Magic Choral Trick #229 Our Singing Brain and Our Speaking Brain

Any singer who performs for nursing home audiences knows that there’s a difference between the singing brain and the speaking brain.

Residents with advanced dementia, who normally sit inert and non verbal will often sit up suddenly and sing along with a song that they know. No problem at all remembering the words. For as long as it takes to sing the song, we get to see who they really are.

I’ve often been intrigued by an idea I had to begin a singing program with people as soon as they get the initial Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis. I was wondering if it might be useful for the patient and family members to learn some call and response song patterns for basic communication. For instance, the caregiver could sing “What would you like to do?” – always using the same melody, and the patient could respond with one of a number of melodically different, learned song responses.

However, I’ve drawn attention to this for another reason that has more to do with how we’re singing and how our audience is understanding us.

When most of us sing, it’s as if we’ve forgotten how to speak so that we’ll be understood. We hear even really accomplished choirs and solo singers thinking “word, word, word” – or worse still – “syllable, syllable, syllable”. It’s a text presentation style that we use only for singing.

It’s true that singing, because it is a drawn out way of speaking, is already artificial, but our job as singers is to have the artistry to make our audiences forget this.

Speaking the song lyrics in rhythm is a great place to start – but the illusion of speech doesn’t begin to work until we analyze how we would actually say the words in ordinary conversation.

See these previous posts below:

Coming to terms with just how differently we function in the two modes – singing and speaking – is a much bigger deal than I’d previously thought. From an audience’s point of view it’s rather like the difference between interacting with someone before and then after they’ve had coffee, or before and then after they’ve had a couple of glasses of wine. We the audience, notice a huge difference – but they’re unaware of how much their communication has changed.

In order to create the illusion of speech for our audience we still need to remember that vocal sound is carried on the vowels, but we need to draw our attention to which vowels, and exactly how they’re sung.


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 February 9, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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