Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - Voice Help

In a previous post, we talked about vocal fry or placing your voice incorrectly and getting that harsh sound.  I have been checking out some great posts by a number of musical trainers and voice health people who have some super ideas for us.

If you have a husky voice when you get up in the morning, take heart.  It is a fairly normal happening according to Dr. Anthony Jahn, an otolaryngologist, or specialist in ear, nose and throat health.  Here he talks about how to manage our husky voice with some very simple everyday remedies like drinking water.  Check it out.  Help for a Raspy Voice.

In this article, 4 singers who belong to a Hip Hop group called Urban Method share their stories of how they kept both their voices and their singing goals moving in a healthy direction.

Judy Rodman a seasoned trainer and performer, has some great tips for the correct posture and mind set for singing and speaking.  So much of our performances are dependent on our having that "heart" she mentions.

Finally, we all know that in order to have strength in our speaking and singing voices we must support our sound with correct breathing.  I remember my very first vocal lesson with Mother Mary Doris.  She put down tissue paper on the floor to protect my back from the cold while I lay down on said paper.  Then, she put a book on my mid-section, now I know it was over my diaphragm.  I was then directed to sing, Three Blind Mice.  The book didn't move.    M.M.D. as she became known affectionately, declared that I didn't know how to breathe.

Now, my 9 year old mind wondered how I had survived thus far but thankfully I never said that out loud.  From there, I learned about the correct breathing and use of the muscle called the diaphragm as explained by Jeannie Deva in this article.  However, I think M.M.D.'s lying down with a book on the diaphragm is unique as I have yet to see it mentioned anywhere.  It lives in infamy.

We'll keep looking for more learning opportunities.  What do you think of these ideas?  Let us know when you find something wonderful to share.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - Can I Really Sing?

Some years ago, I had moved to a new school and one hot August day was unpacking, sorting and organizing for the new term.  A couple of young ladies questioned through the open window as to whether I was the new music teacher.  I answered in the affirmative and they stated quite firmly that I had no chance whatever of getting them to sing alone so not even to think of asking.  I accepted their words but added that before the year was over, they would have sung by themselves but only because they wanted to.  They guffawed and said something like, "that will be the day," and off they went.

That fear of singing by one's self is equal to the fear of public speaking, in my view.  I think people feel vulnerable and exposed and fear making mistakes.  That is one of the reasons I have never required auditions for choir membership.  I know that if you have a very specific sound requirement or a professional paid position then auditions are a must.  However, my choirs have been peopled by volunteers.

It is often said that everyone can sing.  And indeed, most can.  Some have not had as many opportunities to explore making musical sounds as others and thus are not as adept at reproducing adequate pitch etc.  Apparently, only 1 in 20 has amusia or tone deafness.  My Uncle Ed was one.  Aunt Peggy would play the piano and Uncle Ed would happily sing up a storm.  He had no idea he wasn't singing the right notes.  He just couldn't hear it.  A sing song with Uncle Ed was like the clash of the titans.  You certainly learned how to sing through the dissonance.

More often people haven't had the chance to learn to tone match.  That is, they need to learn to be able to reproduce the tones they hear.  One year, I was blessed with an extraordinary grade 7 class.  They worked together well and were exceptionally supportive of one another.  They had decided that they wanted to enter the Music Festival as a grade 7 classroom choir.  That meant that all the students had to agree to participate.  One of the boys, had come from a school outside Canada and had not sung much in his former school.  He truly couldn't tone match but was willing to learn.  Now, 12 and 13 year old males are all ready dealing with voices that can squeak and squawk at will but they were not deterred.  The boys on either side and behind him made a concerted effort to sing towards him.

The day he finally found his voice was so exciting.  His partners stopped and shouted that he had done it.  He had sung the right notes.  We did it again and this time he heard it.  We had quite the celebration.

So, yes YOU can sing.  If you are willing to learn some basic skills and practise them, you can sing all you want.  Remember the young ladies I met at the window.  Indeed they did sing by themselves but it was during a project and the students were working together to write jingles.  They sang their creations to one another in a relaxed and non-judgmental situation so they indeed didn't realize they had "sung by themselves" until I told them during evaluations.  They were totally surprised and declared that it hadn't hurt a bit.  I love it when a plan comes together!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - Why we do it!

Banks of Doon is not an easy piece to sing.  But sing it we did, last practice.  Oh my knees went weak and the final cadence brought tears to my eyes.  This was at the end of a busy practice working on newer music and yet, the singers just nailed the harmony, dynamics and emotion needed to make the song come alive.

The Robbie Burns poem is beautiful.  The music by Donna Gartman Schultz flows and ebbs with the those words, so well known by so many.  This arrangement is four part S.A.T.B. and although we are just under twenty members the balance is wonderful.  This version is not perhaps as well known as "Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doon" which is considered the second version of the poem.  Here is a lovely presentation of the Banks of Doon with an oboe rather than the usual violin obbligato.  

The Embro area of Ontario from which our choir and many of its members originate, has Scottish roots and in fact has a very famous Highland Games every July 1 rain or shine.  Check out a bit of the  Embro historical background from the library archives. 

We have had a lot of fun with an old pub song, A Wee Deoch and Doris.  I remember my Scottish grandma singing it at every visit.  Now I know what it means.  The last line, "If you can say, "It's a braw bricht moonlicht nicht", Then yer a'richt, ye ken" was a test of sobriety.  You indeed have to be sober to say those lines.  Even then it takes concentration.

We certainly sing a plethora of music from modern to ancient, and serious to funny.  No matter what we sing, we do it until we are all happy with the result.  And sometimes, my knees go weak and my heart sings.  That is my WHY!  Thanks, Embro Thistle Singers.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - Soloists

Last night we went to a hockey game.  As you know, before every game, the national anthem is sung.   They had a "choir" of young people.  In this case,  a single soloist would have been a really good choice.  These young children weren't given a starting point and thus became a group of soloists singing at roughly the same time.  Cacophony was the result. (A harsh, discordant mixture of sounds).  Oh dear. 

I am not a big proponent of soloists used with a choir unless of course you are singing music written with choral and solo sections such as Handel's Messiah. Some choral pieces are written with a "solo" which often sounds better with a unison section of singers.  The balance is usually much better especially with amateur groups.  

Please, think long and hard before insinuating soloists into a choral concert.  It seems to me a, dare I say, a lazy way to fill in space.  The soloist does a lot of work to prepare and leaves 3 or 4 spaces the choir doesn't need to fill.  There are always exceptions of course but I firmly feel that you can create interest and variety by using various arrangements, styles, and dynamics before just throwing in a solo or two. 

In a choir, you work hard to work together and create a blended, united sound.  When you pull soloists from your choir, you can put that group dynamic in jeopardy.  Bringing soloists from outside, can bring a host of challenges including how to work that into practice time.  If your concert is a variety show, then we are talking about a whole different animal.

As I sit writing this post, I am listening to a concert by Josh Groban.  As a soloist, he uses many arrangements, instruments and styles to create variety.  A choir or chorus might serve as accompaniment but he is what the audience came to see.
Here Josh is singing one of my personal favourites, You Raise Me Up.

Your choir is great and with more practice will become even greater.  The audience deserves their music and your best efforts and your happy faces.  That of course, means you perform from memory.  Yes, you CAN!!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Comments and Lions and Bears - Oh my!

Comments, we love to hear them.  However, apparently there has been an issue with our blog sponsor and sometimes you may not have been able to leave a comment or pages have frozen etc.  Our apologies if you have had that issue.

Our technical adviser, Colleen, has adjusted the settings and we should be good to go.  Please give it a try.

If you ever have issues with the comments in future, would you do us a favour and let us know by e-mail?