Magic Choral Trick #48 Flat Out Unison Tune Up
It used to be that every Barbershop chorus did a ‘tune up’ before singing a song. The pitch was given, the whole chorus sang ‘doh’ to an ‘oo’ vowel, then at a signal from the director they ‘broke’ the chord. Leads on the tonic, Basses an octave lower, Baritones on the fifth – below the Leads, and Tenors on the third – above the Leads. This was a great way to make sure that everyone really felt the tonality of the song before they started singing.
Not all choruses still do this. Many now just listen to the pitch, then begin the song. However, there is a third way that’s fun, exciting, and tells the audience that you mean business. It doesn’t need to be done in performance, but it’s really useful in rehearsal.
Blow the pitch. Everyone sings the pitch to ‘ah’ at a solid forte volume. Several things to ask for – matched vowel, absolutely synchronized beginning, forward placement and as little vibrato as possible. The straighter the sound, the faster that the unison will lock in, and the sooner the chorus will be able to hear the overtones that form the major chord.
This also works well if there’s an Electric Silence before the director indicates the onset of the note. It should feel like the precise start of an athletic activity – rather like the moments when you’re waiting for the starting gun at a race – but with the whole team acting as one runner.
In performance – this can electrify an audience if your first song is big and bold. Mightn’t want to use it if your opener is a Durufle motet.