Monthly Archives: April 2015

Magic Choral Trick #331 Reining in the Galloping Uptune

Having the chorus work with a metronome is a great idea when the uptune is moving sluggishly.

However, when the song starts to run wild, and race ahead, there are a couple of tricks that I use.

Once upon a time my women’s chorus was on the contest stage and they decided as a collective entity that the song should accelerate wildly – beyond any tempo we’d ever rehearsed. At that point I was not as wily as I am now, and there was nothing I could do but smile at them lovingly and hope it would all be over soon.

The main reason for rushing is the short changing of note time values – in the middle as well as at the ends of phrases. When we short change the last note of our phrases, the ear picks up what it thinks is a new tempo – and new again at the end of every shortchanged phrase.

For my women’s chorus, fortunately the song that had careened out of control had an easy fix for subsequent performances.

There was so much choreography that they were just not paying attention to the number of beats that the last notes of the phrases needed to have – so all I had to do was subtly count off beats for them on my fingers (held close to my chest and out of audience view of course.) The fact that they had lived through the consequences of not counting meant that all eyes were riveted on that finger count.

Syncopated spots can be more of a challenge though.

For example, my men’s chorus is doing Razzle Dazzle right now, and are tempted to rush, right out of the starting gate. (Ever notice how many rushing metaphors have to do with horses?)

The problem there is the syncopation – eighth note, quarter note, eighth note, half note. (Ti Tah Ti Tah-ah)

“Give ‘em the old…”

‘Em’ and ‘old’ both want to rush. And these words come into the song so frequently that the possibility for disaster is huge.

What worked really well for me last night was to ask the guys to sing a slight crescendo into the second syllable of these one syllable words. Yes, I know that sounds foolish – but only to the conscious mind.

Their subconscious minds knew exactly what to do – and not only were they now singing the phrase in time, but they were also singing it much more on the vowels, and much more legato. Actually, even when rushing is not an issue, leaning into the second syllable of one syllable words can help get rid of choppiness.

I made up my own hand signal for ‘lean into the second syllable’ which will now become part of my sign language repertoire.

Now I guess we need to drill.

Magic Choral Trick #330 When Even Really Good Learning Tracks Aren’t Enough

Sometimes the Learning Tracks, especially for the uptunes, aren’t quite slow enough for the chorus members to get a solid feel for the harmony – or even for the single line pitches in fast sections.

Someday, someone out there will develop an easy to use sound file program with which you can slow down short sections, then repeat and repeat these few bars at gradually increased tempi until they’re learned really well.

However, until then Directors will need to spend their Sunday evenings making slo mo sound files of the trouble spots that fly by too quickly on the Learning Track.

This can be done by recording the section being played slowly on the piano (then emailing out the recording) or by emailing out a recorded Finale file.

And though it’s labour intensive, and I have yet to figure out how to do it, Audacity (free downloadable recording software) allows you to slow down sound files, but retain the pitch. So that’s certainly a useful option.

It’s always a toss up when we’re commissioning someone to do a learning track for us for an uptune. Do we go with the tempo at which we want to perform the song, so that the tempo and feel of the song will be solidly learned by the singers? Or do we ask for a slower sound file so that the notes will be learned cleanly?

Recently we’ve been choosing to have the learning tracks at a slightly slower tempo, and then when the notes are learned I ask the chorus to begin singing their parts along with a metronome – set at the tempo we’ll want to perform the song.

When I first began directing, metronomes in the homes of my singers were few and far between. Nowadays many of my singers have free downloadable metronome apps on their phones.

Not a day goes by when I don’t bless these technological advances. The days of banging out notes are mercifully long gone, and rehearsals that focus on great sound, musicality and presentation are now so much more fun!!

Magic Choral Trick #329 Whiteboard Marker

We learned this trick/imagery recently from Village Vocal Chord director Jeanne O’Connor – and it’s been very useful for reminding singers to focus on a continuous wall of sound.

Imagine that there’s a whiteboard in front of you

Now take an imaginary black marker, and place the tip against the whiteboard. (It’s important to actually mime this as everyone is imprinting the feeling.)

Sing a phrase from a song, and as you do, mime drawing a solid line across the white board. There will be fewer energy leaks in the sound. In fact, if everyone is actually doing the exercise, and not just thinking about doing the exercise, the phrase will be much smoother and more legato.

I find it helps if the singers watch their hands (not me) as they do this.

This is similar to the Toilet Paper Breath Gauge exercise – but the benefit of this one is that you can also incorporate musical ‘blooms’ in the sustained pitches just by having the singers draw a little hill as part of their solid black line.

In case you are curious, or don’t remember the Toilet Paper Breath Gauge…

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