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Magic Choral Trick #314 Swipes and Suspensions

The world would be a more fun place if we all allowed ourselves the full richness of the Swipe and the Suspension.

For anyone who’s not quite sure what I mean by a Swipe – it’s the movement of one or more parts from one chord to the next, on the same word or syllable. One word/syllable sung over the course of 2 or 3 notes.

And by Suspension I mean a crunchy chord resolving to a more harmonically relaxed chord.

Both of these types of event have the power to create great excitement and forward motion.

They often show up at the ends of phrases – put there by the arranger, specifically to drive energy from the end of one phrase to the beginning of the next. However, time after time with both Choirs and Barbershop choruses I hear these opportunities for incredible fun being missed or ignored.

For example, suppose we have two chords on the same syllable at the end of a phrase – an F chord moving to a C chord – the two C’s (notes) being sustained, and the F and the A swipe down to the E and the G respectively in the second chord.

The voice parts who are singing the F and the A need to gradually increase the intensity into the movement to the E and the G, and the two voices who are sustaining the octave C’s would take their lead from the two moving voices – allowing them to be heard, but growing along with them.

It seems like a small detail, but the effect is quite dramatic.

The same principle applies when at the end of a phrase 3 voices are sustaining their pitches and the 4th voice sings the crunchy, suspension note – then moves to the resolution. The part that’s singing the moving part needs to crescendo during the crunchy note, then keep growing into the resolution note.

Many times the other 3 parts like to take a vacation at this point. At worst, they taper their notes off and quit altogether, and second worst, they just kind of hang on and wish the chord would hurry up and resolve.

All of which means that a wonderful opportunity for excitement has been missed – for both the singers, and the audience.

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Magic Choral Trick #305 If You Sustain It, Lift It

Many thanks to a wonderful coach, Judy Comeau, for this one.

For electricity to inhabit the sound something needs to be done with every single sustained note. It’s never enough to put the note out there and just hang onto it for the requisite number beats.

Sustained notes show up more often at the ends of phrases than anywhere else, so lifting them will not only add excitement to the note itself, but will also create eager anticipation of the next phrase.

So what do I mean by ‘lift’? Ah – now here we get into the slightly mystical realm of notes infused by the intensity of specific thoughts. (I’ll write later about the kind of lifting that needs to be done when we want to sustain the volume, or dial it down)

When I use my palms up lifting gesture the listener would hear the chord getting louder – usually during the second half of the sustained chord.

However, if I were to say to my choruses “Get louder when I do this with my hands”, I would get a bearing down kind of volume change, which would likely encourage more muscle in the sound – which leads to flat singing, tension, and less excitement, not more.

If I ask for lift, I’m asking them to take flight, and some part of the limbic brain gets it – less tension, not more, and more air, as if I’m asking them to latch onto the next thermal.

So at this point, though the listeners hear a volume change, they also hear more joy, excitement and forward motion.

Or ideally, they may notice nothing at all except the intensity of the story that’s being communicated by the singers. Which would make what we’re doing true Art.

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