Monthly Archives: March 2014

Magic Choral Trick #301 Concentric Circles

Introduced to my women’s chorus last week by our coach Wendy McCoole – this is a terrific tool for bumping up the presentation level of a song.

Of course, this only works well when the song is memorized. (For choirs that use music even working one phrase at a time like this will make a difference)

Two concentric circles:

The inside one facing outwards, and the outside one facing inwards. Equal number of people in each circle.

Every person sings directly to the person opposite them in the other circle.

1. Try to perform with more emotion than the person opposite
2. After a couple of phrases, the outside circle people move one place to the left
and sing the next couple of phrases to their new partners opposite
3. If there’s a big enough space for this exercise, you’ll be able to hear
your partner well enough to sing as if the song was just a duet for the
two of you

I tried this also with my men’s chorus – with the same result as with the women – much, much more emotional involvement in both face and body from everyone, but it was especially noticeable with the people who are usually the most restrained.

There were some tears with the women, and initially some hamming it up from the men. In our culture we tend to shy away from expressing emotion to one another, so the exercise was an emotional stretch for both groups. However, its difficulty makes it worth doing, and the power of the result speaks for itself.

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Magic Choral Trick #300 Change One Thing

There will be times when everything that you and your chorus are doing feels effortless, and as if that effortlessness, now achieved, will go on forever.

And then it doesn’t. Cause that’s a given. Stuff happens.

At this point we spend a little time being shell shocked, and then tend to wallow a bit in our new misery. That’s perfectly normal – but sooner or later we figure out that wallowing isn’t actually as much fun as shifting our game pieces around and coming up with a brand new strategy.

It doesn’t have to be something big and overwhelming, but it almost always means letting go of a previously firmly held belief. Beliefs like:

– Now that we’ve lost so and so as a member we won’t sing well

– We only sound great when circumstances are exactly the same as the last time we sounded great.

– We reached our greatness ceiling and now we’re on our way back down.

Well – ain’t necessarily so, unless the wallowing path is the one we’ve all decided to choose as a group.

So how do we break out of the funk?

By Changing One Thing. And it truly does not matter how long it takes, because working diligently and whole heartedly on one thing that improves the situation is just a lot more fun than wallowing. When people are having more fun, they sing better, and the sound and the group experience is more nourishing for all of us.

One small success begets the next, and the next and the next.

Years ago when my women’s chorus was consistently placing anywhere from 2nd to 5th at our regional competitions, I decided to change one thing. We worked for a whole year on cleaning up the ‘e’ vowel, and making it more resonant. When that began to produce consistently good results, the chorus became eager to tackle all the other formed vowels – then the unformed vowels – then the diphthong resolutions….. and then, and then….

Chorus life is like riding on the ocean’s crests and troughs – and Changing One Thing can make the difference between getting swamped, or riding the next crest.

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