Magic Choral Trick #3 (the ‘ee’ vowel)

A chorus’perfectly matched and blended vowel ranks right up there with the best things in life!

When I first made vowels a priority during rehearsals we worked on cleaning up ‘ee’ for a whole year!

Nowadays, since I’ve spent many middle of the night hours thinking about ‘ee’, it takes a lot less time.

It’s one of the 5 formed vowels that we use. (We work on many others….but that’s for a different post)

1. First of all, ‘ee’ needs to be sung through the width/shape of ‘eu’ as in the French word ‘peu’
2. The tongue needs to be relaxed forward (think stupid stupid stupid) so that the tip of the tongue touches the bottom of the back of the lower front teeth
3. The back teeth need to be apart – about the distance of a tic tac on its end. I sometimes ask the singers to stick a finger into the side of their cheek – right where the back teeth meet – to keep the teeth apart. I do ask them though to try to refrain from this during performances.

On one of those awake nights I had a revelation.

When we’re singing in English there’s a facet of the ‘ee’ vowel that can wreak havoc on both the blend and the synchronization. I have named this issue The Roiling ‘Y’ Tongue – because when we say ‘ee’ in English, the vowel is always finished with the back third of the tongue lurching upwards to form a sort of voweless ‘yuh’ sound, which shuts off the air supply. This wouldn’t be such a problem if weren’t for the fact that every English speaking person does this roiling thing at a different pace.

How to solve this.

Drill and drill the clean, non roiling vowel in warm up – far away from any word context – so that people are free to think of it in a totally different way. (like perhaps as an ‘i’ in French, Italian or Spanish)

I’m sorry – but then you need to be a tyrant about reminding people to scan their tongues for tension. I have a whole raft of signals for different vowels – which I’ll tell you about later – but perhaps the most useful is the ‘relax the tongue’ gesture. It’s unattractive, and in its full version, unsuitable for performance, but it works.

As a director reading this, you probably should develop one that works for your own personality type.

And welcome to the world of a brand new ‘ee’!


About janetkidd

I've been waving my arms in front of choirs now for more than 35 years - and these are descriptions of all the very best things I've learned. I direct a Women's Competitive Barbershop Chorus, a Men's Competitive Barbershop Chorus, a Med School choir, and for a few weeks each year - Big Choir (about 100 voices) - which performs at an annual fundraising concert. Hope at least some of these Choral Magic Tricks will be useful to you - and thanks for reading. Janet

Posted on November 20, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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