Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - Then Why Are We Bothering?

Why are you or aren't you singing regularly?  Are you singing in choir or just the shower?  Have you ever wondered if you really should bother.  Check out this quotation.  

1.  Use it or lose it - If we don't join groups such as choirs they will disappear.  They won't be there to entertain, to raise money, to give a platform for others to share their music and arrangements.  If the choirs disappear from the communities then the example for others to follow also disappears.  The audiences for the professionals would greatly diminish because there would be less knowledge and understanding of music in general. 

2. Don't worry, Be happy - Being in a group with a common love such as music, gives us pleasure.  We can't fit the worry in because we are enjoying doing something for others.  In a choir, you must co-operate and work jointly.  It is no longer just about YOU or ME but US.  The joy of working on a common goal supercedes our singular needs.  

3. Hey Mikey, he likes it! - We like it.  We love it!  We enjoy it!  The "it" is the music we make, the people we meet and share time with, the effort to learn and grow creating our own personal growth.  I know I go to choir sometimes feeling less than enthusiastic but it changes with the first chords.  Somehow, I am transported from here to another plane.  I love it.  I go because I have committed to being there.  I stay because, gosh darn, it is all of the above and a whole lot more.  That feeling should be shared with as many people as we can.   If we are singing we aren't doing or thinking negative things.  

Yup.  That's it.  Let's get everybody everywhere, singing in choirs and we have the answer to world peace.  Really.  And that would put a stop to that particular statement at the Beauty Pageants.  Miss America would simply state that everyone needs to join the choir!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - To Talk or Not to Talk. Aye, There's the Rub.

Oh I know.  I am really stretching your patience mixing those lines in the title.  I just couldn't help it.  You see, I LOVE to talk.  I don't even need an audience.  I can talk until the wallpaper curls.

Smiling stick-person talking through a megaphoneI do remember many years ago as a student music teacher, after my first foray into the classroom, the music specialist asked the classroom teacher to give me some pointers.  She looked at me and said, "For Pete's sake, stop talking and get at it."  Apparently, she was onto me.  I spent WAY too much time explaining and not enough actually doing.  So how much talking should we be doing before we sing?

I love to learn information.  I am interested in people's jobs, ideas, history, geography, science - how the world works pretty much.  When I have that information, I really feel it is important, nay, my duty to share it.  So, I need some guidelines about how much is too much or too little.

1. Get at it - Whether it is with people at home or in choir, when you start a project, don't talk it to death.  If you start a warm-up, give them the chord, or a listen to the sound you expect and then direct them to sing.  When you have a new song, you can present it with a recording of another choir singing it (it could be a recording of a great or poor performance) and let them follow.  Sometimes, telling them too much about the music before you start can build a wall of resistance or an expectation of difficulty that doesn't actually exist.

2.  Share as you learn - For sure, you don't want them singing a piece and getting into bad habits.  No slurs in wrong places or extra long notes or indeed, wrong sounds.  But singing something through and allowing them to find the tricky bits will make them have a reason to listen.  For instance, if you are singing Rutter and they hit one of his famous time changes 4/4 to 3/8 to 2/4 to 4/4 all in 10 bars, they will notice something just didn't work out there.  Now, they are ready to hear what that is.  If you had spent time before they sang talking, talking, talking, it wouldn't have made as much sense and you would have ended up saying it again.  Yup, I have done it.  That's how I know.

3.  Praise, criticize, praise - Find something they did well, then point out the part to improve.  Then, tell them what was right about their effort.  Always, start with the positive.  Always!!

4. Ask them for input - Guess what?  You aren't the only one in your group who knows a thing or two.  I am amazed that once I stop talking and ASK, there are some amazingly astute ideas from our singers & of course Kristy who is just - well brilliant.  Sometimes, others come up with suggestions I hadn't thought of for tackling a tricky bit or an interval or harmony.  Use the experience of your choir.  Now, if you are wont to be positive, they will feel they can share.

5.  Sing - I reiterate.  Stop talking and get at it.  Way more fun and the learning curve is much faster.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fun Friday - Rockelbel's Canon (Pachelbel's Canon in D) - ThePianoGuys

Even with a well loved piece like Pachelbel's Canon an ill-chosen arrangement can make it less than pleasant listening.  The Piano Guys are totally amazing in their ability to "see" the chances to bring unique rhythms and sounds help us listen anew!  Rock on Piano Guys.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - What is Stopping YOU?


Isn't it the truth?  Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy.  What is it that is holding you back?  Have you thought that maybe YOU should be the director of the choir.  You can see yourself there but --- .  Do you even know what that 'but' is?

1. Somebody once said you couldn't - Search your background.  Did it ever happen that you tried something new and someone made an off-hand remark about how it wasn't this or it wasn't that?  Usually those remarks come from that person's lack of self-confidence.  Most of the time they are talking about themselves and projecting it on you.  They mean to protect you but are actually chipping away at your confidence so it will be down at the same level as theirs.  It is really important to be able to recognize that kind of comment for what it is.  It is NOT about you and so you must not let it rule your choices. 

2. You don't feel prepared - Man there are people out there who need to read everything, take every course, and then practise for years before they peel a carrot.  I am not saying that you should walk off the street and be ready to conduct a symphony orchestra but you sure could start by singing in a community choir.  If the choir is like ours that doesn't require auditions, you just show up.  No one is going to judge you.  You just need to put together the courage to show up and then start learning.  At some point, you have to go from studying the driver's manual to getting in the car.  Well, get in the darn car - um - choir.

3.  What if I am no good at it - What if you are good at it?  You won't know until you try.  The big thing is you have to try it out.  You know that beautifully cut suit you have been eyeing the the window of your favourite shop.  I bet it will look great on you.  So get that handsome body into the shop and give it a try. 

4.  Give up on the what if's all ready - You know we could spend our whole life waiting until all the lights are green and the way is clear before starting out on any adventure.  We all know that just isn't going to happen.  There are no guarantees.  But, there may be some surprises out there when you you stop what-if-ing yourself out of every challenge.  

Be brave.  Trust yourself and try something new.  Even if it is a new hair colour, or different food.  Then, come on out to choir and see how much fun it is and how marvellous you truly are. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fun Friday - Tom Thum - Beat Boxer -Total Amazing Vocal Acrobatica

Thank you Elaine for finding this wonderful example of unique talent.  I had never seen or heard anything like it.  Amazing!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - How Do You Handle Mistakes

They sang the wrong notes and the chord is less than pleasing.
Do you have a break down?  I think not.
View detailsDo you make nasty faces & tell those around you what a bad job that was?  I hope not.
Do you smile & stop & say that it was a great effort but no cigar?  I hope so.

How you manage the mistakes, which by the way are absolutely necessary to learning, will set much of the tone of your choir.

If you have paid singers who are expected to learn their parts on their own time and come well rehearsed, well maybe you can be cross when something isn't perfect.  However. even then, you need to be thoughtful of others.  Just because you (and this could be the director, conductor, part leader, or fellow singer) know what it should be, don't be sharp or ruthless in your efforts toward perfection.  I always say you need to put yourself in the other person's place.  When you are perfect and NEVER make a mistake then you can get all bent out of shape.  Until the that second coming, here are some of my suggestions for handling the learning curves commonly called "mistakes".

1. Catch them doing something right.  - We are human and no matter what we will make mistakes.  Know that right from the start and keep in mind that humanity means mistakes.  You might want to review a piece and decide where they might have difficulty before the rehearsal.  When they do sing it AND avoid those pitfalls you get to praise them.  Even if they don't avoid the wrong notes altogether, find what they did that was really well done.

2.  Base criticism on what they did right - I know it sounds like repetition of #1 there is a bit of a twist here.  When something doesn't come out right, phrasing, harmony, timing, etc. make certain that you start the discussion with what they did right FIRST.  Then, point out the part that needs repair.  They certainly did a tricky rhythm well or attacked a consonant particularly sharply.  Find something right, then fix other bits.

3.  Maybe the cat threw up on her shoes - Please remember that everyone no matter how well trained or motivated or willing is human.  They may have had an argument with a spouse or spoiled dinner or just got bad news by phone. We all have less than stellar days.  If you add to that by being negative or having a "hissie" fit over badly done triplets you are not going to have happy people.  Sometimes people aren't paying attention because their life outside choir is taking their thoughts elsewhere.  Be mindful always that there is more to life than that particular choir practice or performance. It does not mean you accept those wrong bits.  It does mean that you don't let them be more important than those marvellous souls around you.

4. Have fun - We had a spectacular practice last Sunday.  The choir worked really well and the blend, harmony and phrasing were superb.  Well except when it wasn't.  We got to the cadence of one piece and although it wasn't horrible, it slid into some discordant sounds.  As I do my face scrunched up.  I told them that that cadence sounded like an unexpected dill pickle tastes.  It really did.  I had trouble getting my right eye to open all the way.  Now, I played it up for fun but when we went back, oh they nailed it.
So what did that do for us.  Firstly, they now know how a dill pickle sounds.  They know that I love them even when they are sour.  They know that sour can turn sweet with a pretty quick review.  Nobody's feelings were hurt and we fixed it.

Mistakes are inevitable and most often out of your control.  Your reaction to them is totally controllable.  My final word to our choir is that no matter what, all mistakes are mine.  If I lead them astray with an entry, rhythm, words - anything it is on me.  They are always great!!

Whether someone is sitting beside you or in front of you, encourage first and fix secondly.  NO do not accept inferior work but work to get it to better then to best without harming relationships and while building self-worth always!!  Keep your priorities in order.  People are precious.  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fun Friday - Cups and Rite of Spring - Mixing the Metaphors

Now this is way too fun.  Remember back in 2013 when I first posted the Cup Song?  We did get lots of positive feedback from that including wanted to do this ourselves.  We even found a tap dance  that used those rhythms very effectively.

Well, here is another treat.  Mixing Stravinsky & the Cup Rhythms with 3 guys who keep amazingly straight faces.  Just enjoy the giggle and the ability to stay on task!!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - How Do Know a Song Will "Work" for your Choir

Music conductor avatarWe have talked about choosing arrangements and choosing pieces that suit the choir you have.  Of course, you have to know your venue and audience but really how do you choose a piece that works for YOUR particular group of singers.

1. How OLD are they? - Now, you know that I am not talking about their chronological ages.  I am talking about where their thinking ages are.  Our choir is very eclectic.  They are happy to sing something very current as well as very classic pieces.  Of course, individuals enjoy some songs more than others but they all give their very best effort no matter what.  If your choir is reticent to sing one genre or another, you will have to work up to it.  Stick with pieces that light up their faces and that they do well.  Then, you can add a piece or two that challenge them differently.  You won't really know all of this until you get singing.  Some pieces may have to go on the back burner.  Nothing wrong with that.

2. What skills do they bring? - If you have sight reading capable singers and people who have had lots of choir singing then you can choose songs that have tricky harmonies and take more learning.  If however, like many choirs, you have a mixture of skills then please don't lean on your skilled people all the time.  Choose something that is fun to learn and that has repetitive phrases so that your less trained people can learn without having to hammer it home constantly.  A mixture of challenging & simpler songs will help bring everyone a feeling of satisfaction.

3. Have they got choir experience? - If you have soloists in your group then you will have to work on homogenizing the sound and lots of listening techniques.  Try choosing pieces they may know or learn easily.  That way you can work on creating that lovely blended sound without strong voices standing out.  Don't be afraid to keep it simple especially until the stronger voices get a better idea of how to blend.  If they are focusing on difficult passages then blending will be the last thing they focus on.

Above all, respect your singers.  When a song fits you will know by the smiles and the sound that they create.  I know sometimes I get so stuck on a song I just want it to work.  I have learned over the years to recognize after giving it a fair try and even a performance that it doesn't work and put it away.  We sang Mama Mia at the Embro Fair last year and although they did a good job, it just didn't suit us as well as other pieces.  It is gone from our repertoire.

The bottom line is that you don't always know that a song will work right away.  Be brave, try lots and then be wise and keep or let go according to your singers and your own brilliant assessment.  Life is too short to keep at something that isn't giving your choir a pleasant experience.