Monthly Archives: February 2015

Magic Choral Trick #328 An Opportunity to Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve

Wearing your heart on your sleeve requires regular practice.

From an early age we learn that effusiveness, and being exuberant can lead to being stomped on, rebuffed, mocked and ridiculed.

So gradually – one incident at a time, we shut down, become too cool to care, and otherwise protect our hearts and keep them safely out of reach. One incident at a time we stifle our self expression, until we’re just a shadow of our real selves. Rigid – because we’ve been taught, and we now believe, that ridicule is the worst thing that can happen to us.

But then we become Barbershoppers and we are expected to feel and communicate every nuanced emotion of a song. Something begins to thaw.

It takes us a while to realize that in the Barbershop world, not only is it safe to be emotional – it’s demanded by our presentation teams, coaches, judges – and our audiences. It’s not enough to sing well and move well – we need to be in emotional synch with our neighbours – and the more emotion, the better.

There’s something really satisfying about hearing and seeing real emotion in the important words in a phrase. We believe the singer – as if it’s the first time these words have been spoken.

For example in the song ‘I’m Afraid the Masquerade is Over’, one of the lines is “….and the thrill is gone, when your lips meet mine.” When I asked my chorus to think about the implications of that one word ‘gone’ as they were singing it – the lost love, intimacy and trust – the tone colour changed completely and you could hear the hollowness of the disappointment. Such a richer emotional experience. And that was just one word.

Fear of telling people how we really feel is such a normal part of everyday ‘civilized’ life, that it becomes difficult to express even the wonderfully positive stuff. It takes practice.

When that practice is not only tolerated – but encouraged once a week at chorus rehearsal, something begins to free up. Exuberant self expression begins to leak out into other areas of our lives, where it inspires others to do the same. And with more exuberance comes a richer life experience.

Even my non Barbershop choirs are starting to notice how much more fun it is to wear your heart openly and proudly on your sleeve.

Magic Choral Trick #327 More About the Value of Unison Warm Ups

Magic Choral Trick #26 was about singing warm ups in unison to help singers all lock in to the same vowel – which, along with tuning, is one of the absolute basics of great choral sound.

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However, there are a couple more layers to this.

Unison singing forces us to listen.

By the end of a work day we’ve been on the receiving end of about 10 hours of instructions, conversation, media and work related sound. And the more tired we get, the more we tend to just shut it out and stop paying attention.

Then we arrive at chorus rehearsal, where we may think we’re giving our full effort and attention – but it could be that our day’s fog filter is still in place.

I find that unison singing – because it’s an all or nothing kind of activity – blows away that fog filter. Allegedly unison singing sounds and feels truly awful when compared with the real thing. We notice very quickly when the group is out of tune and unsychronized. Unison singing that has all voices rhythmically synchronized, and  locked in to the same sound is vibrant, thrilling and energizing – and once experienced is like a drug that keeps you wanting more.

The chorus wakes up – and every singer now wants to experience that same unison thrill with his or her own section. Sectionals halfway through rehearsal tend to reinforce this energizing unison feeling.

But there’s another layer underneath this.

Unison singing reinforces our awareness of our shared humanity. We’ve come from different places and different experiences during the preceding week – but here we are together again as a unit. We are individuals, but we are not alone – and we’re part of something bigger and more magnificent than we could accomplish on our own.

Once the unison has worked this magic, we’re ready to move on to the intensity and richness of harmony.

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