Monthly Archives: June 2012

Magic Choral Trick #153 The Case For Duetting

At one of the education classes at our regional Barbershop convention and competition, one of the judges in the singing category, Dr. John Ward, was reminding us about the importance of quartets and choruses spending a significant amount of rehearsal time duetting.

When we are working to solve matching issues with tuning, tonal quality and synchronization, having just two parts singing at the same time makes any problems much easier to hear and to fix. For the two voice parts not singing, this is unlike the old fashioned choir rehearsals where, when it’s not your turn to sing you can turn and chat with the people on either side. Intense listening is required – for feedback, and in order to understand the harmony more clearly.

The understanding of the harmony in this case is mostly visceral. When two of the other parts are creating a locked and ringing sound, it’s easy to feel exactly where your part needs to fit.

This rundown of specific pairings of voices is for a Barbershop chorus (Tenor, Lead, Baritone, Bass), but can also be applied to SATB choirs. The main difference is that in Barbershop, the harmonic function of each part generally remains constant – and in SATB choirs the harmonic function of each voice can vary from piece to piece, depending on the effect that the composer or arranger wants.

1. Lead and Bass – Here we have the melody, and the part that drives the harmony – since the Bass is almost always on the Root or the Fifth of the chord. Lots of Perfect 5ths and 4ths to be locked in here.

2. Bass and Baritone – There will usually be many 5ths to be tuned here, because often when the Bass is on the Root of the chord, the Baritone will be on the 5th. However the Baritone part also has its share of 3rds and 7ths – which will need to be backed off, and which duetting will highlight.

3. Bass and Tenor – Many octaves here, which need to be balanced and blended so that the Tenor part acts only as an amplifier of the Bass note – and not heard as a separate voice. The Tenor also has more of the 7ths than any other voice part – which need to be locked in with the Bass’ Roots of the chord – but balanced quite far back in the mix. (Quiet, but deadly accurate)

4. Lead and Baritone – The will be a fair number of 4ths and 5ths to tune here, and occasionally some augmented 4ths and diminished 5ths (Even melodically, these nasty intervals are one of the hallmarks of the Baritone part). Perhaps just as important with these two voices is that they often overlap. The Baritones need to be aware of the places where they’re higher than the Leads because it affects the kind of vocal production used. When the Baritones are above the Leads, a more heady vocal tone is required. When they’re below, they can revert to a more forward, reedy placement.

5. Lead and Tenor – Often lots of 3rd and 6ths here. Leads should continue to, well, lead, and the Tenors just lightly and angelically place in their harmony notes.

6. Tenor and Baritone – This one can be just plain strange, and can sound like the piece is suddenly in a completely different key. Then magically, when the Bass is reintroduced, it all makes sense.

Magic Choral Trick #152 Fast Breaths and Forward Motion

Most of us are aware that if we take too long between sentences as we speak, our audience will lose interest.

Not sure why we forget this when we sing – but we’ve all heard it. The singer, or choir is singing with great conviction and passion, then lets the energy of the sound flag at the end of the phrase. The song’s forward motion then comes to a complete halt as the singer or choir takes a leisurely breath.

The formula for keeping the audience’s interest is: Sustain the energy of the end of the phrase by getting louder, or softer, or enriching the tone – and singing on the target vowel as long as possible. Sustain the sound until it’s time for a fast breath – timing the breath so that the next target vowel lands on the downbeat.

This builds the excitement of a song towards its climax – and every phrase is a little more urgently stated than the previous one. More forward motion, more audience involvement, and more fun for everyone who is singing or listening.

Magic Choral Trick #151 The Great Irony About Competition

On Friday evening, June 1st my women’s Barbershop chorus, Sea Belles made history.

In the 42 years since they chartered they have placed second in the regional chorus competitions many many times – but they’d never won. That is, until Friday night.

So needless to say, I’ve been thinking very hard over the last few days about competition and its function of spurring us on in the pursuit of excellence. I’ve also been remembering what I said to my chorus before we were to go on stage – that an hour an a half after the competition, it wouldn’t really matter where we placed – because we’d already won the real prize, which is singing even better than we did at this time last year.

Well, I guess the judges agreed with this enough to give us a 5 point lead at the end of the evening. And certainly for that hour and a half (ok – and maybe a couple of days longer), winning felt pretty good. However, the really exciting thing is that we worked hard enough this year to increase our score – over last year – by 19 points. From 842 (out of a possible 1200) to 861. (For any of you interested in the ‘box score’ aspect of these competitions, here’s the scoring summary page for Harmony Inc. )

By the way, this number of points means we qualify for the international competition in Florida in November!

The Great Irony? We work and work all year with winning in mind – and now that we’ve won, it is exciting. And it will increase our public profile, and it will encourage more singers to join us. However, when the competition has become a memory, the richest prize of all is the pride felt by every one of us in the quality of performance we can now offer our audiences all through the year. At that point it doesn’t really matter that the six judges gave our sister chorus 5 points less than they awarded us.

And the Magic Trick? The trick is in convincing ourselves all year that winning matters more than anything else.

(Ok Sea Belles – next step is a medal this November in Florida!)

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