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I’ve been waving my arms in front of singing groups now for over 40  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,  a church choir, a women’s community choir and I coach an a cappella group. And for a few weeks each year I direct 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 Kidd

  1. Your blog is a joy. Great writing and loads and loads of good stuff ~ thank you!

  2. Joshua Fleetwood

    Hey I have a question. I am a chorus director in at my Middle School. We are singing in unison right now. What exercises or course of action do you recommend I do to create independent part singers?

  3. Joshua Fleetwood

    Thank you and I have one more question. I am in the process of trying to get as many rehearsal blueprints as possible. I know most every choir director has one. What is your general blueprint for teaching new material to your choir members. To better phrase the question how do you scaffold the material to your choir. I have studied James Jordan and he suggests the following.
    1. breath marks
    2. Marching to the steady macrobeat
    3. Clapping the microbeat while marching to the macrobeat
    4. Clapping the melodic rhythm while marching to the macrobeat
    5. chanting the melodic rhythms on nonsense syllables
    6. Singing the pitches on nonsense syllables. focusing on exact attack,character, phrasing and blend.
    7. Introducing the words and following the diction procedures

    To me being a middle school teacher applying this process to EVERY piece I teach just does not coincide with the performing deadlines that I have. Could you please give me an example of your blueprint to teach a new piece to your groups.

  4. I guess the first thing would be to introduce your choir to the concept of note learning outside of choir rehearsal time. I think I just heard you suck in air through closed teeth…but hear me out.

    Personally, I abhor teaching notes, and unless you have an absolutely top notch accompanist who can sing along with one part while you keep tabs on the others, I’m betting the kids don’t like the process much either. It’s very tough to keep the process zipping along and working effectively.

    I have such an accompanist for one of my groups, but the others are a cappella groups. We never thrash notes in rehearsal because we send out top of the line learning sound files. The beauty of this is that not only do they learn all the notes, but all the correct target vowels, diphthong resolutions, breathing spots, tempi and dynamics. They’re all already there – being modelled. And as great as this is with adult choirs, kids are amazing at picking things up by ear – even subtle vowel variations.

    Of course I encourage people to read along in their scores as they’re learning (to reinforce any music reading skills they have) but many listen to the sound files as they’re walking, working out, driving or working on the computer. This makes the turn around time – from score/mp3 delivery to memorization very fast.

    My two a cappella choruses are both competitive choruses and also get a fair number of performing opportunities – so there’s already lots of motivation for learning things fast and accurately. And they know how much fun rehearsals can be when the songs are memorized well.

    Your job – and God bless you – once you’ve given them sound files/learning CDs, is to figure out what’ll motivate your kids to do this learning on their own.

    Perhaps if you used a song or two that they have already memorized and used any of my Magic Choral Tricks that appeal to you, they’d notice enough of a difference in the sound that they’d be excited to do that kind of work all the time – instead of bashing notes in rehearsal.

  5. Hi Janet,

    Thanks for your blog. I discovered it today and am enjoying your posts.

    When it comes to singers’ facial expressions and the audience experiencing something genuine at a concert, it might be helpful to your readers to know the following:

    1. Expression happens automatically; when we think a thought and/or experience an associated emotion, our faces, bodies, and voices reflect that thought/emotion.
    2. We humans are masterful readers of faces and voices; we know when someone is authentically experiencing … and we know when they are inauthentically expressing.
    3. If the singer’s bodies are free to move; and their faces are free to express, audience members can have a transformative experience.

    All that being true, here are some caveats:

    1. Audience members are touched by the singers’ authentic connection to text. And authentic connection is that which happens organically, NOT that which is controlled or planned. In real life, we don’t tell ourselves what to express/feel as we speak to one another. Instead, our expressions are by-products of our objectives, our obstacles, and our imagery.
    2. Singers of songs can connect EXACTLY the same way to texts by creating objectives, imagery, and stories which give them a “real life” reason for singing the song.

    Choral directors who want to transform the singers’ expression and the audience’s concert experience should NOT do the following:

    1. Tell the singers to show feelings on their faces.
    2. Tell the singers to express a particular emotion. “Be happy here” is an external direction, and will result in inauthentic expression.
    3. Tell the singers to limit their facial expressivity. “Don’t smile with your lips, only with your eyes” will limit both the singer’s expression AND the singer’s authentic experience. A director can still address tone and blend by having singers match vowels and “smile tall rather than wide….”
    4. Tell singers to stand still. Because of the body/mind connection, what our bodies do will impact what our minds/hearts experience.

    Much more on all of this at my website and in my book.

    All my best,

    Tom Carter
    Author of Choral Charisma: Singing with Expression

  6. Hi Janet, I totally love your blog with its abundance of great tips and insights about just about everything you need to know when conducting and/or singing in a choir!

    I would like to ask you about your comment on the 1st of Feb 2013. We’re a Swedish chamber choir connected to the church, slowly beginning to understand that we might need to put down some extra note bashing hours at home in order to make time for working on our actual sound while in rehersal. Sound files are probably be the way to go.

    When you say you send out “top of the line learning sound files” it sounds like music to my ears (some pun intended) and I would like to know all about them! I’m assuming you’ve done enough trial and error to know what is most doable. Do the files usually consist of an actual recorded voice part, piano or just MIDI-sound? Is there just one part or can you faintly hear the others “around” to have something to harmonize against? Do you buy them from somewhere, have someone make them for you or do you produce them yourselves? In that case, how and with what equipment? And distribution? What kind of hours and dollars do you put into the files? Inundate me with details please, and there will be coffee waiting for you anytime you come to Sweden!

    When we do major “worn out” pieces like a Mozart/Rutter/Whoever Requiem, there are always MIDI-files to be found online. But when we do obscure old Swedish pieces or something our conductor just wrote for us, then the online material is scarce to say the least. Which of course makes it harder ro rehearse and the need for good sound files more pressing. Starting our own sound file production and beginning to build an archive/database would be of great value! So any help would be much appreciated!

    All our best from Sweden!
    //Sara, chairwoman of the board

  7. Thank you Sara! So great to know that you’re getting some benefit from what I’m writing. I’m thinking that I should actually do a more detailed post on sound files. I’m planning to get around to that soon!

  8. Oh joy, I sure hope you find some time despite the holiday season! And once we’ve learnt your secrets we’ll share some Swedish rounds with you!

  9. Wonderful! I’ve already started making some notes for the blog post!

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