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Magic Choral Trick #331 Reining in the Galloping Uptune

Having the chorus work with a metronome is a great idea when the uptune is moving sluggishly.

However, when the song starts to run wild, and race ahead, there are a couple of tricks that I use.

Once upon a time my women’s chorus was on the contest stage and they decided as a collective entity that the song should accelerate wildly – beyond any tempo we’d ever rehearsed. At that point I was not as wily as I am now, and there was nothing I could do but smile at them lovingly and hope it would all be over soon.

The main reason for rushing is the short changing of note time values – in the middle as well as at the ends of phrases. When we short change the last note of our phrases, the ear picks up what it thinks is a new tempo – and new again at the end of every shortchanged phrase.

For my women’s chorus, fortunately the song that had careened out of control had an easy fix for subsequent performances.

There was so much choreography that they were just not paying attention to the number of beats that the last notes of the phrases needed to have – so all I had to do was subtly count off beats for them on my fingers (held close to my chest and out of audience view of course.) The fact that they had lived through the consequences of not counting meant that all eyes were riveted on that finger count.

Syncopated spots can be more of a challenge though.

For example, my men’s chorus is doing Razzle Dazzle right now, and are tempted to rush, right out of the starting gate. (Ever notice how many rushing metaphors have to do with horses?)

The problem there is the syncopation – eighth note, quarter note, eighth note, half note. (Ti Tah Ti Tah-ah)

“Give ‘em the old…”

‘Em’ and ‘old’ both want to rush. And these words come into the song so frequently that the possibility for disaster is huge.

What worked really well for me last night was to ask the guys to sing a slight crescendo into the second syllable of these one syllable words. Yes, I know that sounds foolish – but only to the conscious mind.

Their subconscious minds knew exactly what to do – and not only were they now singing the phrase in time, but they were also singing it much more on the vowels, and much more legato. Actually, even when rushing is not an issue, leaning into the second syllable of one syllable words can help get rid of choppiness.

I made up my own hand signal for ‘lean into the second syllable’ which will now become part of my sign language repertoire.

Now I guess we need to drill.

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