Monthly Archives: January 2014
1. Use technology. Record yourself – then listen to the recording and assess what you could be doing better. Like our speaking voices, our singing never sounds the way we think it does – so we don’t know what we’re working with until we hear ourselves recorded. Please try not to be discouraged – almost nobody likes what they hear initially when they first record themselves. Work regularly with your Korg Chromatic Tuner https://betterchoirs.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/magic-choral-trick-21-the-korg-chromatic-tuner/ and www.metronomeonline.com Care about improving your ability to sing in tune, and in time.
2. Do some vocal technique, even 5 – 10 minutes every day. Legato exercises on one clean target vowel at a time https://betterchoirs.wordpress.com/2011/11/22/magic-choral-trick-5-target-vowels/ Something simple, like half scales, up and down:
C D E F G F E D C, then D flat E flat F G flat A flat G flat F E flat D flat, then D E F# G A G F# E D…
Also – recognize that your body is your instrument, and treat it well.
3. When you’re given learning tools – learning sound files, or choreography notes or video – use them.
4. When you have a concern or complaint, mention it only to someone who can do something about it. Dissent about even relatively minor things can infect a chorus quickly, even fatally, if complaints are passed around from one willing ear to the next – with no intent to follow up and fix the problem. It takes courage to actually take steps to shift this mindset – and to take an issue directly to the person assigned to handling that facet of chorus life. Practise your bravery (Thanks to my sister Maeve for this phrase, which she invented to encourage her sons)
5. Give more of yourself than is expected, and your chorus experience will be richer than you expected.
When I ask for precision at the onset of a phrase I don’t often get what I want. If the word begins with a vowel, I get many enthusiastic glottal attacks, all at slightly different times, and generally a few well meaning accents that start slightly below the note, then slide up.
I had to find a different way of asking for what I really mean.
Recently I’ve been asking for Pouffy Onset vowels – that is, vowels that are initiated by a puff of slightly breathy airiness. Not only does this prevent the glottal attacks, but it also improves synchronization by giving a slightly fuzzier defining edge to the sound. I know this sounds like a paradox, but the fuzzy edge means that all of the singers for whom ‘right now’ is generally understood to mean ‘some time around now’ can glide in and not disrupt the front end synchronization.
The Pouffy Onset also works with vowel blend beginnings, like ‘with’ (oo – ihth) and ‘you’ (ih – oo). In the case of the ‘y’ in the word ‘you’ the pouffiness helps prevent the lurch and thrust of that great hunk of meat that is the tongue.
The Pouffy Onset worked beautifully last night for my men’s chorus on the last word – ‘you’ of Heart of My Heart. Been wondering for years how to fix that.
I have generally found that singers truly want to do what I’m asking for – I just need to ask in many different ways so that each singer understands the message. In order to do this I’ve had to get coaching, or to think up a solution on my own. Either way, the two real magic tricks are:
Drill it till everyone understands
Develop a subtle hand signal (so that we need never speak of these things again)
1. Your own singing.
When you improve your own tuning, placement, phrasing, legato, vocal and emotional range, you will inspire your singers to do the same. You will be able to demonstrate more clearly exactly what you expect from them, and you will reinforce the ideal that change and improvement can become the cultural norm for your chorus. Evolution requires stepping up your own game. The status quo leads only to deterioration (like those long series of repeated notes in a bass line that without refreshed thinking go flatter and flatter.)
2. Know the music better than your singers.
Being really prepared to rehearse a song feels terrific. When you’ve already worked out how to solve the technical and emotional challenges – and you know exactly where the action of the song is going, it’s exhilarating for your singers. Not a minute of rehearsal time gets wasted – and the night’s work sends everyone home feeling like it was an evening well spent.
3. Back off the directing
I keep needing to learn this lesson over and over and over. When I’m out in front doing it all for them, some part of the chorus’ collective mind believes that they’re the ones emoting, crescendoing, diminuendoing and energizing the phrases right to the end.
I find that once the notes and interpretation have been learned, the more I back off, and show only what they need (starts, stops, diphthong resolutions…) the more responsibility the singers take for performing the songs as we’ve rehearsed them. They think more, remember more and ultimately are much more invested in the performance.
This doesn’t happen overnight. Choirs need to be weaned off our overdirecting – but it will lead to a richer experience for both director and chorus. And if they’re not used to seeing too much from us, then when we really need to get their attention during a performance, it’s much easier.
4. Nipping social problems in the bud.
Social problems within the chorus all have the same root – mismatched sets of behavioural expectations.
When groups of people with very different backgrounds – not to mention inhabiting different places along the autism spectrum – get together, the range of social expectations can be huge. Some people expect continuous social interaction, some expect none – at least, on the risers. Some people expect that I want to have private conversations with them before, during and after every rehearsal. Some people have a highly developed sense of tact, and out of respect, almost never start a conversation with me. Some people feel that it’s ok to correct people all around them – and some would never dream of criticizing another singer.
In almost any group, there are bound to be enough different sorts of behaviours to drive everyone nuts.
Two things help. First – reminding the chorus that sooner or later, we’re all jerks, and every one of us needs people to cut us some slack. And second – keeping everyone so incredibly challenged and busy that they have no time to get on one another’s nerves (which hearkens back to being prepared to run a very tight rehearsal)
Be coachable. Be prepared to try new things.