Monthly Archives: February 2014

Magic Choral Trick #299 Audiences come to experience something – not to hear good music

I believe this is a quotation once again from Dr Jim Henry (Ambassadors of Harmony), and I must admit that when he first said it during a rehearsal I was watching, the classical musician in me was slightly outraged.

But he’s right. Since digital recordings, the internet and Youtube came into our lives, we can hear world class musicians playing and singing magnificently at any time of the day or night. At 3 or 4 a.m. when we can’t sleep, we can go to and listen to first rate performances in any genre.

So why go to a live performance?

Because it makes us feel alive. We can’t pause it or save it. Being part of the experience in real time brings our attention into the right here, and right now, and that always feels like more aliveness.

At a live concert, humanity is on display. It could all go brilliantly, or it could all fall to pieces and be an unmitigated disaster – and there’s something enthralling about being in the presence of this uncertainty.

However, the best performers know exactly what experience they want the audience to have, and plan and rehearse every emotion honestly until the communication is clear.

Many choruses and choirs feel that once the words and notes have been learned, and a few dynamics thrown in to add interest, the work is done.

This is a like saying that once an actor learns the lines and the blocking, he or she is ready to present the play. This is the point at which the actual acting begins. And the same is true for the performance of any song.

We put ourselves in an audience to be in the presence of joy, pathos, exhilaration, comedy, sadness or to be spiritually uplifted. We’re there to experience more humanity than we would normally feel on a regular night in our week.

Once we get all the technical aspects of a song handled, the joy of communicating and sharing our humanity needs to be our ultimate goal. When this starts to happen, word will spread and your auditoriums will start to fill up with people wanting to experience this with you.

Magic Choral Trick #298 Johnny One Note

One of the very best synchronization tricks I know

Work the song phrase by phrase, with everyone singing the words on only one note. This way, it’s a simple matter to work on word stress, speech rhythm, rubato, and target vowels and their diphthong resolutions.

It’s simple because without the melody and harmony, the synchronization issues become obvious to everyone.

It’s especially effective if the chorus is standing in 4X4 arrangement on the floor (rather than on the risers), with one part on each side of the rectangle, facing in to where the director is standing in the middle

With my Men’s chorus last night I also had a lot of success with adding hand signals for the formed target vowels. For the word ‘time’ I used The Claw:  for the ‘Ah’ vowel, pulled it away from the mouth as the note was sustained, then we all quickly and smoothly turned our hands around for the quick ‘eem’ and cut off.

When there’s only one note being sung, everyone can hear much more clearly what needs to happen.

Once each phrase has been worked, then the joins between them can be cleaned up.

It’s always a little tricky when melody and harmony are added back into the equation. The basses will once again feel that they need a bit more time to move those low notes around – but this can usually be helped by singing with a headier tone.

The more difficult vocal technique spots will be obvious immediately – but now at least everyone has a template in their head of what great synchronization should feel like.

Magic Choral Trick #297 Show It, Then Sing About It

Got a new Presentation phrase from this month’s BHS Harmonizer magazine.

“Show it, then sing about it.” This is another way to describe ‘telegraphing’ – creating the next phrase’s emotion near the end of the phrase that’s being sung. This happens in normal conversation all the time:

“I’m going to be driving all the kids to the movie on Saturday (insert shocked, surprised face here) Oh my goodness! I forgot that I have that gig! I won’t be able to drive them!”

As the thought occurs, the face shows the shock – then we say what it is that we’ve just thought about. In order for a song to be believable, this process gets turned around a little. We need to establish the emotion of a phrase, then create that emotion for ourselves at the end, or just before the end of the previous phrase – as if that thought had just occurred to us.

As a director, I’m used to constantly thinking a note or a phrase ahead – giving reminder cues to the chorus in time for the singers to see and react to them. But a singer’s brain is filled with so many other elements, that thinking ahead tends to get lost in the shuffle – especially if there’s a director out in front who’s handling that aspect. However, with drill, this too can become just another good singing habit.

This could be rehearsed in the warm up on a vowel/technique exercise. Just before coming to the first breathing spot, a sign is held up (wistful, frightened, contented) and faces all change together before the breath is even taken. The next phrase is sung with that emotion – until near the end, before the breath – when the next sign is held up. This may have to be done in slow motion for a while.

Magic Choral Trick #296 Sing the vowel – not the mouth shape

What’s going on in your mind is far more important than specific mouth shapes.

I find that if everyone is very clear about exactly what vowel the group should be thinking, then a completely relaxed, neutral mouth shape will allow the words to be crystal clear, and the sound well blended.

The synchronization will also be better because jaw hinges will not be moving different distances, and different speeds.

This technique works best when the chorus already understands the concept of target vowels, and diphthong/resolution vowels, and the importance of a relaxed tongue during the singing of the longer, initial (target) vowel.

Light = lah________eat

Day = Deh_________ee

Rose = Ro_________ooze

A high soft palate will also allow more resonance – making it unnecessary to open the mouth wide.

Eventually, when the group gets a sense of how little movement is necessary, I do allow them to open up more in the forte sections at the climax of the song.

When we train our minds to focus on the clarity of the vowel, the group’s sound is rich, resonant, blended and synchronized.

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