On one of his CD’s, Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now) uses a Tibetan bell to draw our attention into the ‘Now’. The effect here is very like listening to a choir performing an exquisite diminuendo at the very end of an unaccompanied piece. There is a moment or two when the audience is frozen in time and there is no applause yet – because no one can tell whether or not the choir has actually stopped singing.
In that moment, the silence is electric.
Years ago when Murray Schafer was writing about music education he referred to this as an ‘envelope of silence’ around a piece of music. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I actually experienced the type of hyper silence that I think he meant.
In any group of singers unless we can find a way to create that fully charged silence there will always be a number of minds focused on something other than the phrase that’s about to be sung (…I still have to do laundry when I get home….wonder if the liquor store is open late tonight….my daughter should have texted me by now….)
I find this technique works really well – especially once the song to be sung has been memorized – and nobody’s mind is fussing with what notes to sing.
Blow the pitch for the song and wait…till there’s absolutely no movement or sound. Then wait again till you feel that electric, crackling silence. When I feel this, I then simply say ‘go’ and let them do it all themselves. They all breathe together – and are listening so hard that every facet of their singing is now much more unified.
I guess this is less a trick, and more like a technique that needs to be built in to almost every rehearsal so that the singers become accustomed to taking on the responsibility for really focusing on the ‘Now’.
Sometimes I may have to guide them with some small gesture – but this technique puts the burden of synchronization onto the singers, and leaves me free to do the really exciting stuff. (Which we can talk about later)