Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - The End of the Song is the Cadence, I Think

The cadence is the fancy word for ending.  Here is a video found on ChoralNet that gives you two choirs with very different approaches to ending this spiritual.

One choir simply ends the piece and the other choir slows down (ritard) and changes the dynamics as well. 
business,females,harmony,males,men,metaphors,music,people,persons,singers,teamwork,women,working together

I don't think there is a right or wrong here.  The ending of course would depend on the approach to the entire song.  Sometimes ending a song suddenly has a great impact and catches the audience unaware.  

Sometimes, slowing down too much makes your audience lose interest.  They are just really happy you are done if you lengthen it too much.  We have a song that has an ending phrase that really doesn't make sense to us.  Instead of singing it we are treating it as a tacit (silence) and we think about it.  We know we can't rewrite someone's music but we can think it really hard. 

1.  Consider your audience - Are they young and perhaps restless or are they able to absorb a more lengthy? 

2. Does the ending honour the intention of the composer as you understand it?  

3. Are all your endings the same?  We were discussing an ending the other day and it was mentioned that some groups always end by "fading out".   Be careful to change things up according to  #1 and #2.

4. Do you enjoy singing the cadence?  If you enjoy it then so will your audience.  If it doesn't make sense then figure out another way.  You don't need to change the arrangement but just the way you approach the music.  

As we always say, the audience will remember the beginning and the ending so make them count positively.  

Friday, April 26, 2013

Fun Friday - Mr. Bean Does it Again - Ode to Joy

In a recent article, a choir leader was asking about learning other languages using phonetics.  I opined that although I had done that once, notably to learn the Welsh National Anthem, it was really difficult.

Check out Rowan Atkinson as he makes up the words never mind using phonetics.  First he uses the schwa sounds and then, just gets creative.  This is so funny.  Enjoy

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - The Well Muscled Singer

Somehow that title brings to mind a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger singing a tra-la-la.

Mind you if he wanted to learn, Embro Thistle Singers would love to have him.  Maybe he could teach us about keeping our muscles in shape for singing well.

As I do more research into being a choir leader, I am realizing that ideas I took for granted when I was younger are now coming more to the forefront.

As choir leaders, we often focus on the vocal warm ups but can forget the physical part necessary for the voice to work well without strain.  As singers, we can make a difference by keeping our bodies in shape.  No you don't have to be an "Arnold" but there are some simple things that will make a difference for you whether you are singing or not.

1. Posture is Key - Stand legs slightly apart leaning slightly forward so that your weight is supported by the balls of your feet and not the heels.  Start with hands comfortably at your sides (a perfect stance for singing).  You can do this standing at the counter chopping veggies or waiting for a bus or while standing beside the neighbour's car trading inside tips on extending engine life.  If you practise this posture at all times, it will become second nature.  Not only is is good for singing, but helps you breathe more efficiently and align your internal organs so that they work better as well.  Okay T.M.I. (too much information?).

2. Walk - Park far away from the store and walk to the door.  Make it part of your day to walk at least 20 minutes.  This can be done 5 minutes at a time.  Walk around the block at work.  Walk around the mall on bad days (our small town doesn't have a mall so we use umbrellas a lot). When I was tranferred to a school in another town, I parked at the Board Office that was a 20 minute walk from my school and then walked.  It is amazing what you can do to fit in this simple and yet perfect exercise.

3. Ride a Bike - My dad rode his bike many miles a day far into his 70's.  If walking doesn't appeal then a bike may be the answer.  Even a stationary bicycle or treadmill may be your answer.  I like being outdoors but you have to do what works for you.

4. Take Classes - At the last American Choral Directors' National Conference, they had yoga classes for conductors and participants.  Yoga is not my thing but I love kick boxing.  Since those classes haven't been happening, I find my arm muscles are a bit sore after rehearsals.  Guess I need to find another class.

Whatever it takes, do something good for you.  Keep your body and your voice in good shape.  But for goodness sake, have FUN doing it!!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Fun Friday - Mama Mia in the Mall

I have told you before how much we enjoy singing ABBA songs.  We were talking about doing all the Mama Mia songs.  These moves are really something.  I think ours would be somewhat more laid back.  What do you think?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - The Rest of the Story

How does your choir grow?  Choirs are all about singing and performing and for us being of service to the community and having fun with it all.  But it takes more than just choir practice to keep a choir going.

I know some choirs have boards of directors and other official members who run the choir's finances and fund raising and even book the venues etc.  We don't have anything so fancy.  We run by consensus.  I know that with many choirs that might not be the way that works best but for us it really makes it all come together.

But behind all of the music are many people who are integral to our Embro Thistle Singers' success.

1. Knox United Church allows us to practice every other week.  It is a beautiful church with lovely acoustics.  We are very lucky to have such a wonderful place to rehearse. . We really appreciate that generosity.

2. One of our fabulous altos, Kathy and her hubby do a lot of the care of the church building.  It was Kathy who suggested the church as our home base.  Thanks Kathy!

3. Every time we get an opportunity to raise some funds, the spouses and choir members bake wonderful goodies.  They bring them wherever we are and often volunteer to be at the table with us.  Then, the community members generously donate money for our goodies.  Without that kind of support, we just couldn't survive.  We sure appreciate it.

4.  Many community members invite us to sing at events during the year.  When we were brand new and an unknown quantity, we got to sing at the Knox United, Embro Fair, Cambrocourt, and Brooksdale Church.  We have enjoyed every place we have sung and are very grateful for each and every opportunity.

5.  Our practices are recorded every week and every Monday I get the completed recording in my mailbox.  It has been invaluable to be able to hear what we did and how we can make an even better sound.  We also have a practice CD with the best of the rehearsal songs so that the choir can practice on their own.  Thanks Damon.  These are great.

6.  Of course, the singers are the single most important part.  We are a non-auditioned choir.  If people want to learn to sing or all ready know, we want them.  Our members are amazingly dedicated to making music.  Elaine heads up the soprano & alto sectional rehearsals and really does a superb job.  Many singers bring in music to try, and suggest others I may not have thought of.  They really make a great effort each and every practice.  I couldn't have chosen a better group of singers.

7.  Kristy our accompanist is exceptional.  It takes a very special talent to truly be able to accompany and Kristy has it in spades.  We work as a team and it is such a treat.  The few times Kristy has been away, Carolin has always graciously stepped up to fill in.  Wow!  Are we blessed.

It takes a village as they say.  Indeed, Embro has been a great home base.  It takes much more than a song or two to create a choir and we couldn't be happier.  Thanks all.  Onward and upward.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - Singing Because We Can

I had the distinct pleasure of attending Strathroy's Barbershop Concert last Saturday evening and what a treat it was.  Kudos to our tenor, Bob Howlett, who not only sings in the chorus but in the Rural Roots Quartet as well.  Their rendition of "I'm My Own Grandpa" was sensational.  Bob delivered the difficult words with aplomb.   

Barbershoppers LOVE to sing and will sing at the drop of a hat or even with a cup of coffee.

I think it is amazing that the lady to the left is quite unperturbed by the singing.  She just carries on.

Bob sings "lead" with the Barbershoppers.   He is working away in the E.T.S. learning the tenor part which is quite different from his part in the barbershop music and doing a great job.

What makes barbershop harmony different from all other forms?  Well as most of our readers are aware, sounds all have overtones that when blended together make a singular sound.  The waves created by those overtones are what create that "ringing" or lasting sound when you are listening.  this is what happens with Barbershop sound.

1.  Firstly, they have an additional note added to their 4 parts that would sound like a dissonance or wrong sound anywhere else.  It is the 7th note of the scale which sung against the traditional thirds we are used to hearing in western music  and makes the sound quite unique.

2. The harmonics or overtones created by the addition of the extra note, creates that distinctive sound often called a "ringing chord".  Of course, that chord is only found in parts of the music but is often more than half.  This makes the arranging of Barbershop  music very specialized.

3. Barbershoppers sing a Capella or without accompaniment.  Their chords are so rich in and of themselves that additional sounds are not necessary.  They use a pitch pipe to get the right starting note however.

4. They move, they act, they enjoy every minute they are singing.  Whether they are singing in Tim Horton's or on the stage at their yearly concert or at competitions, they just have a ball.  Because they have fun, they transfer that fun to the audience.  If you don't leave a Barbershop concert smiling, you weren't listening.  You don't have to love the harmonics but you have to love the effort and the enthusiasm.  What a treat.

Thanks Bob for reawakening my love of the Barbershop style.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Fun Friday - What Have You Done Today to Make You Feel Proud?

If you joined a choir for the first time, you have done this.  If you are thinking about it, come on out.  We will teach you everything you need to know.

The Rock Choirs in the U. K. are also non-auditioned choirs that do not require you to be able to read music when you join.  If you check out more of their videos on YouTube you will see they use soloists and the choir as backup.  Anything that gets people singing, feeling confident, and having fun is great.  What do you think?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - Singing is All About Doing it YOUR Way!

In an article originally written for GQ magazine,  Andrew Corsello tells of his journey from "bad" boy by choice to husband of an Episcopalian priest to member of the church choir.  He found that as in becoming a writer, in order to become a singer YOU must give yourself permission.  He calls it "license".   Think of Leonard Cohen.  He doesn't have the greatest voice but he has confidence and he sings anyway.

Our voice is our instrument.  If you play a piano or French horn, you can blame that instrument at least somewhat when the sound isn't what you would wish.  When the instrument resides inside you, then it represents you at least in the minds of many.  Now, we have to realize that people can feel less as a person when that vocal instrument doesn't always do what it should to make acceptable sounds.

So how do we overcome people's feelings of inadequacy when they are singing or when we would like them to sing in our choirs?  Whether you are a fellow singer or the director these ideas may help you help others be happier singers.

1.  Build people up.  Your singers must feel good about being in your space.  They also have to feel that their efforts are recognized and appreciated.  Is there any reason why we can't tell someone when they have done something well.  Catch people doing something well.  If someone talks during rehearsal in a inappropriate place, then make certain to point out how much you appreciated their NOT talking.  instead of waiting for someone to sing a wrong note or timing, compliment their good notes and fine phrasing.  Try to concentrate on the right not correcting the wrong.  Yes you have to stop wrong notes and timing etc. but go over those things at section practices.  Whomever you have for section leaders can be clued into the areas that need practice.

2.  Encourage mistakes.   Let your choir tell you when they aren't happy with a set of notes, phrase or timing etc.  When they ask for clarification or help it can be their need to have you tell them that they are doing a great job or their lack of confidence in their work.  It can also just be a misunderstood musical moment.  However, your response as a singer or director is key.  Please let people know that mistakes are GREAT!!!!  As I used to tell my students, if they didn't make at least one mistake then I wouldn't be needed because they would all ready be perfect so my job would be redundant.  Perfection is not going to happen thank goodness.

3. Love them where they are.  If you have an auditioned choir and/or paid members then your level of acceptance will be tempered by the fact that those people have to perform well because it is more of a job.  Those of us who belong to or direct a volunteer group, will have more diverse talent and ability ranges.  Bring them along by teaching, doing warm-ups and working on individual parts that help to mitigate the areas that are less strong.  For instance, if people are breathing incorrectly, then do warm ups that work on phrasing and thus correct breathing.  Go over your music and mark the places to breathe.  You may even want to mark the areas where staggered breathing could occur and assign members to those.  They will learn to do those things on their own if you are patient and help them realize the importance.

4.  Record the practice.  We are lucky in that we purchased a recommended digital recorder and Damon sets up a tripod every practice so that I can hear the work.  When you have people thinking something sounds terrible or great, play it for them and then you can dispassionately take it apart and make changes accordingly if needed.  Those who don't realize how important they are to the whole, will hear it.

We know that we are not our singing voice.  But sometimes we have to make certain people know we care about them and not just the sounds they make.  Check our our previous post on Building Confident Singers for more tips.