Friday, May 31, 2013

Fun Friday - Differences of Opinion

This was sung originally by Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers in "Shall We Dance" in 1937.  It has been sung by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Harry Connick Jr.  and many more.  Just because we have differences doesn't mean we can't work together.  Check out Tuesdays blog.

Now there is a Barbershop Quartet with a unique approach and name.  Check this out.  You may not want to listen to the whole song but the first part is fun for sure.  They are really characters and obviously having fun with the music.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - Hey, Mikey Didn't Like It!

In all things we do with other people, we run into divergent opinions.  Especially in music, we are never going to have perfect agreement on the pieces we learn, the way we learn them, or when and how we sing them.   Being the director means you can overrule those opinions if you want and simply do what you think is best or you can let the choir run roughshod over you and do pieces you know are not good.

I suggest a middle of the road approach.  Of course, different choirs have varying criteria for choosing music.  On ChoralNet I asked just such a question in a forum and got some amazingly astute and helpful answers.  Before we can even begin that process, I think there are some really important criteria we must meet.

1. What kind of choir are you?  A chamber choir or church choir will choose much different music than a community choir.  Do you sing for a paid audience or just for community events?  In our case, we have chosen not to have set concerts so we can sing an eclectic group of songs that might not work in a concert situation.  Before even looking at music, you have to know WHO you are.

2. What voices do you have?  Having worked with changing voices for much of my career, the music I chose had to be comfortable for all to sing whether their voices cracked or not.
Now we have adults who can pretty much count on the voices to stay the same.  They love to sing in 4 parts and we have strong singers in each so we choose music accordingly.
If you have girls voices or women only you won't be singing songs of the sea for instance.  The pieces must be shown off by the voices you have in the style that works for your choir.

3. How many are you?  Our choir is not large, just around 20 voices.  We must not try and do "Battle Hymn of the Republic" as it would sound reedy and ineffective.  We need to focus on pieces that depend on finesse and acuity I think.  What a larger choir can do is not always effective for a smaller group.  In a larger group, if someone makes a mistake it is often "drowned" out by the sheer numbers of other singers.  Not so with fewer singers.  Those inaccurate sounds stick out.  Choose songs that the singers feel comfortable singing otherwise their tension will spoil the sound.

4. How much time do you have?  I was amazed to find out that some choirs practice as much as 12 hours the week before a concert.  Our choir only meets every second week so we choose music that we can do well in short bursts.  Sometimes we add extra practice time but one reason people joined our choir was that it wasn't a weekly commitment.  We will never do the whole of the Messiah.  If you choose music that is very tricky and you only have a short time to work on it then you are just asking for trouble.
I know some choirs are paid and must attend a specific amount of time.  I am not referring at all to those situations.  Volunteers need to have their time and TALENT respected.  Choose carefully.

5..  What do you love?  Our Embro Thistle Singers amaze me always.  Our last rehearsal was delicious.  They were sensitive to dynamics, words and harmony.  Each part was aware of what they needed to do and knew when to ask for some help.  At the end, although we have never formally worked on "For the Beauty of the Earth" by John Rutter, we do have the music and they couldn't leave until they had sung it.  They simply love that piece and it is dessert at the end of a fine meal.  How cool is that?  Do they love all the pieces we do equally? No, not even close.  But enough love each one so that each comes off well.  They are willing to sing their less favourites in order to be able to sing the others.  Our job as directors is to find those pieces that work for our singers and our public presentations.
When we find a piece that really doesn't hit any buttons, no matter how fine or fun it is, we drop it.  It is that simple.  Unless you are singing set pieces for a festival or competition then why work hard on what doesn't stir your passion.  Yes, I have taught 14 year olds to sing, "A Misty, Moisty Morning" and it wasn't easy.  But we also sang "Good Morning Starshine".

If they don't enjoy singing the music, the performance will suffer.  Does it mean you have to "dumb down" and use extra simple music.  No.  Just choose to suit your situation.  What do you do?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Fun Friday - Military Wives Flash Mob

If you are a regular reader, you know we have mentioned and featured the Military Wives Choirs a number of times.  These ladies are from all over Scotland.  They are supporting their military members with this wonderful "What Have you Done Today to Make you Feel Proud?" song and to bring attention to their poppy campaign.  It isn't an easy song to sing as a choir but in that venue even trickier but they do it. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - The Way We Were (Are?)

Emoticon on laptop computer

This quotation is from a post from Choral Net by Scott Dorsey.  Choral Net is a wonderful resource for choirs and leaders alike.  I have learned much from being able to share with directors from all over the world.  My how times have changed.  When I was teaching school, it was an effort to talk to the teacher in the next school never mind one in France.  Oh I LOVE technology.  But as much as times have sped up, we often use music written many years ago so this is an interesting idea.

"While watching a classic old black & white move recently, one was struck by the incredible changes that have taken place in the role gender plays in society.  In his article, “Church Musicians and Inclusive Language: A Beginning” (Central Division Resound Vol.34, No.1), Andy Call discusses how the use of words reflects such changes:
Regardless of our personal feelings about the debate over gender-neutral or gender-inclusive vocabulary, that vocabulary is now a part of the fabric of our language.

We do have to listen to the words we use when speaking but as Scott has suggested perhaps we need to think about changing words in old text to suit a present day norm.  I think that the debate is not just about gender but about any group of people.

1.  Should we change the words?  Changing words can change the rhythm and feel of a piece.  Singing old songs means we will be representing that period in time.  I think we need to be aware of that and discuss the none inclusiveness of the language not matter what ages our choir represents.  I tend to even mention it when we perform if it is appropriate.

2.  Should we sing that song?  Perhaps, if the song has a very skewed use of language, it might be inappropriate to be sung.  Is the music worth the use of language that is derogatory towards a certain group of people?  I think not.  If I wouldn't be comfortable saying the words, then I certainly won't sing them.  Even if we change the words of a well know song, the old and perhaps insulting words may still be remembered.  My vote is nix the song.

3.  How do we decide?  Common sense is our biggest ally.  Put yourself in the other's shoes.  Ask others and if they feel at all uncomfortable then let that common sense kick in. There has got to be something else out there more important than that single song.

What do you do?  

Friday, May 17, 2013

Fun Friday - I Believe She's Amazing at the Eaton Centre

The song is really catchy with good words.  The dancers are very co-ordinated.  The venue bright and roomy.  But the very best part is the joy that the music and the vivacious action brings to all around them.  The crowd is smiling, clapping and really into the music.  Isn't that what it is all about?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - The National Anthem How To's

We have been asked to sing Oh Canada and God Save the Queen at the Embro Highland Games July 1.  I don't know about you, but I have watched soloists and choirs alike sing national anthems that truly made me cringe.  Here are some suggestions for making the national anthem of any country, a true tribute.

1. Memorize the Words - There are some very famous faux pas that have centred around not singing the correct words.  One memorable hockey game had a fine singer who obviously had learned the words of Oh Canada from an old book because the words were changed slightly in 1967 when it became our OFFICIAL national anthem.  In this case, Mr. Bean type schwa sounds will not do.

2. Practice - Do not assume that you all ready know it well enough to sing.  Practice perhaps even more than for any other song.  It is all ready well known by those listening and you must present the best possible rendition.

3. Accompanist - Make certain to practise with the accompanist so that speed and volume do not become negative issues.  Your accompaniment must augment your vocal sounds not drown them out or be so soft that it is hard to stay in tune.

4. Tried and True - Please, oh please stay with the original and straight forward rendition.   There is NO need to warble or use rubato to fancy it up.  An anthem is not the time to get creative.  This is especially true when the audience is encouraged to sing along.  K.I.S.S. the anthem (keep it simple sweetie)

5. Dress Appropriately - It may be hot or cold.  It may be an arena or board room.  Wherever and whenever you sing, please wear something that reflects the importance of your song.  Choirs who have set uniforms are set.  I believe groups sing better when they dress to reflect the sound they wish to make, blended.  The old white top and black trousers or skirts is always a good fall back.  Soloists, please cover up all your parts and let's not have a wardrobe malfunction.

When in doubt let the babies sing it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Fun Friday - Music that Shows We Care

I don't know why I hadn't seen this wonderful song.  It is two years old but its message timeless.  The choir that they form near the end is very impressive.

The words mean so much more when you have been with friends who have sent their children into a war zone.  Both came back "safely" but probably never the same.

Watch and be reminded of the power of the choir!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tonal Tuesday - Thank You for the Music

When we started practice on Sunday, I told the choir that after practice and after listening to the rehearsal CD I couldn't get this song out of my head.  Well here we go again.

I love this speed.  Don't you?

To my wonderful singers I say with all my heart, thank YOU for the music.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Fun Friday - Holy Cow! How Does He Do That?

This multi-tasking in a whole new way. If you want to just see the instrumental part move the cursor to 3:55 to start.