Monthly Archives: November 2013

Magic Choral Trick #290 Peace and Joy and Getting Lost in a Chord

The benefit concert I do every year with Big Choir is over.

The audience that was there had had to be very determined about getting tickets. This year the ticket line up, back in September, began at 3:10 a.m. for a 10:00 a.m. box office opening. We were sold out in 50 minutes – slower than last year’s 45 minutes – because it was decided to hold back the online and phone sales by half an hour this year to give the all the people who lined up a chance.

So what is the magic formula? I truly wish that I knew. I think we’re all a bit mystified – but perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the night always has an unfettered joy about it. Although it’s not a religious concert per se – faith and joy are present in every single act in this family oriented variety show. Many people tell us that this show always marks the start of their Christmas.

And a big part of that unfettered joy is found in the sound and on the faces of the 100 singers in the choir as they ring those big, spinning chords. There’s not much in this world that feels any better than losing yourself inside that many overtones. And when you add lyrics that everyone can stand behind – it’s kind of like Heaven.

Those of us in the Northern hemisphere are now fully engulfed in the long hours of darkness, and the coldness and the snow and sleet – so that even the toughest among us can use a little Heaven.

Magic Choral Trick #289 Helium Head

Stand normally.

Imagine that your head is filled with Helium – or if you can’t get past what that might do to your voice – that there’s a large helium balloon attached to the crown of your head.

As you imagine your head being lifted, allow the head to float upwards. If you keep imagining the balloon lifting you, you’ll feel the stretch, and the release of tension in the neck and shoulders, then the elongation in the spine.

If you stay with this physical image for awhile, then allow yourself to sink down into ‘normal’ position, you get an idea of toll that gravity, and life’s disillusionments have taken on our posture.

All by itself this one improves the colour and depth of the sound – but in combination with ‘Toes and Rose’ it makes a powerful pre-first note ritual. Keeping in mind that audiences listen about 50% with their eyes, this grouping of habits will have them impressed even before the first chord rings out.

(Here’s Toes and Rose)

Magic Choral Trick #288 Opposite Ear Holding

Got this one from a ‘Touch For Health’ course I once took. One of the handouts was a sheet of 12 Energy Balancing exercises for when you wake up in the morning.

A number of these were geared towards encouraging the two halves of your brain to talk to one another – which helps with various brain functions, but in particular, staying in rhythm.

Apparently babies who don’t cross crawl have a tougher time as musicians later in life, because the sense of rhythm is developed by cross crawling. The movement of the left knee with the right hand, and the right knee with the left hand helps babies’ left and right brain hemispheres communicate with one another.

So when one of my groups was having difficulty keeping eighth notes synchronized, I had each singer hold the right ear with the left hand, and the left ear with the right hand – and Ta – Dah! Much more synchronized eighth notes!

Of course, as with all stage inappropriate physical tricks, the feeling of cross holding the ears needs to be incorporated into body memory during warm up, and at any time during rehearsal when synchronization needs to be worked.

Magic Choral Trick #287 The Claw

Been using this one a lot recently with exciting results.

On any sustained, formed vowel – like an ah, oh, ay, or an ee, I have the singers make a claw with one hand, and hold it directly in front of the mouth. The hand shape is the same one you’d use if you were pretending to be a scary lion – except that the curved fingers are facing towards your mouth.

If you’ve never pretended to be a lion, but know a little about baseball, it’s also pretty close to the hand position for throwing a knuckle ball (again with fingers towards the mouth).

This works very well on the ends of phrases to help the chorus really lock in a big, bright chord – especially if in addition to the claw, the singers also think slightly nasty/mean thoughts.

As with many other physical techniques that can’t be used on the performance stage, once the singers have learned how they feel, and once the effect has been incorporated into body memory, we can get the same results when I use a more subtle version in front of them as they sing.

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