Monthly Archives: September 2014

Magic Choral Trick #313 The Incredible Power of Spontaneous Song

This one isn’t really a trick – just something that needs to be recognized by everyone with the courage to sing, and by everyone who encourages others to sing.

Yesterday I was at the Celebration of Life for a great lady who lived a long and full life – the Mom of a number of my singing friends.

I was up at the front with the choir of about 50 singers as we all stood as the family filed in. The family’s pianist friend played a few hymns as the procession continued, but as he began Let There Be Peace on Earth, the choir could no longer contain themselves, and as if by design, everyone began to hum the melody. The result was a warm, rich sound-homage to this wonderful lady’s legacy and an expression of comfort to the grieving family.

Then at the end of the service as everyone was filing out, the pianist (and violist) once again played one hymn after another, and the choir, then the congregation began spontaneously to sing, quietly at first – and then with no holds barred as we finished with Amazing Grace.

The spontaneity of this moment was comforting and powerful and majestic and I will never forget how it felt.

When we teach people to sing we are helping them to have the courage to express intense emotion freely, with the raw humanity that we all so desperately need when times get tough.

Magic Choral Trick #312 Bubbling – The Fast Warm Up

A terrific way to warm up a group really quickly – after they’ve done a few physical loosening up exercises. (I’ll post some of these later)

Also known as the Lip Roll, or the Lip Trill, Bubbling is one of the fastest ways of placing the voice in a relaxed, forward position.

A free, forward placement gives us the most clear, focused sound and prevents tension from building up in the throat. In fact, when the voice gets a bit tired or strained, this is a great way to remind the voice about where it feels most relaxed.

In addition to this, when everyone is using this same placement, blend and resonance are noticeably improved. More ‘ping’ in the sound, and for some strange reason it also helps to fix synchronization issues.

Bubbling scales, or for more fun – rounds like Row Row Row Your Boat, Frere Jacques and Three Blind Mice are a great way to warm up quickly and effectively. However, any song or exercise will do if the Bubbling is sustained for a few minutes.

When a phrase is lacklustre or messy I get my singers to Bubble/Lip Roll the phrase, all together, then 2 parts at a time.

Then when we go back to singing the words, the synchronization is miraculously cleaner, and the sound is clearer and more resonant.

Because written descriptions of this technique are sometimes not enough – here’s a youtube clip to demonstrate…

Magic Choral Trick #311 Shifting the Chorus Culture

As we Northern Hemisphere folks head back to our chorus and choir rehearsals this week we are given an opportunity to review our dreams and aspirations for our groups – and to consider what would make our weekly experience even more fun.

However, even though the group’s leadership – the director or music team – may have a shift they’d like to make, nothing will happen until the chorus decides as a unit that this is something they’d like to do.

It’s useful to have the music team sit down and talk about which Cultural Shifts we’d like to see this season. And by Cultural Shifts, I mean anything at all to do with chorus life that will make the experience more joyful and positive. The shift can be something technical, like perfecting the group’s staggered breathing, so that no one ever, ever again snatches a breath between words or syllables – or it can be some off-riser cultural agreement, like deciding to complain only to those with the authority to solve a particular musical, or social problem. It might even be the decision to incorporate more of a certain type of repertoire – and to become the chorus that’s really good at it.

All change requires agreement. In my experience, the top down demanding of change never works in a group where people gather to escape all the other ‘top down demanding’ in their lives.

This is one of the beauties of competition. When we look over and see that the chorus that just placed ahead of us has enacted a particular change that won them their spot – there’s no problem with motivating our own chorus to shift a specific behaviour.

As a director I prefer to just calmly keep presenting and presenting (and presenting and presenting) the opportunity that a specific shift would create, and sooner or later somebody jumps on board. When that first person jumps on board, they inspire all the others. And sooner or later, even those who might originally have argued against the change notice the fun that’s being had and want to be a part of it all.

Directors – all you need is the guts to be the Lone Nut, and the patience to wait for your First Follower….

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