Monthly Archives: May 2013

Magic Choral Trick #258 The ‘Ah’ Snarl

Sometimes a chord just needs a bit more bite.

The perfect vowel for this seems to be ‘ah’, which is found in words like Heart (Hah….ert), but shows up most often in English when we’re singing a Long ‘I’, as in:

Light (Lah……….eat)
Shine (Shah…..een)
Life (Lah…..eef)

The extra bite that gives the word, and the chord, more brilliance and more excitement can be added with just a little bit of upper lip snarl – so that some of the front teeth are showing. This is the ‘Ah’ Snarl. My Director cue for it is a claw hand, and a pulled back upper lip display of my teeth. Not pretty – but you do what works.

However, because concrete, physical things don’t work for everyone, I sometimes need to also ask the singers to add just an eyedropperful of Edith Bunker (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1F9vRVyV914 ) to the sound – so that what they hear in their own heads is a little edgy.

Magic Choral Trick #257 Thoink

Magic Choral Trick #257 Thoink
Thoink

‘Thoink’ is a Presentation punctuation mark.

Here’s the sequence:

Last Chord…Cut off/Everybody freezes for a moment…Thoink.

The cut off, the momentary freeze and the Thoink are all cued by the director. Then immediately after Thoinking, the director turns around to accept the applause.

Thoink is the physical move that breaks the mood of the song.

It’s just a little rise up, almost onto the toes – then a resettling into a tall, but relaxed stance. Often at the end of a song, we finish the last chord with the body’s weight slightly forward. The Thoink movement brings the body up, then down again and back to a more centred stance.

When this is done all together the effect looks very polished.

I used this recently with my choir that performs using music in folders. At the same moment that they Thoinked, they brought the folders down and held them in their right hands. We got many complimentary comments about their singing – but also many about how professional they looked.

#256 Complete Magic Choral Tricks List…to date

Magic Choral Tricks – list

T = Tuning, B = Breathing, S = Synchronization, L = Leadership, PS = Placement/Sound, N = Nerves, M = Mental Focus, Pr = Presentation, E = Energy, H = Health, HWK = Homework

The categorizing of each of the posts with the above letters is a work in progress…

1. The Brass Player Buzz………………………………………………..PS
2. Breathing Through an 8 Foot Straw…………………………………..B
3. The ‘Ee’ Vowel……………………………………………………….PS
4. Breath of Fire………………………………………………………….B
5. Target Vowels………………………………………………………S &PS
6. The ‘Ay’ Vowel……………………………………………………..PS
7. Learning Sound Files………………………………………………HWK
8. Jin Shin Jyutsu Holding Points…………………………………..M & N
9. The Importance of Knees………………………………………..Pr & E
10. Elastic Band………………………………………………………E & S
11. What You See – subtle weight shift………………………………….Pr
12. Remembering to Revel……………………………………………..L
13. The Electric Silence…………………………………………S & M & E
14. The Nothing vowel……………………………………………..S & PS
15. The Nothing vowel – one more thing…………………………..S & PS
16. Heading off a cold…………………………………………………..H
17. Central meridian Sweep…………………………………PS & H & E
18. Zzzzzz……………………………………………………………….PS
19. Breathing in Through the Vowel…………………………………….S
20. Taking the first breath with the choir……………………….……….S
21. The Korg Chromatic Tuner…………………………………………..T
22. Using your new Korg tuner at home………………………………….T
23. Energy Leaks………………………………………………………….E
24. Coaching………………………………………………………………L
25. Cloud Lifting…………………………………………………….Pr & E
26. Unison warm up to clean vowels……………………………PS & S & T
27. Synchronization – 4X4………………………………………………S
28. Snow Globe…………………………………………………………N & M
29. Synchronization – Basses in Front of Sopranos/Leads………………S
30. Laser Eyes Through the Director’s Head…………………………….S
31. Blending Back to Back………………………………………………..S
32. Small Sips of Air – the torso as beachball……………………………..B
33. How I Messed Up (1)…………………………………………………L
34. Warm Air…………………………………………………………….PS & B
35. Maintaining Excitement Over a Silent Pause……………………….E
36. Ear pulls………………………………………………………………E
37. Perfect Staggered Breathing……………………………………….E & S
38. Building up Breathing Capacity……………………………………..B
39. Narrow Narrow Narrow………………………………………………PS
40. Jerry Lewis…………………………………………………………….PS
41. Choir gigs to run away from (unless the choir really really needs the money)…L
42. mp3 recordings – self evaluation………………………………………HWK
43. Word accentuation – Feminine Endings……………………………….S
44. Happy New Singing Year!
45. The Weight Shift Thing Before During and After……………………..PS
46. Directors and Winging It……………………………………………….L
47. Memorization- backwards……………………………………………..HWK
48. Flat out unison tune up……………………………………………….PS & E
49. Toes Down Through Soles of Shoes………………………………….E
50. Quit Breathing Altogether During Up Tunes…………………………..S
51. Finger in the Cheek……………………………………………………PS
52. Ah visual – whiteboard ‘aw’…………………………………………..PS
53. Inner Smile………………………………………………………..E & M & PS
54. A Tongue With a Mind of Its Own…………………………………S & PS
55. Singing in Tempo Metronomeonline.com…………………………..S
56. Thinking in Sentences and Phrases……………………………….S & Pr
57. Balancing a Major Chord………………………………………………PS
58. Competition…………………………………………………………….L
59. Down the Tiles – the presentation power of a choir singing right at the audience…Pr
60. Enlightenment at Choir Practice………………………………………..L
61. Getting a Song Into the Voice…………………………………………..HWK
62. Fast Quiet Breath – open throat, drop the belly…………………S & E & PS
63. Keep ‘Em Singing………………………………………………………L
64. FBI………………………………………………………………….Pr & PS
65. Stuff that Directors have Got to Stop Doing……………………………L
66. Jaw Tension – relax the back teeth – stupid stupid stupid……………..PS
67. Lip Roll…………………………………………………………….B & PS
68. Breathing stuff – is breathing really the problem?…………………………..B
69. Supermarket Singing…………………………………………………PS
70. Evolution of the Short Vowels and Vocal Damage
71. Body Awareness Can Light Up Your Singing and Change Your Life….E & PS
72. Korg Tuner Jingle Bells…………………………………………….T & HWK
73. Happy Birthday Mr President (Trim Tab)…………………………….PS
74. Get the ‘L’ Out of There……………………………………………….PS & S
75. Isometric Pressure………………………………………………….E & PS
76. Nerves – Rescue Remedy, Breath of Fire, Jin Shin Jyutsu……………N
77. The travelling Voice……………………………………………………H
78. The Days That You Should Not Sing…………………………………..H
79. Silent Run Through – individual…………………………………….Pr & M
80. Silent Singing To Perk Up Presentation……………………………..Pr & M
81. Warm Up One Note………………………………………………..PS & T
82. There’s Something About Singing
83. Vocal ‘catches’ that make you cough………………………………….PS
84. Laughing………………………………………………………………..PS
85. Synchronization Plink…………………………………………………..S
86. Glottal Attacks………………………………………………………… PS
87. High Notes………………………………………………………………PS
88. Sample Rehearsal Schedule………………………………………………L
89. Chord Balancing – minor chord…………………………………… T & PS
90. Waste Air………………………………………………………………..PS
91. One of the ways that less is more
92. Kazoos……………………………………………………………………S
93. Sumo Squat……………………………………………………………….PS
94. Pre-pitch grunting…………………………………………………………S
95. French Teacher ‘eu’ lips…………………………………………………..PS
96. Balancing the Half diminished Chord – the Controversy………………..PS
97. Moustache Hands…………………………………………………………..PS
98. Speaking Voice Placement
99. From ‘Oo’ to all the other vowels (trumpet lips)
100. Top twelve tricks so far. Brass Buzz, Jin Shin Jyutsu holding points, Breath of fire,
Zzzzzz, Inner Smile, Korg tuner, Laser eyes, Rehearsal schedules, Elastic
Bands, Sumo Squat and Moustache Hands, Toes Down through soles of shoes
101. Telegraphing
102. Breathing Out
103. Balancing the Diminished Chord
104. Why is this chord not working? Arr., bal, vowel, tuning, placement
105. Finding the Climax of the Song
106. Goodness and Niceness
107. Director Snits – Causes and Solutions
108. Cue for Breathing Out
109. The Shuffle – Who Should Stand Where
110. Shoulder Tapping
111. The Voice in Your Head
112. Balancing the Dominant 7th Chord
113. Presentation – The Emotional Story
114. The Tilt of the Chin
115. Hands Up!
116. Legato Painting
117. Adjusting the Vocal Colour
118. Eyebrow Activity
119. Directors’ Fruitless Flailing
120. Tiger Eyes
121. The Video is Our Friend
122. Eyes Closed – Synchronization
123. Enprettification
124. One Baby Step
125. 24 Hours – That’s All this Phrase Has Got
126. The Instructionally Overloaded Singer
127. Driving the Song Forward
128. The Motivation to Improve
129. Enough Time
130. Old Repertoire, Old Singing Habits
131. Training Wheels and Muscle Memory
132. Why We Work So Hard At This
133. Target Pitches
134. Trumpet Lips
135. Palm Push
136. Slow Motion Chords
137. Presentation – Eyes Closed
138. Matching Vocal and Visual Dynamics
139. Marking Formed and Unformed Vowels On the Sheet Music
140. Many Hands, Light Work
141. How Narrow? Whistle Narrow
142. Head Voice, Chest Voice and that Flippy Spot
143. Rehearsing the Chorus for Onstage Nerves
144. Stance – Better Sound, Better Presentation
145. When Less (Directing) is Much More
146. He Shall Feed His Flock Dame Edna
147. Listening For Noise
148. Visual Noise
149. Lip Ring
150. The Fast Silent Breath
151. The Great Irony About Competition
152. Fast Breaths and Forward Motion
153. The Case For Duetting
154. Easy Music
155. Time To Smell the Roses
156. Playing With Resonance
157. When Choreo and Sound Fight – Choreo Always Wins
158. When the Presentation Works
159. Harmonic Series 101
160. Expanded Sound
161. This Is Show Business
162. What You Always Do, You Always Do
163. More About Standing Arrangement
164. Visual Cue for a Tall ee Vowel
165. The Director’s Coterie
166. Saving the Chorus
167. Sergeant at Arms
168. The Most Thankless Choir Job
169. The Curse of a Great Acoustic
170. Singable Consonants
171. Perfect Diphthongs
172. Developing a Choir’s Spidey Senses
173. Christmas in July
174. Mezzo Forte Technique
175. Creation and Analysis – Two Different Processes
176. Clench the Teeth and Perk Up the Tempo
177. The Chordasm
178. The Music Team
179. Cranking up the Voice for the New Choir Season
180. Syncopated Rhythms
181. The Big Barbershop Ending
182. Too Late to Fix It
183. Long Tones
184. Ditching emotional baggage – Ghost Fingers
185. Constant Vocalization
186. The Bass Freight Train
187. For Directors – When We Get Stuck
188. Consider the Back Story
189. Great Ape Pendulum Arms
190. The Unconscious Upward Slide Into the Pitch
191. More on the Exorcism of And and The
192. Choreography – Rehearsing With a Metronome
193. Performing-Type Listening
194. Choir Practice as Experience of the Sacred
195. Preventing Fainting
196. The R Vowel
197. VLQs
198. Three /Four Time – Basic Rule of Thumb
199. Fruitless Grousing
200. Big Clean Sound
201. Spinning the Sound
202. When You’re Not There, You’re Missed
Table of Contents from 1 – 202
203. The Bloom Gesture
204. Rip it Up Fabulous Singing – At the Party After the Gig
205. More Spinning
206. Avoid Finale Sopranos and Altos
207. Eyeballing
208. Thought Balloon
209. Singing Outside of Your Range
210. Your Face is Not As Active As You Think
211. Cheek Wings
212. Choirs and Social Consciousness
213. Pancake Flip for Pitch
214. Refreshing the Thought
215. Where’s the Tonic Chord?
216. Why Choirs Sing Flat
217. Onion Skin Stacking
218. Oversinging
219. Staying Healthy for the Gig
220. Our Toddler Minds
221. Staying Conscious
222. The Believable Breath
223. Directors and Mockery
224. Keeping the Voice Supple
225. The Prayer Hands Slide
226. Singing in Klingon
227. Singing at Funerals
228. The Fifth is King
229. Our Singing Brain and Our Speaking Brain
230. Giant Beach Ball Breath
231. Choreography – Pitfalls of Rehearsing While Speaking the Words
232. Cheek Wings of the Mind
233. Power Poses – Rich Sound
234. The Front Row
235. Target Pitches
236. Cheering Up
237. The Wavering Pitch
238. Finger Under the Chin
239. Swing/Back Beat
240. One Thing
241. A Reminder About FBI
242. Reach For the Sky, Lion
243. Leadership with Integrity
244. Cheekbones Up
245. Nights When the Numbers Are Down
246. Intention and the Superpower of Noticing
247. The Game of Excellence
248. Ready Set Go!
249. Directors – Subtle Hand Signals
250. Soft Palate Stuff
251. Video Lessons in Humility
252. Collection
253. They Don’t Really Need Me There
254. Toes and Rose
255. Hand Signal for a Tall Throat

Magic Choral Trick #255 Hand Signal for a Tall Throat

Directors – here’s another one for you.

Because a raised palate – or Tall Throat – is not yet a habit for most of my chorus members, they need frequent reminders.

I needed a hand signal to communicate this during both rehearsals and performances. It needed to be subtle enough that the audience wouldn’t see it – but obvious enough that the chorus would catch it and adjust.

I use my left thumb and index finger – as if I were holding the ends of a toothpick. Then I place thumb and index finger against my throat. (By the way – the other left hand fingers are curled so that the view of the thumb and index finger is not obstructed)

If the audience’s attention isn’t going to be drawn to the move it needs to be fairly fleeting – and preferable while the right hand is directing in the same vicinity.

Of course, it helps when the chorus has everything memorized and is free to rivet their attention upon my every gesture.

Magic Choral Trick #254 Toes and Rose

When that curtain opens our first job is to let the audience know that we’re ready. Ready to entertain, ready to sing and ready to have fun right along with them.

If every one of us has the weight on the balls of our feet, with knees very slightly bent, we’re halfway there. By this I don’t mean that we should be up on our toes. Our heels should still be on the floor, but our weight needs to be forward.

( https://betterchoirs.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/magic-choral-trick-252-collection/  )

Of course, standing tall and proud with the chest floated upwards also helps. But the crowning touch is the face that goes along with the raised palate. One way the palate can be raised is to imagine that you are deeply breathing in the faint fragrance of a rose.

( https://betterchoirs.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/magic-choral-trick-250-soft-palate-stuff/ )

The face suddenly looks interested in a slightly excited way – as if you can hardly wait to start. (Very useful as an acting technique for people who are nervous.)

The signal I’ve been using for this recently at rehearsals is to point, as subtly as possible, to my toes, then my nose. This is to remind the chorus about Toes and Rose.

The audience ‘reads’ readiness in stance and facial expression. Their perception is then confirmed during the first note, because the vocal apparatus is positioned correctly.

Magic Choral Trick #253 They Don’t Really Need Me There

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had singers say to me “I won’t be there for ‘x’, but you don’t really need me – there’ll be lots of (whatever part they sing) there.”

Which is not quite the same communication as: “I won’t be there for ‘x’ because I have an important family function; I have to work; I’m sick;” or even “I really can’t handle mall, or lengthy standing gigs”. These sorts of reasons are nothing to worry about.

For each singer who assures me that they won’t be missed, it’s left up to me to interpret what’s really being said. There are a couple of possibilities.

1. There’s something else I want to do, but I feel a bit guilty about letting the chorus down (and would like your blessing on my absence.)

2. I’m letting you know that I won’t be there, even though I really don’t think you’ll notice – because I’m only one of many, and my contribution doesn’t matter.

This second one really concerns me.

This person hasn’t yet understood that as far as choirs go – the whole is much more than the sum of its parts.

This person doesn’t realize that if everyone who doesn’t consider themselves a musical leader stayed away, there’d be only a handful of singers left in any choir. So it would no longer be a choir – just a quartet or quintet.

This person is also telling me that they’re not working on their singing at home. Chorus members who are actively engaged in becoming better singers know that their presence, and therefore their absence, makes a difference. The people around them notice the difference, which affects the work ethic, the pride and the desire for unanimity within the group. One of the truly magical things about choirs is that if every single singer does the same thing at the same time, the effect is spectacular. The whole point of singing in a chorus is that everyone wants to create something that would be impossible alone. So every single voice is vitally important.

For example, at my men’s Barbershop chorus rehearsal this evening they were sustaining a final chord that was just fine. I then asked them to sing me that last chord again – but this time with a relaxed tongue, and with a raised soft palate. When every last man did this, the result was an amazingly expanded sound, with lots of resonance, and sounding as if there were twice as many guys singing. The larger the group, the more spectacular the difference when all the singers are perfectly in synch.

Every once in a while I need to remind my singers just how valuable each one of them is – and to let them know that when they’re not there, they are absolutely missed.

Magic Choral Trick #252 Collection

Collection is a riding term that refers to the gathering and holding of the horse’s energy in the hind quarters – the most powerful area of the body. The idea is to allow the horse to harness the maximum amount of springing energy. Not only does this set the horse up to jump well, but in dressage it gives the visual impression of great controlled strength.

We’re already standing on our hind quarters, but if our weight is rocked back on our heels our springing potential is absolutely nothing – and visually, we look like weak, vulnerable pushovers (It’s very easy to push someone over backwards if their weight is on their heels.)

To access the springing, physical strength in our bodies, and dynamic stage presence, the weight must be mostly on the balls of our feet and the knees very slightly bent. This creates that ‘ready for action’ feel, like when you’re guarding in basketball.

When every singer (yes I know – there are one or two in every group with whom everything new is a hard sell) does this, even this one small shift in weight makes a difference in the fullness and strength of the sound, and in the chorus’ appearance of readiness.

Magic Choral Trick #251 Video Lessons in Humility

Directors! Quick! Before it’s too late – video yourself!

Just watched a video of one of my choirs in performance…

My directing is still not as clean as it is in the Dreamland inside my head. Can’t believe that I’m still doing too much.

My tempi can be externally influenced. At this event they were bit too perky due to general excitement, and knowing that we were performing at the very end of a long concert, and the audience was tired. Guess I thought I was doing them a favour.

Clearly I need to be more insistent about presentation – both faces and Full Body Involvement.

And apparently I’m not as slim as I think – so I need to wake up and smell the coffee on this one and dress accordingly (and not have clothing being laterally stretched across the haunches)

Over the years I’ve heard countless coaches – dancing, speaking, and singing – talk about paring everything down to only what absolutely has to be there. Only when all the distraction and ‘noise’ is gone can we hear and see the message from the director as well as the chorus.

Even costume, hair and makeup has to be just enough to enhance – or the entire performance becomes all about the costume, the hair and the make up. (Though I do recall one time that I dressed in a more provocative than necessary outfit, for a conducting exam for which I knew I was unprepared. This of course is the conjuror’s art of distraction.)

So I pledge to do better.

I’m going keep cutting down on the flailing, quit trying to do it all for them, and just give the chorus small sized reminders.

And I’m going to keep tabs on what I look like from behind.

Bring on the video cameras.

Magic Choral Trick #250 Soft Palate Stuff

I was asked recently about how one goes about raising the soft palate.

As a soloist, I never thought about this much – but it really does make a difference to the sound of a chorus. And of course, the amount of difference is in direct co-relation to the number of singers who know how, then remember to do it.

If a technique is explained only one way, only a small percentage of the chorus will understand – so here’s a list of all the different ways I can think of to get singers to raise the soft palate

1. Create the feeling of stifling a yawn. That feeling in the back of the throat tells you that the soft palate is raised.

2. In the back of the mouth, create enough space for a hard boiled egg

3. Cheekbones Up
https://betterchoirs.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/magic-choral-trick-244-cheekbones-up/

4. Imagine that you’re breathing in the delicate scent of a rose or the aroma of something wonderful, baking next door. The sinuses open and the soft palate rises.

5. As you breathe in, imagine that the air is flowing in through your eyes

6. Think of an inner smile

7. Imagine that someone is telling you something scandalous. During that slow, shocked breath right before you whisper “Whaaaaat???!!!” the soft palate will rise.

8. Opening the eyes really wide as you take a breath will make the soft palate rise – but this won’t always be appropriate for the Presentation plan.

9. Think of opening the space at the very back and top of the nose – where it meets the throat.

10. Sing like an opera singer – but be careful not to make it a caricature (no oversized wobbly vibrato). Just be that opera singer singing a straight sound.

11. If these mental tricks fail, go to a mirror, open your mouth, drop the jaw, relax the tongue – and look at your relaxed throat (don’t say “Ah” yet). The little dangly thingy is attached to the part of the throat we want to raise. Now try saying “Ah” and see if everything rises. If for some reason it doesn’t, don’t give up. Just start moving the muscles at the back of the throat, and through trial and error, you’ll come across the right movement – the one that makes the dangly thing and the soft palate rise.

Now the real trick is to make this a habit.

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