Monthly Archives: April 2014

Magic Choral Trick #303 Heartstring Pull

Here’s a new trick I thought up the other day as I was remembering the pullstring on a talking doll I once had. I actually came across a Barbie once – in Italy – who, when you pulled the cord on the back of her neck said “Math is hard”. Nuff said.

Imagine that you have a cord like this, but that you can pull it out and away from yourself – from the middle of your chest. You need to really feel the resistance in order for this trick to work.

Now, every time you sing an emotion word that evokes something a little more intense, like ‘heart’ or ‘pain’, pull this cord out and away from yourself for the full duration of the note.

I found when I tried this with my women’s chorus the other night that they sang the word with more emotion, and more artistry while they were pulling the cord.

Asking a group for more emotion on a particular word invites some singers to accent the note, and others to swoop up into the pitch. This eliminates both problems. With this action, we’re bypassing the conscious mind (where all the small highly personalized decisions are made) and speaking directly to the Limbic Brain.

Of course this will need to be drilled for a while because like so many other physical tricks, we can’t use it on stage. Unless of course, you’re a small group from my men’s chorus who entertained us all at a party by performing a song using as many of my Magic Choral Trick actions as they could.

Magic Choral Trick #302 Lyric Lists

Some songs are just full of lists. Songs like I Can’t Get Started, and I’ll Be Seeing You

So that the interpretation doesn’t come across like a grocery list, every item needs to be considered separately, and as if you’d just thought of it. Each item sheds a slightly different light on the theme of the lyrics.

As the list builds it explains more clearly the main message of the song.

Here are the first stanzas of I Can’t Get Started, and I’ll Be Seeing You, with a possible interpretation of each item in their lists.

I Can’t Get Started

I’ve flown around the world in a plane – I’m comfortably wealthy, and independent enough that I can travel extensively

I’ve settled revolutions in Spain – I have great political wisdom and power, and very important people listen to me. I’m sure of myself, but somewhat humble

The north pole I have charted – I’m educated, and that education means that I’m able to make important scientific contributions to society. I’m used to being taken seriously

But I can’t get started with you – heartbreakingly frustrating. Even though I have money, power, education and respect – in fact, all the things I was told would bring me happiness – you won’t pay any attention to me.

I’ll Be Seeing You

If we decide ahead of time that our interpretation of this song is going to be from the point of view of a newly drafted soldier on a train that’s leaving the platform where his sweetheart is waving good-bye, each of these list items takes on a special poignancy.

I’ll Be Seeing You in all the old familiar places that this heart of mine embraces all day through – I won’t be with you, but all day every day my heart and mind will be filled with the images of us together in all our special places

In that small café – where we often met for quiet, intimate conversations

The park across the way – where we strolled hand in hand, laughing and being goofy

The children’s carousel – where we’d stand together watching the children playing, and thinking of a time when we might have children of our own

The chestnut tree – where we carved our initials inside a heart, and where we had picnics on slow warm summer days

The wishing well – where together we made wishes about our future together, and where, after I was drafted we wished that the war would end soon, and we’d be together again, making our dreams come true.

It doesn’t really matter what the interpretation of each list item is, as long as it’s something the chorus can agree upon, or at least understand. As soon as there’s a specific image for a phrase, it affects not only the facial presentation, but also the vocal colour.

There’s no need to be specific about exactly what constitutes a ‘tender’ sound and facial expression if everyone is visualizing something tender.

It’s  easy to get caught up with all the technical aspects of a performance, which of course are really important and all need to be in good shape. But so often we just run out of time to ‘add’ the interpretation.

I once had a vocal coach who wouldn’t let me even learn the notes of a song before I’d memorized the lyrics, felt how the words should sit in the mouth, and understood the emotion of each phrase.

In a list song, every item on that list is there for a reason and can enhance the power of the message of the song.

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