Monthly Archives: January 2017

Magic Choral Trick #361 How Much Chatter is Too Much?

The happy chatter of choral singers getting up from their chairs

Cheerful discussions as they sit down again

Hilarity as they move from one standing formation to another

Many helpful suggestions to one another as people find the sheet music for the next piece.

So the question is – does this need to be stomped on, or is it just a side effect of people having fun?

The first part of the answer to that depends entirely on what the group’s goals are.

For example – a church choir needs to be able lead the hymns on Sunday, and perform one or two anthems well. In addition to that, they’ll need to lay the groundwork for similar success for a couple of weeks hence. If this can all happen to the satisfaction of choir, director and congregation even with a bit of chat at rehearsal – so be it.

A competitive chorus just weeks away from their competition may need gentle reminders of how much better they’ll feel on the contest stage if they focus now, and are really well prepared.

The second part of the answer is that no matter what the group or their goals, having the director run a tight rehearsal magically cuts down on a lot of chatter.

If I have drawn up a schedule ahead of time, and know exactly what I want to work on with each piece, my groups are suddenly much more interested in what I have to say. Especially if each time I stop them I have something specific, and meaningful to ask of them.

Leading by example is also useful. If I speak succinctly about the reason I cut them off and my focus appears to be completely on the music, it’s contagious. As is a director’s passion for excellence.

I love to have both the rigorous, focused work and the happy chatter at my rehearsals. One is getting the work done, and the other releases the tension of all that concentration. Both build community.

Magic Choral Trick #360 When ‘Ee’ Doesn’t Really Have to Be ‘Ee’

If we sing the vowel ‘ee’ the way we say it in English it will always be strident.

The problem is the quiet ‘yuh’ at the back end of the way we speak the vowel. And it’s worse than that. The ever vigilant tongue, who knows about this ‘yuh’ spends most of what should be target vowel time preparing to scrunch up for it. It’s so excited about it in fact, that it will begin its scrunch up almost immediately that the ‘ee’ vowel starts.

Tongue tension produces a strident sound. Think of your best imitation of the Wicked Witch of the West. Lots of tongue and jaw tension.

If your first language is Italian, French or Spanish this tongue tension doesn’t apply to you because the ‘ee’ sound (written as ‘i’) has no resolution vowel – and your tongue knows how to relax whether you’re saying or singing it.

So what’s the solution for the rest of us?

I recommend that my singers think really stupid thoughts as they sing ‘ee’. It ends up being more of an ‘eu’ than an ‘ee’, but in the context of the word it’s unnoticeable to the listener – other than the fact that the sound is round and blended.

Also, creating lots of space between the back teeth automatically relaxes the jaw and tongue – which helps with a richer sound.

When it comes to high notes though, I ask my singers to not even pretend that they’re singing ‘ee’ and just go straight for the dumbed down ‘eu’ sound.

When singers complain that they can’t reach a particular high note that has an ‘ee’ as the target vowel, it generally means that their tongues are gradually tightening up for the ‘yuh’. And this increasing tongue tension is choking off the sound. Once they change what they’re thinking to ‘eu’, singing the high note becomes much easier.

Sopranos and Barbershop Tenors are already no stranger to slight vowel modification in the high register, but it will work for all voice parts.

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