Monthly Archives: June 2017
I had a new experience in this last Women’s Barbershop competition.
Thanks to the terrific choreography created for us by Theresa Weatherbee ( http://www.engageonstage.com/about-me/ ) it was necessary for me to relinquish all control of my chorus for almost all of our uptempo number.
And while the first layer of relinquishing control appears to be about trusting my chorus to execute the plan without my guidance, the deeper level as I experienced it was having to trust that I had done everything in my power to prepare them to fly unfettered by a director.
It’s almost exactly like learning to trust your kids. They think that it’s about me trusting them – but in reality, the question I’m asking myself is “Did I do at least an adequate job of being a Mum to prepare them for what’s going to come their way?”
And just as it has always brought me joy when my kids were able to be magnificent all on their own, so too it was an exhilarating feeling when my chorus was able to be fabulous without me!
In fact, for me it was just plain fun – because I got to be a front row dancer again!!
Of course, since then I’ve seen the video and am aware of how much more we could be doing.
But for now I’m ready to revel in the experience of having trusted not only my chorus – but also the work that I’d done to prepare them.
I’ve written before about the concept of getting rid of, de-emphasizing or mumbling unimportant words or syllables – but when my chorus was being coached by music judge Kathy Greason, she had an eloquent term for describing this.
Word Sounds. She asked my chorus members to just sing word sounds rather than enunciating the actual words, or the syllables that make up those words.
Our listening understanding of Word Sounds is rather like those texts we see on Facebook – where the words are printed upside down or backwards, but we still have no problem reading them.
When we listen analytically to natural speech patterns, most of what we hear is just Word Sounds. In fact, when we hear someone speaking and enunciating everything really clearly, it comes across as not only unnatural, but also as slightly condescending or judgmental. We get so caught up in listening to every syllable that we tend to miss the meaning of what’s being said.
Most of the songs we sing were written to be immediately accessible, in the language and cadence of our times. Meticulous enunciation is not only unnecessary, but can be an emotional barrier for the audience. If they are being distracted by the accentuation of syllables that would normally be swallowed in speech, it takes a moment for the brain to discount their emotional usefulness.
If the songwriting is good, the music matches the flow of a natural delivery of the lyrics.
Strong song delivery finds the most meaningful word or syllable of the phrase and communicates that one thing very clearly – while allowing the rest of the lyrics to flow in such a way that they point to that meaningful word or syllable.
By the way – just as a rule of thumb, I say that all articles, prepositions and any words or syllables on a pick up beat need to be just Word Sounds, and not enunciated.
One of the trickiest parts of a human to train is the mind. The mind seems to be inherently lazy, and when asked to perform a specific task, is able to come up with a litany of perfectly good reasons why it should not do a particular thing.
And so it is when we ask our minds to rethink the target vowel on the dot of a dotted quarter or half note.
“I’m already singing that vowel – for crying out loud”
“We’re ready for the diphthong resolution, or the singable final consonant – enough already with the target vowel!!”
The reason that I thought up the concept of the Propellant Dot was that I needed a way to explain the concept of musical lift.
One of my choruses had been told by a judge that their singing lines needed more musical flow within even short phrases – and while as a trained musician, I understood what he meant, I had to come up with a way for this to be understood by people who had not been indoctrinated at an early age.
Having the chorus move or direct or dance while singing works for some of the singers, but I’ve found that the majority need much more specific direction.
As I analyzed the way I would instinctively sing a phrase, I realized that I was ‘lifting’ the back ends of almost all my long notes, which created more forward moving musical interest.
So to put this into practice I ask my singers to rethink the target vowel and then the back end of the word on the dot of a dotted note – or even on the last beat of any longer note.
For example in the song If You Love Me, “If the sun should tumble from the sky” would be sung like this:
If the suh…uhn should tumble from the skah……ahee
My choruses now know that when I ask to hear the second syllable of the word ‘love’, that what I really mean is luh…..uhv. But in order for this to happen, they have to consciously and deliberately rethink the target vowel before finishing the word.
Not only does this give a song much more forward motion, but it also means that my singers are very focused on finishing all phrases together.