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Magic Choral Trick #169 The Curse of a Great Acoustic

The church where my husband is the music director is a fabulous old stone cathedral with a reverberation time of about 6 seconds. The choir is an excellent one – but their style of singing has definitely been shaped by always performing in this acoustic setting that loves nothing better than a soaring, arched phrase.

My choirs and choruses perform in a very wide range of venues – from theatres and hotel ballrooms, to nursing homes, hospitals, fashion shows and basketball and hockey games. Every venue is very different acoustically from the choirs’ respective rehearsal halls.

When it’s competition time, having a few chorus members feeling insecure because nothing seems to sound the same can make all the difference between a winning performance, and one that’s not up to our usual standard.

There are several Magic Tricks for handling this issue.

1. Find several places with dreadful acoustics, and from time to time, book a night’s rehearsal at each one. It’s true that the great out of doors is perhaps the worst place to sing – but I avoid rehearsing outside because I find that choir members just seem to push the sound too hard, and get vocally tired quite quickly.

2. Spread out around your rehearsal hall, so that the singers are no closer than a couple of feet from each other – preferably also not standing beside someone singing the same part. This encourages independence, and can give a pretty good approximation of singing on a really dry stage.

3. I encourage my singers to pay attention to the physical sensations – other than sound – associated with the way they normally sing at rehearsal, so that when they’re in another venue, there are other touchstones that let them know how well they’re duplicating what’s been rehearsed.

I also find that whether we’re singing in a different rehearsal venue, or standing spaced far apart in our regular hall, it’s very useful to have another set of ears out listening with me – giving the chorus feedback too.

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