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.
On Sunday evening I was working with a pick up choir for a special event and was once again reminded of the contribution that a little annoyed thinking can make to the sound.
When we’re slightly angry our attention is much more focused that it is when we’re in our baseline blasé state.
Directors – please don’t think that I’m asking you to give singers something new to be angry about. If we ask ourselves “What’s annoying me right now, or these days?” absolutely everybody can come up with something.
What I ask the singers to do is to use that – whatever issue came up – and hold onto that emotion as they sing the specific section that I feel needs more bee sting type intensity.
With this choir we were doing a song that has an 8 bar intro, then the word Hallelujah. The notes weren’t difficult, but the entrance was messy, and the initial vowel – the ‘ah’ – was unfocused.
I asked the choir to start churning up the Snit Thinking – during those 8 bars of intro – about whatever issue in their lives was bugging them, and then to release it on that first Hallelujah, like a rather nasty bee sting.
Much more focused, and definitely more synchronized.
Now, is it appropriate or even ethical to encourage negativity on an Hallelujah?
Probably best to use this as a rehearsal tool only. The singers will become accustomed to feeling the intensity of this focus, and can then drop the Snit Thinking.
Wouldn’t be a great visual to have your choir scowling at the audience on the run up to a radiant, synchronized, focused Hallelujah.