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Magic Choral Trick #369 Demanding More Finesse From Harmony Parts

I’d hardly call this a quick trick – but it’s a long term goal worth pursuing

So much is involved in producing an exquisite work of choral art, that sometimes we let this one slide a bit.

I know that in almost every choir I ever sang with there was always a great deal of time spent with the finessing of our soprano interpretation. Lovely arching phrases, and synchronization of the subtle nuances of our word accentuation.

And I always felt a little surprised that the harmony parts that I could hear around me seemed to be less enthusiastic about singing their melodies in the same way – with the same interpretation.

Granted, the harmony parts are often more thankless line-wise than the melody. But I figure that if you’re a good enough musician to sing a harmony part, you’re skilled enough to sing it beautifully – as if it were a heart wrenching melody.

Now as I direct groups with varying levels of ability I understand well about picking your battles. Sometimes I’m just grateful that the notes are learned and are sung with a reasonable sound quality.

However, I’d like to put my groups on notice now that I will demand more of the Altos, Tenors, Basses and Baritones in 2018 and that I will be demanding more melodic flow and lyric nuance in line with what I’m already asking of the Leads and Sopranos.

Basses in particular are prone to thinking that since they’re all the way down in the basement, we don’t notice them. But when a bass line is sung exquisitely, it’s transcendent, and lifts the whole chorus to a new level.

The actual Bass parts are often no help with this, because in order to make the harmony work, the arranger has had to have the Bass line leap up a good sized interval to an unimportant word or syllable. So without constant vigilance on the part of the singers, this kind of tricky Bass manoeuvre can sabotage the flow of a phrase’s line. But again – when Basses can finesse it, it takes that line to a wonderful new level.

Must give a shout out here to Barbershop Baritones who may have the toughest job of all. To make something of beauty out of the kinds of lines that you are handed requires real artistry. But it’s your job to make those very difficult voice leadings match the Lead line, and sound effortless. When you do this, it’s so exciting!

Altos – you have a real and achievable opportunity here. Your parts are often fairly static, but if you treat them like simple gems in complete synch with the melody line interpretation – and worthy of interpretive attention, they become more of an artistic challenge for you.

Tenors of all stripes – both mixed choir and Barbershop – need to be aware that even with the slight vowel modifications that you need to make in your upper register, we still need your word accentuations and your line to flow in synch with what the melody is doing.

Bottom line, Harmony singers – “With great power comes great responsibility”. And you have the power to lift us all to a new level of singing experience this coming year!!!

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