Magic Choral Trick #123 Enprettification
Yep – my own word for the mannered techniques singers use to allegedly prettify the sound, or to emphasize the emotion.
I guess the main challenge here is to understand the boundaries of what’s accepted in the song’s style. Just as goat trills don’t belong in a sports stadium rendition of the National Anthem, many soloist affectations do not belong in any kind of choral music. (Although just about anything goes for opera choruses – as long as the sound is big big big.)
Here are the most notable of the techniques that some well meaning choir members use in an attempt to make their sound, and by extension, the sound of the choir, more lovely or more heartfelt.
1. People who’ve listened to a lot of operatic style singing feel that it’s desirable to start every high note about a tone and a half below the note, then slide up to it. This is pretty standard with opera singers, but will delay the locking in of a choral chord for the duration of the gliss, and temporarily turn that choir member into a soloist.
2. The downward gliss from one note to a lower note is often used to show tenderness, but creates the same problems as in #1 above.
3. Prettying up the end of every phrase by removing support, and allowing some wobble into the sound. I’ve observed this in soloists for years and believe that it’s an attempt to display a charming fragility. It’s never worked for me when I hear soloists do it – and for choirs, it can turn a solid ringing final chord into something much less.
4. Adding extra emotion at the beginning of a heartfelt phrase by singing a little bagpipe swoop up to the note, from just underneath. If the word begins with a vowel, there’s often a hearty glottal attack.
When I was studying with my Vancouver voice teacher Luigi, he taught me that the human voice when it’s produced clearly and freely is stunningly beautiful.
If the song is well written, all it needs from the singer is clean singing. The character of the voice, and the character of the singer – without the doilies and frills – are all that’s needed to make each expression of the song unique, fresh and honest.
However, some styles do call for the occasional affectation. In choirs this has to be a unified group expression.