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.