Monthly Archives: January 2015

Magic Choral Trick #326 Clarions, Resonants and Drivers

Thanks to Sue Kember, Director of the ScotianAires Chorus for working this magic at her Harmony Inc workshop.

Organizing standing position by voice type:

Clarions – clear, bell-like and usually fairly small voices

Resonants – rich voices that blend well. Not likely to pop out of the texture regardless of where they’re standing.

Drivers – usually bigger, well focused voices. Need to stand behind the others so that they don’t constantly feel that they have to hold back in order to blend.

Directors and Music Team – you may already know many of the voices in your chorus, in which case you’ll need less time than we used last night for my women’s chorus.

You won’t necessarily get an accurate picture of a singer’s production style if they’re put on the spot and have to sing alone in front of the chorus – so what I did last night was to bring down one row at a time off the risers and walk along listening to each singer as they sang Mary Had a Little Lamb. As I passed each one, I gave them a number 1 for Clarions, 2 for Resonants and 3 for Drivers.

Once I’d listened down the whole row, they went and stood in the designated spot for their voice type – away from the risers.

Then I brought down the next row and the next and so on until I’d categorized all the singers.

There were about the right number of Clarions for the front row, then two rows of Resonants, then finally, about the right number of Drivers for the back row.

We then sang the same song as we’d been working on just prior to doing this exercise.

Wow! Richer sound, more blended, and what seemed to be effortless volume.

I know that when Sue (Kember) did this exercise with us in the fall I found it so much easier to sing between two other Clarions. Usually my fairly small voice feels a bit lost in a group, but when I was standing between two other people with a similar voice type, it felt as if I were part of a powerhouse!

Magic Choral Trick #325 You Matter, You Really Matter

An interesting situation has come up with one of my groups.

We have a performance scheduled for the end of this month, which we’ve been discussing since well before Christmas.

In the middle of last week, I asked for a firm number of people who’d be there, and almost everyone indicated that they would be.

However, I’ve just discovered that there’s a mandatory event on the same day, in another city that affects quite a few of them.

They were told about this conflicting event two days before our last rehearsal.

Couple of interesting points here.

First of all – though they’d been told about this conflicting, mandatory event two days earlier, not one of them remembered it when I asked at rehearsal about attendance.

Second – I was emailed by only one choir member to say that she wouldn’t be at the performance after all.

I certainly understand forgetting and messing up our scheduling life – it’s this second point that concerns me.

I truly don’t think that the singers neglected to let me know about their impending absence out of fear or disrespect. Never seen any sign of either of those with members of this great group of people.

So what is it?

I’ve seen this often in amateur singing groups. Some of the individual singers (actually, a shocking number) think that they don’t matter, and that their voices will not be missed. They are so convinced of this that they assume that no one will notice their absence – even for a performance. And they’re so sure of how little they matter that they don’t mention ahead of time that they won’t be at rehearsal, or at a gig.

How do we fix this?

This is much less of a problem with my women’s Barbershop chorus. Harmony Inc. has already done a wonderful job of educating its membership about the value of each singer. The slogan “Ordinary women, making extraordinary music” has been well imprinted now on the brains and DNA of all Harmony Inc. members.

What makes amateur singing groups so rewarding and miraculous is that a group of people who are not soloists, and not necessarily musical experts can create together great artistry. Artistry that wouldn’t be possible individually.

So clearly, the fix is in educating the members of this particular group about the importance of every singer. Reminding them about the artistry they’ve already achieved, because they’ve worked together, would be a good start.

Each choir member needs to realize that they matter. They really matter. As a director, it’s my job to keep reminding them, and having them notice when something musically wonderful happens because of their teamwork.

Magic Choral Trick #324 More About the ‘ee’ Vowel

If you’re new to caring deeply about vowels, the long ‘e’ (‘ee’) is the place to start.

And for those of you who read my original post back in November 2011, this is a gentle reminder.

If you say ‘ee’ to yourself a few times and pay attention to what your tongue is up to, you’ll notice that it tightens, and then tightens some more – because in English, ‘ee’ is not just ‘ee’. There’s always a ‘yuh’ at the back end of the vowel, and our tongues, knowing this, gradually tense up, then lurch into the full stoppage that is the ‘y’.

This not only makes it difficult to sustain high notes (your tongue is gradually choking you) but the tension tends to create flatness in the pitch, and harshness in the tone.

Typically the tension when singing an ‘ee’ vowel will be felt as tightness in the back third of the tongue.

However, as much as these are physical symptoms, the fix is in the retraining of the mind. First, you need to become conscious of the vowel every time you sing it. This step alone can take a chorus months or even years to master. But the Director can assist with this initially by having a hand signal to remind singers to keep this particular vowel tall and relaxed.

I drill vowels during warm up, and have the chorus use the same vowel-specific hand gestures as I use. This imprints the vowel, and the way to sing it, more quickly than having me be the only one using the signals.

These three hints about singing ‘ee’ are from my original post:

1. First of all, ‘ee’ needs to be sung through the width/shape of ‘eu’ as in the French word ‘peu’
2. The tongue needs to be relaxed forward (think stupid stupid stupid) so that the tip of the tongue touches the bottom of the back of the lower front teeth (at the gum line)
3. The back teeth need to be apart – about the distance of a tic tac on its end. I sometimes ask the singers to stick a finger into the side of their cheek – right where the back teeth meet – to keep the teeth apart.

The major mental task here is to think of only the first part of the sound as you are sustaining the ‘ee’ – and not allow the thought of the ‘yuh’ until the cut off.

Here’s the original post:

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