Magic Choral Trick #26 was about singing warm ups in unison to help singers all lock in to the same vowel – which, along with tuning, is one of the absolute basics of great choral sound.
However, there are a couple more layers to this.
Unison singing forces us to listen.
By the end of a work day we’ve been on the receiving end of about 10 hours of instructions, conversation, media and work related sound. And the more tired we get, the more we tend to just shut it out and stop paying attention.
Then we arrive at chorus rehearsal, where we may think we’re giving our full effort and attention – but it could be that our day’s fog filter is still in place.
I find that unison singing – because it’s an all or nothing kind of activity – blows away that fog filter. Allegedly unison singing sounds and feels truly awful when compared with the real thing. We notice very quickly when the group is out of tune and unsychronized. Unison singing that has all voices rhythmically synchronized, and locked in to the same sound is vibrant, thrilling and energizing – and once experienced is like a drug that keeps you wanting more.
The chorus wakes up – and every singer now wants to experience that same unison thrill with his or her own section. Sectionals halfway through rehearsal tend to reinforce this energizing unison feeling.
But there’s another layer underneath this.
Unison singing reinforces our awareness of our shared humanity. We’ve come from different places and different experiences during the preceding week – but here we are together again as a unit. We are individuals, but we are not alone – and we’re part of something bigger and more magnificent than we could accomplish on our own.
Once the unison has worked this magic, we’re ready to move on to the intensity and richness of harmony.