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Magic Choral Trick #147 Listening For Noise

I’m always fascinated by the development of a skill, and how we go happily along for ages feeling that what we’re doing is exactly right – until someone points the way to a distinction that we haven’t been making.

Until Judy Comeau (director of A Cappella Showcase) mentioned ‘Noise’ during a coaching session, I had never thought of thinking of misaligned phrase beginnings and endings, and other synchronization problems in those terms. Noise is what you’re hearing that makes a chorus’ sound less clean than it could be. Noise happens when fine distinctions are not made. And progress happens when we have a better understanding of what we need to listen for.

Here are some examples of what creates Noise.

Unmatched vowels
Consonant blends that don’t clear together before the vowel on the beat
Diphthongs that don’t turn at exactly the same time
Breathing between words by a couple of individuals when there’s no planned breath
Scooping and slides that aren’t part of the plan
A voice with more vibrato than the rest of the group
A section of the choir that’s out of sync with the other sections (Often the basses have to work a little harder to navigate their part quickly enough)
Tuning (But most of us already know about this one)

There are many others. This blog is full of things we could all be listening to. But I’ve found that the secret is to just pick one thing, listen for that, and keep correcting it for several weeks until the new approach becomes habit.

I like to send out a sound file from rehearsal to the Barbershop choruses so that they can assess for themselves if there’s been any progress with Noise reduction.

Yes, it’s a long and intense task that will never end – but the small glorious triumphs along the way make it all worthwhile.

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