing Jerusalem. Everyone joins in, in an arrangement which is initially conventional but eventually becomes a bhangra number.
Martin George, a veteran rock’n’roller, tie round head, as Hendrix, sings solo version of Purple Haze, with guitar licks, complete stage act. The choir tries to copy him, fails, starts a subversive classical arrangement of song; Martin baffled, gives up, goes to listen to the original version on his I-pod. We hear him singing, terribly out of tune.
Papers (sheet-music? exam questions?) are handed out. Everyone sits down studiously and starts to work. Isolation. The music starts tentatively with the human sounds of concentration. The singers make origami birds. Some are more skilful than others. In fact some people have tremendous problems with their pieces of paper. They throw the birds. The music soars.
Jeremy Avis, who spent a long time with the Aka pygmies in Cameroon, sings a duet with himself (two different voices, a bit like Bobby McFerrin). This leads to an extended group number, based on a pygmy song, veering towards Tibetan prayer chant and Balinese monkey chant – a display of the exhilaration of group singing, the feeling of belonging; we flip between cooperation and togetherness on the one hand to bullying and violence and mob rule on the other.