Magic Choral Trick #375 The Danger of Words That Begin With ‘W’

Synchronizing the onset of sound is tricky at any time, but especially so when the first word begins with a ‘w’.

If the word begins with only a ‘w’, as in the word ‘we’, there’s a tendency to try to begin the sound through tightly puckered lips before the ‘ee’ vowels start popping out all over the chorus.

I’ve found that the most effective way to lock in to the sound onset is to have everyone breathe in through the shape of an ‘oo’ vowel, then without closing the mouth for a ‘w’ as we would when speaking, sing the ‘we’. I used to ask people to actually sing a very fast ‘oo’ before they switched to the ‘ee’ vowel, but that took too much brain power. Now I just ask them to sing ‘we’ beginning with a more open lip shape.

The real trouble lies in onset words that begin with a ‘wh’ combination.

For some reason that I still can’t fathom, when it’s a ‘wh’ combo, people love to do these 2 things – scoop up to the first pitch, and/or add a preceding ‘huh’ or ‘hoh’ – especially when they feel emotional intensity is called for.

Huhwhhherever you are.

The ‘h’ sound in the ‘wh’ is so rarely used in spoken English these days that I prefer to just leave it out altogether.

And so my approach would be the same as for the plain ‘w’

Breathe in through the ‘oo’ shape, then just sing the word, beginning from that more open lip position. People are also mystifyingly less likely to scoop up to the first note when they use this approach.

Wherever would become ‘Wear’ever.

So much of what we do to emulate natural speech patterns involves singing word sounds, not words, and this is an example of that strategy. I’ve never had even one audience member mention to me that they’d missed the ‘h’.

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About janetkidd

I've been waving my arms in front of choirs now for more than 35 years - and these are descriptions of all the very best things I've learned. I direct a Women's Competitive Barbershop Chorus, a Men's Competitive Barbershop Chorus, a Med School choir, and for a few weeks each year - Big Choir (about 100 voices) - which performs at an annual fundraising concert. Hope at least some of these Choral Magic Tricks will be useful to you - and thanks for reading. Janet

Posted on January 5, 2018, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hi, Janet!
    I’ve just tried this approach and it worked nicely. The sopranos were taking too much time to reach the “i” in the French word “oui” in a D (4th line, g clef) and that solved the problem. Let’s see if they learned the lesson or if we’ll have to work on it again.
    Thank you!

  2. Thank you so much for the feedback Luis!

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