Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - Using Social Media to Promote Your Choir

Here you are reading a blog so you are all ready part of social media.  There are so many opportunities to be in touch with other musical people that we will try to sort those out.
File:Twitter bird logo 2012.svg
Twitter is an amazing way to connect with people all over the world.  It is fun because each message is 140 characters or less.  You can add pictures or videos or links as well as the message.  We chat with people in Australia, where it is summer right now.  We chat with lots of people in the United Kingdom and the United States and Canada.  We got a great idea for a new fund raiser for next Christmas from Twitter - but more on that later.  Check it out and follow us on Twitter.  Click here or on the link at the side.

1. Follow others.  Every time you tweet, someone somewhere is reading about you.  You want to "follow" other choirs or musical groups and they in turn will follow you.  Say something catchy or fun and be sure to comment on other tweets.

2. Favourite & Retweet - When someone says something you like or appreciate, then Retweet it.  It is easy to do.  Those buttons are right under each Tweet.  Be sure to Favourite as well.  The more times your name is mentioned, the more chance you have of being noticed.  I have really enjoyed conversations with various musical groups all over the world.  It takes very little time but is so much fun.

3. Linking.  You can link your blog posts to automatically be posted on Twitter.  If you don't want to be the Twitter guru then appoint someone as your Twitter reader and writer.  It is most important that you stay on top of what is happening.
Facebook can also be linked to your blog.  Your posts can automatically be posted to your Facebook page.  I find that Facebook is more used by local people.  It is not as far reaching as Twitter but has its place in keeping your community in the loop.  I do not find that this is as good vehicle for disseminating information as the blog but certainly brings some to your blog posts that wouldn't otherwise read it.

1. Like - You can click on LIKE on other posts to show you have read them.  You can also make a post you don't think is appropriate be hidden on your page.  If someone continues to post what you think is inappropriate, you can "un-friend" them.

2. Share - When you find something like a video or poster or picture you would like YOUR friends to see then you can click the share button.  You can add your own comment to that as well.

We have e-mail for direct communication with the choir.  Seeing as most people have smart phones, they will get their e-mails right away.  Our choir has requested e-mail as our main communication although the schedule and updates are always available on the blog.

Make the social media work for you.  Learn from and share with others who have similar interests.  It is simply amazing.  I am of the age that I remember when you thought twice about using long distance on the phone as it was very expensive.  Letters (snail mail) were written regularly.  Now, communication is immediate and ever present.  Don't be afraid of it.  I knew nothing about using social media just two years ago.  Now there is no turning back.  Make it a part of your choir's persona.  Why not?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Where Has All the Power Gone?

I know there are many in our fair province and all the way over to New Brunswick who have no power and may be staying in shelters.  Not an easy time of year for that to happen.  Hopefully most will be restored soon.  We just now got our internet back but we luckily have had power and thus heat.

Luckily, we have had cell phones for communication and keeping up with the world. If all you have is your cell phone right now I hope you can enjoy with us the Celtic Women as they and we wish you a happy, healthy and musical Christmas.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Fun Friday - Christmas Flash Mob at the Mall

Thanks Attie for finding this one.  It just makes you want to sing along.  I never understand those who walk by or don't just join in.  One, Two, Three - SING!!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - How to Restart with Enthusiasm

Okay, so here we are in the middle of the Christmas holidays.  All the Christmas concerts are over for which we practised like mad fools, albeit happy ones.  We all know in a a week or two, we are back to practices.  How to we get the enthusiasm and excitement into the post holiday music?  Let me suggest:

1. YOU need to be excited! - That sounds easy to say but YOU whether the conductor or the singer need to bring a bag full of energy with you.  If you don't feel enthusiastic, then put on some music you love and rock up a storm before you go to practice or listen to your favourite comedian.  YOU be exited to start!

2. Sing something surprising. - You may have a spring concert to prepare for.  Does that mean you have to sing only those pieces?  I don't think so.  Sing "Baby It's Cold Outside" or "Harvest  Moon". While singing those songs, focus on the skills you will need for your next musical challenges, blend, dynamics, pronunciation etc. but have some fun.

3. Meet somewhere different. - Depending on the size of your choir this may or may not be possible.  If you are a singer, why not think about and suggest a place where you could practise that would give you a different perspective.  As a director, you may have access to other venues, a church, a school auditorium or even your home.

4. Invite guests or join someone else. - If there is another choir nearby, why not invite them to join you.  You could return the favour by visiting them at a practice of theirs.  It would take a bit of organization but it would be worth the effort.  Your guests could sing your music and when you go to their practice, you could sing theirs.  It would be good reading practise and a great deal of fun.

No matter what, go back to #1 and make sure you bring a  basketful of fun with you whenever you sing.  Life is too short not to enjoy each and every opportunity to be with others especially when you make music together.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Silent Monks "Sing" Hallelujah

This is really well done.  You can tell these are young people and boy have they ever practised.  I think it is just as much fun to hear the audience reaction. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - Mary Did You Know - What Makes the Difference?

On Sunday, the Embro Thistle Singers were privileged to lead the music at St. James Anglican Church in Ingersoll.  They sang with such heart and the sound was some of their very best.  The atmosphere was one of praise and worship and the acoustics really great.  All of that came together with committed singers to add that "je ne sais quoi" to the resulting sound.  It was simply beautiful.  So many told us just that so it wasn't just my biased opinion. (Tee, hee)

Here are two videos of the very same song by the very same singers.  There is a big difference in the presentations, I think.  Although, both are beautiful one is so much more intense than the other.  Please, listen and then click, COMMENT below and let us know what you heard.

Video #1 

Video #2

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Singing for Community Service for YFC/Youth Unlimited Ingersoll & St. James Anglican

We thoroughly enjoyed our time last night at St. James Anglican Church in Ingersoll.  The acoustics in the church are lovely and the our Embro Thistle Singers were in top form.  We sang Glory to God for the first time along with the Huron Carol and O Holy Night and they were spot on.

The small but appreciative crowd sang along with Joy to the World and Hark the Herald Angels.  They sounded so good we hoped they might consider joining us.

Tomorrow morning we are back at St. James, this time to lead an Advent service.  We will be singing When a Child is Born and Peace, Peace and Huron Carol as well as the rest of the music for the service.  Our marvellous Kristy is the pianist and organist at St. James so we are thrilled to be able to give back even in a small way.

We hope to see you there at 10:30, Sunday, December 8.  All are welcome.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Fun Friday - Air Canada Flash Mob

Who says Canadians are dull?  We know how to do it.  Notice the "worker" who draws attention by telling the band they aren't supposed to be there and then joins them.  Fun.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - Thinking Outside the Music - ThePianoGuys

Listen to this amazing video and see if you can count how many ways these amazing musicians have created new ways of creating sounds.

How many times do we look at a piece of music and how we could make it "different"?  Or do we just sing it "straight" each and every time.  I think there are some simple ways to add some spice to a piece without in any way spoiling the intention of the composer or arranger. Let's see what they are doing in the video above.

1. Change positions.  Exactly.  Stand in different places .  Stand so that you are NOT with anyone singing the same part as you.  Stand in a circle.  Play a type of musical chairs through your practice.

2. See the song differently.  Obviously, they are singing a very traditional song and using non-traditional accompaniment.  This big change has not spoiled the sound but added to it.  Even the picture taking is very creative.  See how you can change up a tried and true piece with different approaches.  For instance, we are singing O Holy Night quite quickly and not repeating the "chorus" or harmony part.  The result is that those who haven't liked that piece were much happier with the result.  Cool.

3. Collaborate.  Talk about what you want to do amongst yourselves.  At practice on Sunday, our singers had some really good suggestions about the order of singing unison sections and dynamic variations.  When you have others around you with experience and interest, tap into their ideas.

4. Be fearless.  Who cares what others may think?  What is the worst that can happen?  Really, the worst thing is that you don't end up liking that piece or style or manner of presentation.  The great news is that it can be changed.  You will never know if you don't try.

Now listen to the ThePianoGuys again and enjoy!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Fun Friday - Boys Lip Sync Christmas Song

Elaine sent this along to me.  She is right they are so professional and have obviously really practised hard. Check out the bass.  Oh so cute.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cambrocourt Beats the Weather Again

These guys can't beat the cute hat our Elaine had on. 
We sang, It's Snowing, Let It Snow and Marshmallow World and yet it didn't snow. One of our tenors, Gary was still on the highway in the Strathroy area dealing with the snow on our behalf.

We had a great time singing with our friends at Cambrocourt in Embro.  A couple of years ago, we sang When a Child Is Born for the first time and tonight we sang the much more polished rendition. However, we didn't disappoint our friends as we sang Any Dream Will Do for the first time publicly. They told us they would ask us back again so that we could show off a polished version.

Our Cambrocourt evening always includes songs we sing together.  What a great sound we all make.  We haven't yet talked any of them into joining us on a regular basis but we will keep trying.

Thanks again Lynne for your support and we sure appreciate being with all of you.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - Who Is That Singing in the Choir? Only Boys Aloud

This is a marvellous presentation of a young men's choir Only Boys Aloud, from Wales.  They talk at the beginning about why they sing.  You get an idea of the different boys that comprise this wonderful choir. Here is a good example of the many personalities you may find in any choir of any age.  Watch this and then see if the points below make any sense to you!!

1. The Music Lover - You may have singers that love the music and are there because they are drawn to it.  They might not necessarily be the best singers but they love it.  Make certain they get lots of opportunity to do just that, sing and experience lots of success.  

2. The Uncertain Singer - They come to choir but seem to be very self critical.  They have a good voice but aren't certain they "fit in".  Watch for these and be certain to point out how well they are doing.  Sometimes you do it by pointing out the good work of their part but when you can seek out that singer and mention how much you appreciate their singing.  It is always a good idea to keep giving the posture, placement and production hints so that they have definite skills to learn and be successful with.

3. The Overly Confident Singer - This person may be great at reading music and reproducing great sound or just thinks he is.  I think we have all sung with someone like that.  No matter which one of these you have they must learn to LISTEN.  I tell my singers that singing is 90% listening.  singing is like putting on makeup, blend, blend and then blend some more!  That is the only way to get the very best sound.   

4. The Hold Back Singer - You know they can sing.  Every once in a while they let out a marvellous sound.  They just can't seem to do it on a regular basis.  This to me these are the very hardest to help use their abilities consistently.  It takes patience and constant encouragement.  Sometimes, I even ask people who sing with them by telling them when they sing really well.  Perhaps, it is sometimes a lack of confidence but others it may be that they simply don't realize their abilities.  

Did you find examples of these in the Only Boys Aloud?  Any others you would add?  Click on comments and do share your ideas.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

When a Child is Born 2013

Different venue same lovely music.

Go Tell It On the Mountain - Embro Thistle Singers

You did a great job of singing under difficult conditions.  I hope Kristy's hands have warmed up from playing our accompaniment in the cold and rain.  It never stops the Embro Thistle Singers!

Peace Peace Embro Thistle Singers

More music on this rainy night.

It's Snowing - Embro Thistle Singers

Here we are at the gazebo in Ingersoll, Ontario in a soft rain singing about the snow.  Today as I post this, it is a wild snow day so maybe our singing brought it on.  You are welcome or sorry, depending on whether or not snow is what you want!! 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fun Friday - Happy Piano Stairs

Here is a great experiment.  When will they do this in our town?  See what music can do?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Terrific Tuesday - Concerts, What Concerts?

In my years as a school teacher, the concerts we did were pretty much set.  Remembrance Day, Christmas, music festival and year end or graduation.  In the midst of that was usually a musical. There was never a time we weren't practising for the next presentation.

As a teacher, I did have the responsibility to make enough money with the musical to pay for the purchase of music and anything over and above what was provided which was always less than we wished.  However, it was a fairly simple process.

There are many choirs who have professional staff and a need to raise a large amount of money. They have boards of directors and apply for grants and have sponsors etc.

Our choir, like many is totally volunteer.   We use borrowed practice space, started with borrowed music and have no set concert schedule.  When we started we decided that we wanted to be of service to the community.  We often get donations after a concert which have set us on the way to building a repertoire of music we have purchased.

Whether your intent is to do stand alone concerts to support a large budget or to sing for your supper at a smaller venue to brighten someone's day with no expectation of remuneration, just how do you find or create places to sing?

1. Historical Concerts - Some choirs have set times for their concerts much as I had in a teaching year.  If your choir has these expectations, then you aren't looking for concerts but rather ways to keep them coming.

2. Please Can I Come? - Ask if you can be a part of an activity.  One of our first public appearances was a fund raiser to help those affected by the tsunami.  There we were asked to sing at a recognition dinner for a large charity.  A couple of people in the choir are on the boards of seniors' housing or local fairs and we have picked up a number of performance opportunities from those. There we have been seen by others who -- well you get the picture.

3. Community Events - We have offered our services to the Relay for Life in town.  We are singing at the Lighting of the Lights again this year.  I am certain there are many opportunities for you to volunteer and get your sound out there.  If you have set concerts, then you will build your audience from all those who have always wondered what you sounded like.  Now they may wish to pay to hear you.

4. Volunteer - We have provided coffee and snacks for the local theatre on preview night, provided goodies and drinks for donations for the Highland Games (to which we were invited this year to sing).  Any time you can get your name out there, you can garner new members, or new gigs.  Have your signs up and your music playing.  You never know.

Get your faces and your music out there.  Even if you have been a choir for some long time, you need fresh audience members.  The more times you get to be seen and heard the more people will want to hear you again.

What do you do?  Please share with us.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fun Friday - Swingle Singers Sing in the Tube

The tube is the subway to many.  This is fun and just shows that seating can be very random and still make a great sound. Look at all the smiles that blossom as they sing.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - I Haven't Got a Thing to Wear

Does your choir wear a uniform or have a dress code?  Our Embro Thistle Singers shirt is black with our logo on the right shoulder and we wear black slacks or skirts (and yes the boys may wear skirts if they wish.  We do have a Scottish heritage!)

Wearing our black shirts.
Sometimes for presentations like California Dreamin' at the Embro Fair, we wear fun costumes.

Here we added some red scarves for holiday cheer.

Here are some of my ideas about choir outfits or uniforms. 

1. Do they have to look the same?  I think we have all sung in a school choir where we wore white shirts and dark slacks or skirts.  That worked all through my elementary career except for a small bump when I thought that perhaps it would be better for the singers to wear what they wanted.  Not a good plan.  Not only did they look haphazard but that was how they sang.  That feeling of cohesiveness was missing.  Maybe it is fine for some but if you peruse You Tube you will find most choirs wear similar outfits.  I feel it really helps with the unity of sound, hence the name "uniform" - just in case you didn't know.

2. Cultural Reasons - There are some gorgeous cultural costumes that add greatly to a choir's presentation.  The colour, style and sometimes shape of the outfits sure can add to the understanding of the music.  When the music represents a culture the costumes can only add to that.

3. Age Appropriate Clothing - when I was a young singer in our church choir we wore cassocks with a white surplice.  The junior choir wore beanies and the senior choir wore these awesome 4 corner hats.  Moving up to the Senior level meant moving from the beanie to the HAT.  Wow!  I was SO proud.  It is worth thinking about a change in the choir robe or outfit that would indicate growth or change when you have younger and older members.

4. Cost - Our shirts are less than $50 and purchased by our choir members.  I think really expensive outfits are unnecessary as that money can be used for so many other great things like music or trips. That is truly something that you will all have to agree on.

5. Ease of use and wear.  I belonged to an awesome choir some years ago.  We travelled to the U.K. to tour.  We had travel outfits that meant we had to purchase a set skirt or trousers, blouse or shirt and were given sweaters.  They were bulky to pack and the shirts looked less than their best after all that time in a suitcase.  They were even more fun to put on in a moving bus (coach) when we were headed to a Mayor's reception and were late from a trip to Mount Snowdon.  Now that was fun.  Everything you are now thinking, happened.
We also had lovely long gowns with red cummerbunds for concerts.  When we had to put them on all crammed into the top floor of a gate keepers guard house, they seemed much less glamorous. The trip across the road to the "loo" in the pub was also fun with these gowns on.  Great memories though.
My point is that what you wear will depend on where you will be and how easy it will be for you to change and move from one spot to another.  Being in a stone church with no toilets and very limited space is not the time to be putting on full length gowns or tuxedos in my mind.
Cleaning and care of the outfits must also be considered.  That can be quite an expense.  All those points have to be considered.  Our shirts are washable and "wick away" material so good for warm and cool venues.  We made those a conscious decision so we didn't have to have more than one for the most part.

All in all, consider where, when and how the outfits will be used.  My own thought is that you K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Sweetie) the costumes you want to use.  As long as it helps your sound be more harmonious and you feel good about how you all look together, then they are the outfits for you.
Let us know what YOU have for your choir clothing!!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Fun Friday - Singing at the Zoo for the Rhinos

I just connected with the Marwell Staff Choir on Twitter .  The staff, volunteers and other supporters have formed a choir.  Here is their awesome video in support of raising funds to save the rhino's. This is truly singing for a purpose.  Well done all.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - Why Do We Sing?

Talk to me and one of your words is sure to push a button that leads to a song.  Even if I have to get creative and rewrite the words or the tune somewhat, I get my idea across with a song.  Our children learned the "time to tidy up" song at nursery school.  All I ever had to do was start the song and they immediately started to put toys and crayons etc. in their proper places.  That song was absolutely Pavlovian in its effect.  The other part was that singing was so much simpler and so much more fun that nagging.  We even cleaned the kitchen after a meal to that song.

I am sure that you have songs or pieces of music you either sing or listen to that are special to you.  Sometimes, it isn't the song but the process that works for us like singing in the shower at top volume.  It just feels good.

1. Listening to music while creating art helps keep the left brain at bay so over-thinking doesn't happen.  Singing when you are on your own will make the creative juices flow.  Really.

2.  Studies have found that people who are ill are often helped by listening to music. This article talks about how singing to children in hospital helps them.   Look at that wee face!
Guitar and patient

3.  Even people working in technology are found to be more creative with music playing.  Now I wonder if the same would hold true if they sang?

4.  When we sing, endorphins or the "feel good hormones" are released.  However, I have choir members who tell me that just looking out to an audience and seeing their enjoyment makes them feel good.

Singing is one of those activities that works with or without an audience.  So why do you sing?  If not, why not?  Saying you can't is a cop out.  Everyone can sing even my completely tone deaf Uncle Ed.  It never stopped him from enjoying a good belt out of a song.

 "Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." - Berthold Auerbach 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Fun Friday - Cups Song Tap Dance

Yup, I take tap dancing lessons.  I used to take dance lessons as a kid and loved it.  When I had the chance to again take tap lessons 4 years ago, I signed up.  Well I am hooked all over again.  So this title caught my attention right away.  Remember a couple of weeks ago we had a great video of the cup song.  Here is another presentation.  I have to admit, I am not up to this level, yet, but isn't it fun?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - To Do or Not to Do. That is the Question.

A musical staff including a treble clef and notesLast week we talked about how to manage varying levels of our singers' musical abilities.  Now here is the dilemma.  You want to do a piece of music that everyone loves BUT when you start it, everyone seems to be having difficulty.  So do we just forget it and hope we get different singers in the future to do this piece or are there strategies for succeeding at what may seem to be beyond us. My husband likes to say, "There isn't anything I can't do.  It's just that the impossible takes longer."  I couldn't agree more.  
1. Everyone has to feel successful.  I have mentioned before that I do use recordings sometimes to familiarize the choir with the sound of the piece.  You Tube is a great resource for getting a good rendition of the piece in the arrangement you are attempting.  You don't want to play it so many times that they take on the style of the recorded choir, but just enough to be able to follow their parts in the written music.  Once that finished sound is in their heads, it really doesn't feel as hard.   
2. Start backwards.  Have the basses read over their part and EVERYONE sing.  They are doing sight reading but don't know it so don't tell them.  Then tenors, altos and lastly sopranos.  Please truly just read over the part.  This is not the time to get technical although you don't want flagrant mistakes made like note lengths or phrases broken unnecessarily.  
3. Go back and mark phrases and other details.  
4. Sing again backwards obeying the markings from before.  Please don't belabour any of these steps.  Keep it moving.  
5. Start putting the parts together non-traditionally.  Have the altos and tenors sing together.  Then the basses and sopranos.  Then tenors and basses or altos and basses.  Mix it up.  It heightens the reading but also tunes the ears to other parts.  
6. Sing and enjoy.  Make certain to catch them doing something right.  Point out the great phrases and perfect breathing.  Then, mark a trouble area and go over it ONCE or TWICE.  
7. Leave it to simmer and pull it out next practice.  
Have you tried any of these ideas?  What is your key to learning a challenging piece of music? Leave us a comment.  We would love to learn from you. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - How to Balance Differing Levels of Musical Background

If you have an auditioned choir your will have sorted much of the differences in musical abilities through that process.  If you have a volunteer, non-auditioned community choir, you will get varying degrees of musical knowledge and ability in each member.  No matter which type of choir you have, and no matter what ages you have, you will still find differences.  As the music director or choir leader, you must be able to balance those abilities helping each one to continue on their personal learning curve.

If you "dumb down" your work to accommodate those who have not much more than a wish to sing, you risk losing the interest of the more adept members.  The opposite will also be true.  How do we balance our music selections and teaching process so that each person learns and enjoys the experience?  Here are some of my suggestions.

1.  Start by singing.  At first, you really can't plan for a diverse group.  My suggestion is that you first sing some partner songs even as simple as Frère Jacques and Row, Row, Row Your Boat to see how they handle the singing of different sounds around them.  In a way, this is a group audition.  You can also do rounds which allow you to see how independent each singer seems to feel.  Watch their faces as well as listening to the sound.  You will see their frustration or security.  Now, ask them how they felt as they sang.

2. Hand out some music.  I like to start with an S.A.B. piece for adults.  Inevitably, you will have someone who can sing soprano and someone who is fairly adept at alto.  If you put the men together singing baritone to start, you are sure to have someone in there who will be able to read at least part of the piece.  It is even better if you can find a piece that has verses and chorus.  Even if it is all written in 3 parts, you can decide to sing a verse in unison.  That helps the less proficient readers to feel as if they have achieved at least that part.  Then, ask them how they made out as they sang.

3. Break out to practice the parts if you can.  This may take a couple of practices to achieve as you will want to find out if there is someone who is capable of taking the ladies or the men off to go over those parts separately.  This builds confidence and helps speed up the learning.  In smaller groups, it is easier to address individuality.  When they come back together, sing!  Then, ask them how they enjoyed the separate practice.

4. Don't beat a dead horse.  When you have done the above, and the singers are still struggling, reassess.  If they are having trouble with the pieces you have chosen, you might have to consider something less challenging until they build confidence.  Whatever you do, don't keep working at a piece that causes continuous struggle.  We will sometimes practise a piece, put it away and pull it out months later and amazingly, it works.  If it is dead, let it lie.  Ask the choir what they think about your decision to let it drop.

5. Ask them how they are doing.  Keep your choir as an active part of the process.  Are they feeling good about their progress?  What do they suggest could be changed or continued?  There are few situations that can't be solved by talking about it.  Really.  They know best how they feel.  Those who would rather not talk in a group will be happy to chat quietly at the end one to one.  I firmly believe if you communicate and remain open to how they feel, you will understand your singers and be much happier with the results.  You will sing music that challenges and do it well with everyone feeling a sense of accomplishment.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Fun Friday - Steve Martin & Kermit Dueling Banjos

Unlike what we saw Steve Martin doing on Tonal Tuesday, here he needs very few words.  The words he does utter at the end are very clear.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - Making the Words Sound Right Like Steve Martin

All of us have had times when we have listened to something and wondered what they had said or sung.  If we didn't need the words to tell the story then we would simply hum.  Sometimes, we can get so enthralled with the sounds, we can skimp on taking care to make the words clear.  Sort of like this little piece.  Steve Martin is learning to speak "American" so he won't sound out of place.
How does he do?
Of course, he fails miserably because it is much funnier that way.  Pink Panther movies were never meant to be serious - I think.

If we want to be able to do better than Mr. Martin then we need to be constantly aware that:
1. We sing on the vowels.  We know that but do we do it?  The main part of the sound must ride on the vowel sound.  Check out the information in this article link.  
Basic tips are that -  we must have a big space inside our mouths.
                               - sung vowels are different than spoken
                               - singing well should feel easy and comfortable.  If not, re-evaluate.

2. We create meaning with the consonants. They begin and end each word but all the sound must be on the vowel.  For those of you who want more detail, click this link.  Each consonant has a special placement in the mouth.
The consonants must be crisp and clean, short and sweet, and get them out of the way for the vowel sounds and finish the vowel with a decisive, clear finishing consonant.

To make it happen in a performance you must be vigilant in practice.  Here recordings are invaluable for us.  What are some of your hints for great sounds with meaning?  Click Comment below and tell us.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving with Now Thank We All Our God - John Rutter

Thank you singers and Kristy for all your music.  Thank you listeners for being our audiences.     Thank you all!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - Where to Sit? Seating Arrangements That Work

We have a S.A.T.B. community choir with varying numbers of people in each section.  As our choir is not auditioned but is purely voluntary.  All of our singers are willing to learn and some are practically pro's.  So with that mixture of abilities, a seating arrangement that works is really important. 

As we know, every choir has a different space in which to practice and perform.  If you are as lucky as we are, you will have a space with lots of area and great acoustics for practice.  However, when we perform, we sometimes have to get creative.  When the ceiling is low and the space small, we have to be able to hear one another.  We "squish" together as tightly as possible.  It is still sometimes hard to hear one another.

If you are a church choir in the traditional form, your chancel may have pews that face each other.  These arrangements could be adapted to your needs.  In that arrangement. we usually have tenors behind sopranos on one side and basses behind altos on the other.  Much like this diagram.
In a choir like ours, you want to arrange your singers so that the sounds they hear around them help them to blend well but also to be able to access the correct notes.  If you have less experienced singers then the tendency to sing the "tune" will have to be realized.

To support a part that is struggling, mix them so that they hear an opposing part.  For instance, flip the above chart so that the tenor and bass sit in front.  Have the altos behind the tenors and the sopranos behind the basses.

Another possibility is have the men together in the middle and the sopranos on either side.

With large numbers in your choir, there can be many choices especially if you have each part broken down into 1 and 2.  If you use the above diagram you can come up with many ways to help your singers get the best sound.

My best advice, keep trying new positions for each part to practice.  You can't change too much.  the more your singers become self confident, the better they and you will feel about the sound.

Tell us what formations YOU use.  Maybe we can help each other with some ideas.  Click "comment" below and leave your ideas.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Fun Friday - Tonight You Belong To Me with Fireworks

This daughter and dad obviously sing this together often.  Dad is very responsive to his daughter's "shh" and "stop".  Choir members note this immediate attention to the director who is this little gal in polka dots.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - Please, Please, Please Make Some Mistakes

As a music teacher, one of the things I begged my students to do was to make mistakes so that I would at least look like I had something to contribute.  If they were all ready perfect, then there was no need for me to be there.  Please, please, please make mistakes.  If we all felt that way, then people would be encouraged to do many more things they never expected to try.  So why then do people NOT want to sing?

     1. Somebody laughed. It really makes me boil when I hear a child or in fact a person of any age telling a story or singing a song and the people around him are laughing.  Yes, perhaps, they think that is “cute” but the person is serious.  He or she may perceive that the performance is being criticized.  Reserve your laughter.  Think of yourself in the same situation and please DON’T laugh.  If the person is serious then be serious.  If it is intended as a joke, then laugh.  We all need to be more sensitive of each other.  I cannot tell you how many grownup people tell me they were laughed at when they were kids and so they no longer sing.
     2..  They were told not to.  When people of all ages are exploring a new skill THEY WILL MAKE MISTAKES!!!  Of that we are certain.  The fearful person watching will sometimes say “funny” things like, “You better stick to your day job.”  Or “Glad it is you making a fool of yourself.”  When someone has the guts to try singing, acting, or hammering a nail for the first time, please give them room to learn.  Too many times we expect of ourselves and others that we must GET IT RIGHT the first time.  Our discomfort must not translate into negative talk.

How can we help people to do new things?
 a) Catch them doing something right.  When a person is singing, dancing, telling a joke or otherwise trying something new, find something they are doing well and tell them.  Say something like, “I love the words to that song,” or “You really love that song, I can tell.”  You aren’t making a comment on ability but on effort!  I remember being asked to sing Climb Every Mountain, a song I had sung as the Mother Abbess in Sound of Music.  We were in the kitchen at camp.  I swung into the song and enjoyed myself.  When I got to the end (remember that the cadence is quite high), the person who had asked me to sing said, “It would have been lovely if the last note had benn in tune.”  Yup, she had wanted something to criticize.  Apparently, the rest of the song had been fine.  Now, that didn't stop me from singing but it still stings today many years later. Imagine what words like that would do to someone with less than strong self-esteem?

b)Try it yourself.  Before you criticize someone else, you do it.  Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and you will be ever so much more encouraging and kind.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

Fun Friday - Irish Version of the "Cups" Song - Amazingly Catchy Rhythms

These young people have worked hard to make this come together so well.  The rhythms are incredible.  There is a really good reason why I am not a drummer.  Yikes.  I do appreciate that others can do what escapes me.  What do you think?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - What Happens When They Don't Come

balls,baseball,baseball bats,baseball diamonds,baseball fields,baseball gloves,baseball mitts,baseballs,bats,gloves,mitts,sports,sports equipmentBuild it and 'they' will come.  The movie Field of Dreams was based on that idea that the hero hears a voice telling him to build it and he will come, he being Shoeless Joe Jackson (I bet he never thought a restaurant would be named after him).

Often we think that if we have a great program, we will never have a problem getting our members to attend practices and gigs.  Well in short, that is just not so.  There are many reasons why people don't show up and most of them have absolutely nothing to do with you, your program or their enjoyment of being in the choir.

1. Your singers have a life.  It may be a surprise to you but your singers have a life outside the choir.  They have children who get sick, and parents, partners and dogs who need attention.  Some people let life dictate their timetable and so you will not see them when they are admonished for going out yet again.  They may love choir once they get there but getting there through the minefield of home stuff and personalities may present difficulties.

2. They might really be sick.  Enough said.  In that case, please stay home.

3. Personality conflicts.  There may be friction between singers.  When you have dedicated people they can get very upset by others who don't see things the same way.  Sometimes, sharp words can be exchanged.  You really do have to to have moles they will keep their finger on the pulse of the singers.  If you have a large group, this can be the job of the section leaders.  Personal private discussions are sometimes a necessity.

4.  Don't take it personally.  You really must not think what you think people are thinking when they really aren't thinking that at all.  If you are concerned that something is wrong, ask.  You can ask some of your key people or make it a general question and ask for private feed back by note or e-mail.  They can be anonymous if they wish.  Remember each person has different  view of the world never mind the choir and what happens there.

5.  Don't focus on the negative.  You have created (or someone has) a great singing tradition.  When only a few show up, work with them  Honour them.  We had a small turn out for choir last practice and the sound was amazing.  We sang through songs we hadn't done in a long time.  We didn't focus on who wasn't there but those who were.  Man they were awesome.  Go with the good and be elated at the result.

Sometimes, the cat throws up on your shoe, and you just have to deal.  It is never as bad as you imagine.  In fact, it can be a great thing.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fun Friday - Jail House Rock with Enthusiasm

This young man is just 2.  He knows there are words there and mouths at the appropriate time.  Clapping, posing and just loving the music.  We should all take a lesson. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - Enthusiasm Takes Thought & Effort

Act enthusiastic and you will be enthusiastic.  There is actually a whole 'self help" workshop system to get you to do this.  Check it out on You Tube.  

The great news is that I am going to share some ideas for FREE.  You don't have to take a workshop.  As a matter of fact, what I am going to tell you, you can practise everyday and I guarantee that it will be fun.

1. LOVE IT! - If you hate, loathe and despise an activity or song or bunch of people, guess what?  You will find it very hard to be enthusiastic.  in a choir, you have to enjoy most of the songs.  You have to enjoy the process of learning then.  AND enjoy sharing them in your gigs.  If you aren't enjoying these then you will find it hard to find enthusiasm.

2.  IT'S CATCHING - Surround yourself with people who are happy to be there and enjoy showing that.  You would call that, enthusiasm.  In a choir, you are choosing to be there.  So if you are going to be there have fun.  That enthusiasm is like measles and you can allow yourself to catch it!

3. FORGETABOUTIT - Leave the nasty workmate at work.  Leave the miserable kid at home.  Leave your "stuff" in a box and just enjoy the moment.  There are times I go to choir feeling less than perky.  Someone has said something, or I just feel a bit tired.  Once I get into practice and we make some great sounds, all that other stuff is gone.  I decide to be in the moment and have fun with the music and those wonderful people who made the effort to be at practice.  Enthusiasm is a state of mind.

In the 3 examples above, you will see that being enthusiastic is a choice.  When you don't have enough of your own energy, borrow some from those around you.  Find the good.  It is there.  Make it a point to feed others with our enthusiasm when you are up.  Let others feed you when you aren't.
Best advice, let yourself enjoy the world in the way of a 3 year old.  Don't worry about what anyone thinks but YOU!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Embro Fair Talent Show 2013 - Thank You For the Music

It is amazing when you watch the video to see how many people walk about and all the noise around you.  It is a good thing that while we are singing, we don't notice.  We are just having too much fun!

E.T.S. at the Embro Fair 2013 - Sparkling Like ABBA

We had fun singing at the Embro Fair again this year.  We have fun supporting our community.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fun Friday - 12 Pianists. One Piano

This is truly a performance piece and so fun to watch.  They are really into making this happen.  I love all the creative ways they use the possibilities of using all parts of the piano to make unique sounds.  Talk about Dynamics!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Terrific Tuesday - How to Find The Emotion Needed to REALLY Sing a Piece

As a 13 year old singing student, I had the dubious pleasure of learning "Hast Thou Seen But a Bright Lily Grow" to sing for the Music Festival Competition.  I had no idea Ben Johnson had written it.  I also had no idea what it meant.  I just know that I did not like singing it but I sang it like my life depended on it because I wanted to beat out my arch rival, Jeanine.  I did!  Apparently, that was the emotion that got me through that song.   Notice how these words have been modernized.

Have you seen but a bright lily grow                                                                                                     Before rude hands have touched it?
Have you marked but the fall of snow  
Before the soil hath smutched it?
Have you felt the wool of beaver,
Or swan's down ever?
Or have smelt o' the bud o' the brier,
Or the nard in the fire?
Or have tasted the bag of the bee?
O so white, O so soft, O so sweet is she!

I mean really - SMUTCHED - for a 13 year old?  I have been checking on You Tube and the seriousness of the tenors singing this poem is a glory to behold.   Now, that is not the tune I remember but apparently, they are finding something in those words I still do not. 

To present a song and honestly connect with your audience you must FEEL something.  My passion to win got me beyond the non-understanding of this poem.  There must be a passion there.

1.  WORDS - The words in the poem above certainly have great meaning and as an adult I sort of get what Ben Johnson was saying but would ever sing that with passion?  Nope!  It doesn't mean that others don't, however.  If the words are saying something that really hits you where you live then let those create the passion to make this the best song it can be.  For many in E.T.S., the words in "You Raise Me Up" or "Wonderful World" really create that depth of feeling.

2. HARMONY - Sometimes, it is the intricacy of the harmonies that can make emotions flow.  Once you have mastered a particularly tricky or rich harmony and understand how the parts work together and why, the piece goes beyond just presentation and enters the heart.  Then, it connects. We have 3 really tricky chords in "Over the Rainbow" that took some doing to get just right.   Now, when we get to that spot, it gives me chills and audiences have remarked similarly.

3. BODY LANGUAGE - If you slouch, lean back or just look rather dour, your audience with lose interest.  Lean into your music with a balanced stance, good posture, lowered chin, and above all dancing eyes.  Your eyes tell the tale.  Sometimes, you can smile with your mouth but most often it is only your eyes that can tell the story without affecting the necessary rounded vowels .  Whether you are having fun or feeling the love or deep sad emotions telegraph same to your face.  Your music will be so much more interesting to sing and you will create that bond with the listeners.

4. CONDUCTING -  There are as many opinions on how best to conduct a choir as there are people. My personal style is to use my hands not a baton which would be very dangerous to the safety of those in the front row.  I am told, I really get into the music.  I try very hard not to distract so there is a fine line between getting too involved and just enough to help the choir "get it".  I loved the conductor from The Lion Sleeps tonight.  Now that elicits emotion that easily transfers to the audience.

Get the words to mean something.  Enjoy the music you are making.  And above all HAVE FUN!!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Fun Friday - The Muppets and the Lion Sleeps Tonight

On Tuesday  we explored how dynamics can add interest to your choral presentations.  Here the Muppets sing a version of the same song although they have applied some rubato to the rhythm. The dynamics are achieved mainly by varying the voices and type of presentation.  Still effective don't you think?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Terrific Tuesday - Dynamics Make a HUGE Difference - The Lion Sleeps Tonight

When you listen to this wonderful young choir, you will be hit by the differences in dynamics.  Often, singing loudly is what happens.  Getting a choir to uniformly get quieter and louder as needed takes practice and care.  I think there are a number of ideas at work here.

1. WHY?  Make certain your singers know what you want. You need to communicate to your singers where you need the differences in dynamics.  Once they understand WHY they will be half way to making it happen.  This means that you have to review your music carefully long before the first rehearsal.

2. WHERE?  a) They all need to see where in the music you want the changes.  For instance, this choir uses dynamic changes to enhance repeated phrases.  The second time the phrase starts out softer and grows in loudness.  Very smart.  They obviously know that perfectly.

b)  The second part of WHERE is the actual venue.  This church has great acoustics.  It really helps both the audience and the choir to hear those differences.  Some venues may require just loud or fairly soft sounds.  We have sung in small, tight venues and it is necessary to keep the sound more controlled.  When singing in a huge space, loud might be required.

3. HOW?  This conductor is using big movements and a great smile to connect with his singers.  We don't get to see him all the way through, but when we do we can see why the choir members watch so intently.  His motions are clear and helpful.  Giving clear, concise directions is so important. Consistency is also essential.  If you keep changing the spot where you want softer or louder sounds, the choir may get confused.

All in all, working at dynamic versatility, creates excitement in the singers because they are challenged.  It creates excitement in the listeners because they are never quite sure what will come next.  Keeping both audience and choir on their toes is just a lot more fun.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Fun Friday - Breathing Underwater - Metric

Th is wonderful Canadian band certainly has learned to breathe properly and with it make a great sound.  What do you think?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - Making it Fun to Breathe

Ah, the summer is over and regular practices have begun again.  We had a wonderful pot luck supper and practice on Sunday.  It is informal a fun.  We sit around the living room and sing with friends about.  The couch is not the greatest for proper singing posture so we really have to be careful not to work too long or over exert ourselves.

So why is sitting properly so important?  Well, silly, we have to be able to breathe.  We breathe to sustain life but somehow from our childhood's perfect diaphragmatic breathing, we slip into really bad habits.  We breathe in a very shallow fashion and then wonder why talking makes our throats sore or we can't sing for more than a few minutes.

I have shared in a past post about some breathing exercises which I would encourage you to revisit.  Here are a few more less conventional ideas to get us back into the swing.

1. THINK ABOUT BREATHING - As I sit typing, I am taking in a breath while using the diaphragm muscle just under the rib cage.  In simple terms, just push out the belly and don't let the shoulders rise.  Let the diaphragm pull down the lungs to allow them to expand and fill with air.  Then talk normally but see how long you can sustain the words with lots of inflection without running out of air.

2. SING INSTEAD OF TALKING - Anyone who knows me has often heard me turn a conversation into a song.  If someone says a key word that reminds me of a song, I sing it.  I have also been known to take a song or nursery rhyme and change the words to suit the situation.  In other words, I sing the conversation as often as I speak.  Well, you don't have to make up words, just sing something you are thinking.  For instance, sing this paragraph.  Singing will help you with the proper breathing. More singing means better breathing.

3. SING ALONG WITH A FAVOURITE ARTIST - Like #2 above, singing along is an easy way to improve your breathing.  Have fun.  Check out this wee singer.  She is the most enthusiastic Elvis fan I have encountered in a long time.  You can do it too.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Fun Friday - The Farmer is the Man an Industrial Ballad

Harvey dropped by the other day.  He mentioned the song, The Farmer is the Man.  I hadn't heard it but he sang the words and they made me think of the bumper sticker, "Farmers Feed Cities".  As you may know, the Embro Thistle Singers are based in a very rural area.  We will soon be singing at the Embro Fair which is a In today's technological society we still need our farmers to produce the food that feeds us.  Yes they are trying to create "test tube beef" but I doubt anyone will sing a song about it.  Are you writing one as I type?

Pete Seeger, has a way of presenting songs in their true form.  The Smithsonian Folkways created a set of songs about the American industrialization of the 19th century and The Farmer is the Man is included.  It is royalty free for anyone who wants to include it in a concert. 

Here again we see the importance of songs that share our history.  Last week we saw the rock equivalent with the Lovin' Spoonful.  Now, check out these words as you hear Pete Seeger sing. Think about those hard working farmers on your next drive through the countryside as the harvest begins.  The Farmer is the Man!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - Hot Time Summer in the City - Lovin' Spoonful

I got a call from a choir member who was cleaning out a cupboard and I was the lucky recipient of some great music books.  Just flipping through brought back many wonderful memories.

As the summer starts to wind down, the music we listen to can remind us of days gone by.  Here in our part of the world, it is getting hot again.  In looking up "hot" songs, this Lovin' Spoonful song popped up.  Look at the hair.  Oh my.

Depending on your age, when go onto YouTube or check out your songbooks stored in the piano bench or music cupboard, you can find music from your past.  What fun to remember where you were when you heard that song.

Music has that power to take us back to memories.  Sometimes it makes us laugh and sometimes the tears just flow.  Seldom does a song leave us blank.

So what is the song that brings back memories for you?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Fun Friday - Sylvia Tyson Canadian Folk Singer

On Tuesday, we remembered folk music and I hope you have explored some of your favourites.  Have you found some of those dusty books in the closet?

Here Sylvia is talking a little about the day Bob Dylan went electric.  Check out Tuesday's post and see the young Dylan with acoustic guitar.

Here are great memories from Ian and Sylvia.  As you heard in the interview, there were people who used folk music to forward an agenda.  Any hidden meanings?