This may seem like something frivolous and esoteric, but it really does make a difference to the quality of sound, and to the synchronization at the end of a phrase.
I find that it’s not enough to ask your group to sing through the singable consonants at the end of a word – for example, the ‘ng’ at the end of the word ‘song’. In order for the richness of the sound to continue, the singable consonants must be preceded by a rethinking, and an intensification of the target vowel.
So the word ‘song’ would actually look something like this……
Not that there would be an accent on the target vowel intensification – just a mental recreation of the vowel as it attaches to the singable consonant or consonants.
Last night my chorus seemed to find it helpful to imagine a vowel-filled bulb attached to the final singable consonant.
Regardless of what imagery is used, the actual rethinking of the vowel before the final singable consonant is what is important.
I often wish that I could have a really terrific coach with me at every rehearsal – pointing out to me the things I haven’t noticed, and give me tips on how to run tighter and progressively more productive rehearsals.
However, the truth is that most of us have had enough coaching to be able to lift ourselves to the next level, whether we’re directing or singing. We just lose focus. We forget that this is actually important to us.
As singers, we know that daily technical practising, going through our music at home and getting into better physical condition are three basic things that would create some next level magic.
As directors we know that more specific schedule planning that anticipates the work that our group will need, more musical and emotional analysis of the music, and a thoughtful daily review of our directing and rehearsal technique would make each rehearsal even more exciting for everyone.
And many of us do at least some of this.
But the question is the same as it is for all those other areas of our lives that matter.
Am I doing absolutely everything I can to create loving relationships?
Am I giving my body everything it needs for radiant health?
Am I as kind and generous as it’s possible to be?
When I was singing professionally there were performances that went gloriously well, and there were some that were barely adequate. But what every single performance had in common was that I can honestly say that I always brought everything I had to it – what I had in the moment. There were just some days when that wasn’t much when compared to my other performances. The truth though was generally that if I’d prepared more, or taken care of my health beforehand, it would have gone much better.
In my years of bringing up four kids there were days when my Mom skills were second to none. Then there were days when my parenting skills went on vacation – and my poor kids and I all ended the day feeling fed up, sad, annoyed or anxious. But I always felt that whatever had happened, I’d given it everything I had.
But was that always the truth?
I Can Do Better
This phrase is like a reset button for determination.
Even though we may have given whatever it is we’re doing 100% of our effort – there’s always something more that we could easily be doing to improve the outcome.
The phrase “I can do better” is a trigger for our subconscious mind to come up with the next small step. A step that’s small enough not to overwhelm us, but big enough to make a real difference in the outcome.
For chorus singers – a small step like a cleaner target vowel, or singing with mental energy right to the end of a phrase, or lifting the pitch on a slightly saggy note, or listening more.
As a solo performer having a tough vocal day, I could have increased my emotional interaction with my audience.
As a mom I could have just hugged each kid more on those bad days.
As a director I’m thinking of adding “I can do better” as a call and response every once in a while – especially when they already know exactly what needs to be done and how to do it, but have just lost some focus.
Tempo problems are not tough to fix if you can figure out exactly which issues are plaguing your chorus.
Rushing happens mostly in uptempo songs for a few basic reasons:
Excitement – a song with a previously rock steady tempo can just up and gallop away from you on the contest stage. Once the race for the barn has really taken hold, the only thing you can do is watch in amazement and dismay.
Being unaware of exactly when each phrase should end
Forgetting about target vowels and diphthong resolution (because it’s hard to think that fast)
Being unaccustomed to thinking of subdividing a beat – so the eighth notes rush
Here’s what has helped my groups:
1. Have everyone do their homework – singing through the song at the tempo that has been decided – along with a metronome. You don’t have to buy a pricey one. Some phones can now get a metronome app, and there’s always the free http://www.metronomeonline.com
2. Make sure everyone in the chorus knows exactly how many beats the last notes in each phrase should last – especially in the spots where the song’s tempo like to race. Then directors – have a specific signal for reminding the singers to focus carefully on the number of beats. (I use a counting fingers signal – right in front of my chest, so the audience can’t see it. Also, I find that actually beating time all the way through an uptempo tune deadens a group’s awareness. They stop really seeing me – which makes it difficult to haul them back from the brink if things start to get a little nuts.)
3. The work on Target Vowels and Diphthong Resolution never ever stops.
Keeping my singers’ awareness focused on these two related things has made more of a difference to every facet of choral singing than anything else in my now almost 40 (Aaarrgghh) years as a choral director.
Because these concepts are so important it’s a great idea to incorporate Target Vowel and Diphthong Resolution exercises into the warm up as a way of entrenching the Target Vowel habit.
If singers are chewing off the ends of each word instead of keeping the target vowel open and ringing for as long as possible, the song will rush. Synchronization will be affected, and the chords won’t ring.
4. It’s also useful to incorporate a beat subdividing exercise into every warm up – especially alternating between quarter notes and eighth notes. If you use some sort of physical movement in time to the beat, it helps to lock these rhythm patterns into the body – which frees up the mind to think of things like dynamics, emotion, target vowels, synchronized diphthongs, choreography, tuning, vocal placement, whose fifth you need to be locking in to, laser eyes on the director……….