Friday, February 28, 2014

Fun Friday - The Storm is Passing Over

Last Saturday at Chalmers Kintore United Church the Embro Thistle Singers had the privilege of singing at the memorial for our late choir member Damon.  The choir from the Kintore church sang this song and we are going to learn it.  It truly was appropriate and very well done.

Here are two choirs singing the same song.  Which do you like best?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - Eat, Drink and Be Singing - A Guide

One thing I know for sure is that as soon as I commit any thoughts on eating and drinking before singing, someone will have an opposite that works wonders for them.  It won't make either of us right or wrong but will point out that what works for one is not always a panacea for another.  These are in general ideas that work for MOST.

1. NO ALCOHOL at least 2 hours before singing.  One of the biggest reasons for this is the smell which can really be strong and will bother someone near you.  Alcohol and driving isn't great for being sharp and on your toes.  It is the same for singing.

2. NO DAIRY before singing.  Dairy, including butter, will cause mucous to be produced and that will interfere with your being able to sing clearly.

3. EAT VEGGIES - Complex carbohydrates give long lasting energy as well as contributing to overall general health.  You might want to stay away from broccoli and cabbage types as they can cause discomfort for some afterwards not to mention that little green bits in your teeth aren't cute.  Green & yellow beans (not brown beans - don't get confused here), salad, peas and other legumes are generally okay.

4. EAT LEAN CHICKEN, FISH, TOFU or PASTA - Many singers prefer a whole wheat or gluten free pasta with olive oil and light spice (no garlic for obvious reasons) but a a lean meat is fine.  Many singers are certain that olive oil really helps their ability to sing well.

4. EAT FRUIT - Here again there are some that many find great for keeping the throat clear.  Some find citrus causes mucous or even dryness while others are fine with it.  Generally, "watery" fruits such as watermelon, grapes, peaches and pineapple are better than the harder apples and bananas which I find sticky in my throat.

5. TEA & COFFEE vs WATER - Again here it is your choice.  I have no difficulty with tea & coffee.  I find tea with a bit of lemon is lovely for me.  I however, don't drink coffee before singing.  Water is okay but not right before you sing.  Something about bathroom breaks in concerts comes to mind here.

WHEN - Ideally 2 hours before singing.  If you are invited to dinner and then have to sing, you had better stick to light and clear items.

WHY - Singing is an athletic endeavour.  You need to eat well to enhance your health for stamina and ability.  Following an athletic diet is really ideal.

WHERE - May I be so bold as to suggest that the best pre-concert meal is best served at home.  Fast food can be laden with sugar, fats and carbs that may not be ideal for helping you feel your best.

Sugars are really not good for us anyway but really not good before singing.  Think athlete and you will eat properly.  Enjoy the "After Glow" even more as no rules apply then!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Fun Friday - Russia Contributes More than Players to Hockey!

I was listening to our national radio, CBC and they were talking about how during the 1972 Russia vs Canada game the arena organist was looking for some Russian music to play.  He came across the folk song Kalinka. It is now a staple at many sports games.  If you watch hockey at all you will recognize this piece and its varying tempos from a slow march to a run.  With the audience clapping enthusiastically, the conductor has a job to keep the orchestra on tempo(s).

The soloist has amazing breath control.  Some of his notes seem to go on for ever.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - Conducting 101

Are you the one who uses her index finger to conduct the music on the radio?  Are you constantly watching the director at the choir concert?  Is the bathroom mirror constantly fogging us just when you get to the big finale of Beethoven's 5th?  Then this post is for you.

I didn't know I would end up teaching music even though it was a favourite subject for me.  I actually ended up teaching music by default when the man they hired quit at Christmas and there I was switched from literature and geography to music.  When I came back from the Christmas holiday, not only was I the new music teacher but I was also newly married.  It was an interesting time.

I learned by doing.  It was expected that the students would participate in the music festival.  That meant that someone had to wave their hands at them to keep the singing together.  At that time, waving and keeping time was probably all I actually did.

Since then, I have taken a number of courses and conducted a whole lot more choirs.  Let me share some of what I have learned that I am certain will help you take the next orchestra to the cadence with panache.

1. Learn the beat patterns.  Whatever the time signature, there is a corresponding beat pattern.  I spent much time in front of the mirror trying to get my arm to keep the pattern.  Later you will add dynamics with the left hand but for now, check these out and get in front of the mirror.  Most rock songs are in 4/4 time just so you know.  Waltzes are 3/4 and marches are 2/4.  Now go!

Beat 1 is always the down beat as it has the most "weight" or the strongest accent.

2. Baton or no baton? I personally do not use a baton.  I have tried - valiantly.  I have wacked myself more times than I care to admit.  I have also lost my grip and all but wiped out the sopranos.  I know many conductors like and use a baton especially with a large group.  My style just doesn't allow for baton.  I would love to hear what YOU do.

3. Dynamics in conducting.  There are a few ways that people learn to conduct the dynamics or loudness and softness of the music.  Some use bigger motions when the intention is louder sound.  Some, like me, raise the right hand, palm up, for crescendo and lower it, palm down, for softer.  Whatever your method, you and your choir need to understand the sign language.  It is all about communicating.

4.  Move or stand still?  My dear hubby always says that watching me from the back is very entertaining.  There is no way in this world that I could be still while conducting.  Music is a passion and as such my entire body is involved.  Now there is a point at which too much action from the conductor could be distracting to all.  I believe that I have found my middle ground where I don't distract from the awesome sounds the singers create.  I lean forward when the music is intense and needs great focus.  I open up with broader movements when the a grander sound is required.

I have simplified the process here somewhat.  Conducting is a very personal and yet co-operative effort.  Communication and practice are the keys.  As long as your singers understand what you mean and you are consistent in your movements, you can take them from the printed page to great sounds.  The fun you have while you work to make that happen is the gold of the process.  Let me see those arms up, ready 1 & 2 & 3 &----

Friday, February 14, 2014

Fun Friday - Behind the Scenes with The Piano Guys

We all know that some of our favourite stories are the ones that are never planned.  Sometimes behind the scenes and sometimes by necessity a change to the plan that becomes the best memory.

In grade 13, I played the part of Annie in Annie Get Your Gun.  In the scene from the ship, I was to shoot a seagull.  The off stage gun jammed and I was left to ad lib for what seemed like an hour.  They did everything they could to get it to work but to no avail.  When no solution seemed in sight, one of the stage hands yelled "Bang" and threw in the stuffed bird.  The audience just howled.

This video shows some of the fun behind the scenes with The Piano Guys.  Love this.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - Words that Taste Good

I have an affinity for delicious words.  For instance, onomatopoeia.  Onomatopoeia (pronounced on-o-mat-o-pay-a) happens when a word sounds like the thing it represents.  Animal sounds like oink, meow and cluck are onomatopoeic.  We sang A Place in the Choir and the harmony parts were the sounds the animals make like buzz, chirp, quack, croak.  It was great fun because the words were so different from the usual.

Sometimes, it is the sound of the words and not their actual meaning that creates the interest in the music.  In this piece of music, this group creates sounds that make you realize exactly what mode of transportation they are singing about.  What a great job they do.  Close your eyes and see it.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

In Memoriam

You will remember that in many posts I have mentioned Damon who recorded all our practices.  We used those recordings for practice CD's and I even used the recording of What a Wonderful World when speaking to our local Rotary Club recently.

It is sad to report that Damon passed away unexpectedly yesterday.  He was a stalwart founding member of the choir usually singing bass but happy to help out the tenor section when the numbers were few.  The only time he really wasn't happy coming to an activity was if it happened to be in early morning.  He really didn't "do" mornings.

Damon was also our treasurer and spent much time setting up our accounts both at the bank and our on line account on this blog.

Damon's wife, Kay, is one of our altos.  What a difficult time this must be.

You might remember that the first time we sang at Cambrocourt in Embro, we came out to a huge snowfall.  It was Damon and Kay who were parked beside me and they were so kind in helping me to brush the copious amounts of snow off my car.  By the time we got to the back of the car, the front was covered again.  We just looked at it and laughed.  We couldn't believe that all our work had been undone.  Great memories.

Damon was at practice last Sunday and set up the recorder as always and sang with the tenors.

Oh we will miss Damon greatly.  We so enjoyed having Damon and all that he brought to our choir as a member and a friend during the last 4 years.

Damon is in the back row under the screen in the centre.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Trying at the Thistle Theatre is a Huge Hit

So many of our members are very talented and share those talents with the communities around us.  Harold Arbuckle is a super member of our Embro Thistle Singers.  He has directed the smash hit, Trying, at the Thistle Theatre.

Geoff Dale wrote a marvellous review.  Click here to see it.  Well done Harold, cast and crew!!

We are proud of all of you.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - Warming Up - The Voice That Is

When it is minus 17 Celsius outside, you can feel chilled even in a well heated place.  This kind of warm up is effected with a sweater or shawl.  Vocal warm ups are a different matter.  The voice is an instrument that must be treated with care.  It is able to sing in various styles and ranges but in order to learn how to manipulate that voice, warm ups properly taught can be invaluable.

Please note that the developing voice in young people needs a very different type of exercise than the more mature voice.  I am going to focus on the maintenance type of warm up for mature non-professional singers here.

1.  Why Bother?  Some of your singers may not have sung all week.  If you just start singing, they could be straining those vocal chords. Body muscles need to be stretched before lots of activity. Well so do your vocal chords, diaphragm, and body.

2.  Assume the Position.  There are so many great ideas out there to get your singers ready to sing. Firstly, you must stand correctly with the weight on the balls of the feet that are slightly apart.  Feel that the shoulders, hips and knees are aligned but not tense.  Hands loosely at the sides is ideal.  Chin should be down slightly with the shoulders not hunched.  It should feel as if there is a string coming through the top of your head with your body all nice and loose but tall around it.

Now you can do some of these exercises.  These are simple and fun.

3.  Have Fun While Learning - I love to use rounds like Three Blind Mice or Row, Row, Row Your Boat.  These help with hearing harmonies, being independent and enunciation.  You try singing the last 2 lines of Three Blind Mice and see how easy it is.
Simple songs that have octaves or arpeggios etc. helps you to focus on what you will be working on in the songs in your rehearsal.
One of my favourite ways to warm up to to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in staccato, or legato or in jazz or country style.  Use a simple song and get your singers to make it sound like the style you are currently learning.  I have even been known to have one half sing legato while the others sing staccato or operatic and folk styles.  If you make your singers think and warm up the voices while teaching or reviewing musical qualities you make the process effective and memorable.

When we only practise every other week for an hour and a half, we are careful to use that time wisely.  If you spend too little time on warm ups your sound may suffer.  If you spend too much time, you may never get to learning the songs.  Find that happy medium with the emphasis on HAPPY!!