Magic Choral Trick #353 Whirligig Resonance

This hand gesture trick is great for reminding singers about creating resonance.

I often use this one when there’s an ‘ee’ vowel being sustained at the end of the phrase. It seems to help our brains keep refreshing the ‘ee’ without getting the tongue involved with the finishing ‘y’ – which is one of the banes of singing in English. If you don’t believe me, say the word ‘free’ a few times to yourself and pay attention to what your tongue does as you finish the word. That tongue movement will shut down the target vowel, choke off the sound, and make the ‘ee’ seem pressed and pinched.

Step one is to make sure my singers already understand how to create resonance – with forward placement, tall space in the back of the mouth,
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…and a tongue that behaves itself
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Step two is to have the singers themselves do the whirligig gesture as they practise sustaining target vowels – especially those in ‘ay’ ‘ee’ and ‘I’ – where there’s so much potential for tongue misbehaviour.

Here’s the gesture.

Point your index fingers at the ceiling. (Your Peter Pointers)

Pretend laser beams are coming out of your finger tips and making 2 small points of light on the ceiling.

Now imagine you’re drawing little 1 inch circles on the ceiling – round and round very quickly. (This is an old, ironic ‘whoopee’ gesture, but with both hands instead of one. Some people use this sign one handed for “ok – wrap it up”)

The vertical fingers are a reminder about the height of the vowel, and the movement keeps the mind moving – creating and creating and creating the vowel. (Thereby avoiding falling into the dark pit of despair that is early diphthong resolution)

I’ve found that once singers know how to create resonance, they still need to be reminded many, many, many times before the mouth posture and the legato thinking become habit.

This is such an easy gesture. It saves time in rehearsal, and can even be used by me during a performance – in a much more subtle form of course. In performance I generally scale it back to one whirligig finger movement close in to my chest.

Magic Choral Trick #352 Guest Nights

Friday night. And for fun I’ve been catching up on some organizational stuff for various singing groups.

I just made up the draft schedule for next Tuesday evening’s Guest Night for my women’s Barbershop chorus, and sent it off to the music team for their feedback.

In the past for Guest Nights we’ve done more showcase stuff – but this time I thought it might be a good idea to let any prospective members get an idea of the intensity of work that we really do. So if you’re interested, here’s the draft plan:

Guest Night

7:00 – Risers – Introduce guests

7:05 – Opening and Warm Up (With Guests)
Vocal work and Tags (when teaching really happens)

7:25 – Repertoire (With Guests)
Dancing Queen
We Rise Again
With a Little Help From Our Friends
As Long As I’m Singin’

7:45 – Masquerade

Egg Yolk Basses (
Singable consonants
Work the tag

8:05 – Alexander – New Intro and Choreo

8:20 – Seated – Run through Joint is Jumpin’

8:30 – Closing

8:35 – Social time

In addition to handouts about the financial costs of membership, and the audition requirements, I think it’s useful for prospective members to see and hear some real work – the kind that they can expect on a typical rehearsal night.

Normally my women’s chorus rehearsals would go till 9:30, but on guests nights we like to quit early for tea and sweets – and of course, a lot of conversation with our new recruits!

Magic Choral Trick #351 Peace on Earth

Peace on Earth. What if 2016 was the year that choruses and choirs all over the world made peace break out?

Don’t know about you – but I’m ready for a bigger game.

Just as our sound is carried by the vowels – and the cleaner and clearer the vowels, the more powerful the sound, Peace is carried by intention. It’s created by the intention to create peace in each moment. Each small, intentionally peace filled moment.

When a rehearsal has gone really well – ringing chords, a few really beautiful phrases, some great moments of laughter, and several attacks of full body goosebumps – we leave rehearsal as more expansive versions of ourselves.

What if we were then to add intention to that.

The intention to carry that joy out into the world with us – and have it infuse all our interactions.

When a group of people is clear about their intention – miraculous things happen.

In 1993 the Transcendental Meditation organization decided to prove this. About 4,000 TM practitioners were flown in to Washington DC to practise there for 8 weeks. Not all took part initially, in order to see if there was a correlation between the size of the group of practitioners and the drop in crime rate. Here are the findings.


TM experiment

“Analysis of 1993 data, controlling for temperature, revealed that there was a highly significant decrease in HRA (homicide, rape and assault) crimes associated with increases in the size of the group during the Demonstration Project.”*

TM is a technique for allowing ourselves to be fully present, moment by moment – without mental chatter.

Which is exactly what happens when we are making music – when we are fully “occupied, not preoccupied.” (Thank you David McEachern for that one) Peace can spread one chord and one phrase at a time – one perfect intention at a time. One fully flat out human moment at a time.

When rehearsals are completely about making wonderful music (not power struggles, not impressing anyone, not denigrating anyone, not about standing out from the crowd), powerful peace breaks out. And peace brought on by harmony, cooperation and striving for a huge goal is an overwhelmingly brilliant and wonderful thing – light years beyond just the absence of conflict. It feels like superhero power.

Peace on Earth is something worth turning yourself into a superhero for.

Here are some concrete suggestions (learned the hard way)

Directors – Work on your leadership and directing skills harder than you expect your chorus members to work on their singing skills. What are your strengths? Get even better at those first.

Music team leaders – Lead, teach, follow up and be compassionate (and be compassionate)

Chorus members – take care of each other, volunteer for as much chorus work as your life will allow, hone your singing and presentation skills.

Make rehearsals fun with excellence and love and laughter – then get out and recruit, recruit, recruit. The more people with bold intentions, the greater the superhero power.

Become aware that every single one of us is responsible for creating powerful peace and powerful love – Peace on Earth – during every phrase, at every rehearsal.

Go out there and sing for everyone who will listen!


Magic Choral Trick #350 Making a Difference

Almost Christmas 2015 and I’m thinking about the difference made this year by all of the singing groups that I’m privileged to direct.

Their performances helped to raise $6000 for the local food bank, $55,000 for an organization that fosters projects that create hope and joy in our priority neighbourhoods, and $3,000 for local churches. They donated funds so that a local woman could get a cochlear implant and raised funds for a local soup kitchen, and a women’s addiction recovery centre.

The community breathes just a little easier because of these efforts.

There’s the singing itself. Our audiences have been moved, cheered, comforted and entertained – which all on its own would make it worth doing.

There’s the difference made to each group of singers as they work together towards the common goal of excellence. Not many places where there’s such an opportunity for moment by moment excellence. Until we all first stood in the middle of a powerful ringing chord infused with emotion, it was an unimaginable experience. Some chorus members are living this for the first time, and the veterans keep coming back week after week to recreate the experience – with even more intensity – as technique improves, awareness increases, and hearts are more open.

That makes a difference to all of us.

And for me – well, I have wonderful enthusiastic friends who want to play this game with me. And that makes a huge difference in my life.

Thank you to those of you sing with me – and thank you to those of you who honour the work I’ve done by reading these posts!

Magic Choral Trick #349 Singing Musically in 3/4

Staying in time and singing with the appropriate word or syllable accentuation seems to be tougher in three four time.

It hasn’t been enough for me to tell my groups that the weight of the beats is Strong Light Light, Strong Light Light.

In fact when that’s what they’re thinking we get an accented first beat, and beats two and three that are dragging as badly as ever. In addition to this we have the added questionable bonus of a hearty glottal attack every time a vowel begins the word on beat one.

I’ve even asked them to waltz while singing to get the feel of three four into the body. However, as soon as they stop waltzing they revert quickly when I don’t give more specific instructions to occupy their brains.

I think I’ve discovered a better way to say what I mean.

I ask the group to form the target vowel very clearly on beat one, then use a completely neutral mouth shape on beats two and three.

Form (the vowel) Mumble Mumble, Form Mumble Mumble – is now beginning to become a habit with my groups. I tell them that there’s no need to even reduce the vocal volume if the mouth is less open.

Most of the best songs in triple metre are set up with the most important syllable in the bar on beat one, so the lyrics and meaning are still clear.

The beauty of the neutral mouth shape is that we also are now free of the messiness of many jaws moving at different speeds and distances – so the dragging on beats two and three becomes much less of a problem.

And I’ll still be asking them to waltz!

Not a Magic Choral Trick – just a proud moment

This was a concert performance on October 25th by a bunch of my family members who live in Ottawa. (My Sister, one of my Brothers, 2 Sisters in Law, one Brother in Law, four Nephews, two Nieces and my Parents)

The Kings Singers arrangement of Rossini’s Barber of Seville Overture.

The two nonagenarians are my parents

Magic Choral Trick #348 Directors: Good Coaching Makes This So Much More Fun!!

This weekend many of my Harmony Incorporated friends are getting together in Verona NY for the annual International Contest and Convention. Unfortunately my women’s chorus and I are missing it because we just couldn’t seem to make the finances work this year.

But I’d still like to acknowledge the event.

The regional and international competitions are where we’ve met so many of the wonderful coaches who have taught us, and taught me so much.

Someone was asking me the other day why I never lose my temper in any of my chorus or choir rehearsals. The truth is that 40, well perhaps even 25 years ago I used to. I realize now that my snits were a direct result of not knowing the right trick to solve a particular problem.

I thought that the problem was that my singers were unreliable, or not committed enough, or disrespectful, or just untrainable. The real problem was that I was missing pieces of the puzzle.

Every coach, with whom we’ve had the privilege of working in these last 22 years of my belonging to Harmony Incorporated, has taught me something special and something precious.

And all this input and information has led to increasingly more outrageous levels of rehearsal fun!

What is so wonderful is that all my singing groups, not just my Barbershop ones, now benefit from all these years of brilliant coaching by wonderful directors and coaches from both Harmony Incorporated and the Barbershop Harmony Society.

And so this weekend I would like to publicly acknowledge all the wonderful Barbershoppers – the singers, directors, coaches and judges I know who’ve given me the wonderful gift of their time, their attention and their expertise.

Magic Choral Trick #347 Warm Up Super Focus

Between the shoulder roll/jaw massage/humming part of the warm up and the intense training that needs to carry over into the repertoire lies a nebulous no man’s land of mushy and sometimes reluctant brain activity.

The flow chart looks something like this:

Feel good warm fuzzy relaxing stuff……..going through the motions vocal exercises…….intense rehearsing of repertoire that demands high levels of vocal, mental and emotional focus.

Just as there are ways to speed up the warming up of the voice (Bubbling, Zzzzzing, Humming Glissandi) I’ve found a new way to kick start the mind and use a little less of precious rehearsal time waiting for mental intensity to ramp up.

Yes, using the hand movements with the formed vowels forces brains to actually think about the vowels does speed up the mental awakening.
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But this Super Focus exercise seems to turbo charge it.

1. Start with everyone taking in four small ‘sips’ of air to a beat (about metronome marking 104) through the nose, then really kick out the breath, again through the nose in four short bursts. They should feel a lot of diaphragm action on the kicking out of the breath.

In a steady rhythm – breathe in for four, out for four. (Do this in/out breathing cycle just 3 times)

2. Then pick a spot on the wall opposite the singers and ask them to focus on that spot – ferociously. Eyes wide open, as if a great rage had overtaken them – or as if staring down a large predatory lion.

Have them direct this intensity, like a laser beam, to that spot as they once again do the rhythmic breathing through the nose. 4 counts in, then 4 counts out. (Do the in/out cycle 3 times)

3. Ask the singers to march in place, arms swinging naturally (again, to about metronome marking 104, or whatever is a comfortable marching tempo for the chorus). Now add the Super Focus breathing pattern (really kicking out the air on the exhale) and the ferocious eyes. Again do the in/out breathing cycle 3 times.

A side benefit of this mental wake up exercise is that afterwards, the sound of the next phrase or will be richer, fuller and more blended.

Once the chorus knows the exercise you don’t need to do steps 1 and 2 – just step 3, so it becomes a very fast way to perk up mushy brains.

Magic Choral Trick #346 Choral Tools of the Trade Video

Just created a short video to go along with these older posts


Elastic Bands



And here’s the video

Magic Choral Trick #345 Korg Chromatic Tuner Demo

I’ve done a couple of posts before featuring this fabulous tool:




Here’s a short video I just did to give you an idea of how it’s used.

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