Magic Choral Trick #117 Adjusting the Vocal Colour
Now this stuff is fun to play with!
Even if your choir has developed its own signature sound, there will be times when you’ll want to modify the vocal colour to express different emotions, or to recreate another style of singing.
In my Med School choir I’m asking the sopranos to use hooty treble production, and the altos and basses to be almost non existent and slightly breathless in Sir Arthur Sullivan’s “The Long Day Closes”. But when we close the show with “Consider Yourself” I encourage a ‘let ‘er rip’ Broadway vocal style. (And in this style I’m much less fastidious about synchronization)
Here are various points on the vocal colour spectrum – from dark to bright.
1. Plummy, ‘He shall feed His Flock’ production. Open throated – space for a small hardboiled egg in the back of the throat – little dangly thingy lifted – but no forward placement. It feels like the sound is going up through the top of the head.
I also call this the ‘Dame Edna/Margaret Thatcher’ production. Very useful for getting a rich dark sound from a choir – makes what you’re singing sound very serious.
Blending this type of sound is very easy.
2. Variation of the Dame Edna – add a little vibrato (or even a microscopic bit of wobble) and you get a lush fruity sound (Thank you Denise Narcisse-Mair – who used to ask the Queen’s Choral Ensemble for more “Fruit”)
3. Hooty, white sound. Very straight production with virtually no vibrato. Similar in placement to the ‘Dame Edna’ but a more lightweight, heady version. Most of the vowel sounds used with this placement are variations of ‘oo’. You can hear a little ‘oo’ or a covered ‘oh’ in all the vowels. (Not to be confused with having all the vowels be as narrow as ‘oo’ – but their own distinct sound – which is what I usually ask for.)
4. Default setting – forward, but warm choral sound. Moustache Hands and space between the back teeth. Using lots of Warm Air. Keep consciously breathing out on all sustained notes. Sound in your own head should be a little thin and edgy.
5. A little brighter – good for up tunes where you want to show off the synchronization, and need to give the impression that everyone is having a good time. The best way I know to get this brightness is to have the choir sing a phrase in their Jerry Lewis or full frontal assault Edith Bunker voices – then have them sing the phrase again ‘normally’. The placement will have moved further forward, and the sound will be brighter.
6. Sometimes instead of allowing the sound to stay this forward (#5 – above), the choir will gradually forget and the sound will revert to something more plummy. At that point I just ask for an eye dropperful of Jerry/Edith to be added back into the mix.
7. At the bright end of the spectrum, but still a vocally acceptable choral sound is the slightly brash Broadway colour. As long as the singers are not feeling this production back in their throats, it should be fine to use occasionally for a splash of aural excitement.