Sunday, December 7, 2014

Musical Monday - How to Work with All the Voices in Your Choir

If you are a singer in a choir, you know that there are very different voices all around you. You have unique vocal abilities and sometimes it is hard for you to hear how your voice fits.  Your leader has the job of recognizing all those voices and helping each to be the most effective at being a part of the whole.  Maybe if we all understand the process we can each help to make it work best.

1. Classically Trained Voices - Just because someone has had vocal lessons doesn't mean they remember everything they learned nor does it mean that their teacher  is or was on the same page as you.
It is imperative that ALL voices be reminded of proper posture, breathing and sound production ALL THE TIME!
Any skill needs updating.  Our son is a licensed technician for those huge trucks (lorries) you see on the roads.  He constantly takes upgrading courses.  So we must update ourselves constantly so that we can lead our singers to better sound and care of the voice.
The worst mistake you can make with "trained" singers is to ASSUME that they all ready know everything and that exercises in breathing, tone matching & production etc. are unneeded.  Coach them constantly.

2. Natural or "Untrained" Voices - Ethel Merman was an amazing singer. Her strident sound was legendary.  However, had she not used proper techniques she would have had no voice left for singing like this later in life.
Forced sound is harsh and often out of tune.  Our job as directors is to teach correct sound production techniques.  You don't want anyone to lose their unique sound but you want to protect it.  Proper breath control and tone placement are paramount.  They may not be able to hold phrases as long as a "trained" singer but they will be able to be comfortable singing.

3. Easy, simple tricks for ALL Singers  
     a. Stand with your weight on the balls of your feet & use the heels just for balance.  Sing a simple song (Frere Jacques) with the weight on the heels then on the balls of the feet.  Huge difference.
     b. Pull up the back of the head so that they picture the spine in a straight line.  Then, tilt the chin down.  Again, sing with chin pointing to the sky and then chin slightly tucked & back of throat open & tongue dropped.  Oh yeah.
     c. With the balance of a and the position of b, think of the sound as coming from a "magic whale spout" in the top of your head.  (I used this for absolutely every aged singer I ever taught.)  Your sound doesn't come from your mouth, but from the whale spout.  Oh no, you can't touch it.  Remember it is MAGIC.  Yup, the grade ones love that.  The high schoolers think it is hilarious that the little kids fall for such stuff.  Meanwhile, they are using that "silly" position to make great sound.
     d. Breathe without raising the shoulders.  I have people put their fingers on the diaphragm and feel it move in and out.  We use the balloon analogy.

Do you have to do these all the time?  No but each practice zero in on one or other.  It will depend on the songs you are singing whether you need long phrases and breath control or great consonants with the proper posture and a whale spout.  Whether you have young or mature singers, trained or natural voices, YOU must use reminders and practise the skills called for in your pieces.  Don't flog them.  Have fun with quick warm ups and silly faces.  Even the Hallelujah Chorus has some fun bits you can use to sharpen a skill or two.

What do you enjoy doing as or with singers?  Anything here resonate?

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