Sunday, November 30, 2014

Musical Monday - Are You a Singing Choir Director?

One of my favourite sources for musical ideas is Choral Net .  The other day, there was a question about whether or not a choir director should sing while directing.  This is an age old question but as usual I have my own ideas.  I honestly feel that there are very few differences between how you work with singers not matter what the age.  Older singers often need help with tone placement or intonation as much as younger ones.  If you are working with so called professionally trained singers, I think you still have to remind them of basics.  Really, all of the following would apply to most situations.

1. Sing to set an example - Often times, it is easier to sing a phrase the way you wish it rather than try to explain it with words.  I remember my mum telling me that she had a teacher in high school who never sang.  She would get a student to sing examples for her.  Mum said that her teacher's inability to sing didn't stop them from being an award winning chorus.  So whether it is you or a ringer, sung examples don't hurt.

2. Sing if a part needs help - If we are short on sopranos, I will sing along.  If you are a tenor and they need help, by all means sing.  Although, it is usually inappropriate for a director to sing during a performance, circumstances alter cases.  I agree that if you are singing along all the time, you really cannot hear what is happening with the other parts as well.  So the rule is, there is no rule.  If you are in a competition, you better not be singing.  Otherwise, use discretion and help only if really needed.

3.  Be quiet most of the time - With the 2 suggestions above, it seems as if you should sing lots.  In fact, if you are singing all the time the rest of the singers begin to depend on you and don't then learn to be independent.  This is NOT what you want.  You can sing occasionally, emphasis on OCCASIONALLY for specific purposes.  Your choir must learn to be independent.  You can undo all the work you have done to get people to sing well if you just take over.   You don't want to leave your singers feeling overwhelmed but don't always rescue them.  Let them find their own way most of the time.  That is how we learn most effectively.

So the answer to the question is sometimes we sing to help but most of the time, we do not.  You are either the director or a member of the chorus.   That doesn't mean that you can't dismount and join the chorus for a sing along time or just for fun once in a while.  Because after all, it is about the music AND the fun!!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday - Glasgow Phoenix Choir - 'Because We Believe', A. Bocelli, D Foster and A...

This is one of our favourite songs to perform.  This rendition in the lovely old church but the Glasgow Phoenix Choir is quite lovely.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Cambrocourt Rocks AGAIN

We had a fabulous evening last night at what has become our annual invitation to Cambrocourt Manor in Embro.  We are the entertainment after what seemed to be a sumptuous meal.

Poor Kristy had a work emergency so was a bit later getting on the road.  The Embro Thistle Singers rose to the occasion and we did our warm up a Capella.  After having done the Lighting of the Lights a Capella due to the weather, we were on a role.

Kristy made it and set up the keyboard and bless her heart sat right down and away we went.

It was last year that we were asked to learn Mary Did You Know and so it was one of our songs.  We still have more work to get it refined but it wasn't bad.
However, Calypso Carol, and Angels Among Us were stellar.  Now, we have to put Baby It's Cold Outside in a whole new category.  At the last practice, we slowed it down and suddenly, the words became more a focus.  Last night, the choir relaxed into the song and sang it back and forth to one another and really had fun.  Tops indeed!!

Thanks again to our friends at Cambrocourt for their wonderful support.  We have been asked to do Mary's Boy Child for next year so we will take on the challenge.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Musical Monday - Warm Ups for Fun & Purpose

This is a very busy time of year.  Sometimes when we are practising for our concerts we forget that a warm up can be useful in focusing on a skill that will help us do our best work on the pieces we are shaping up for concerts.  Here are some really simple but effective ways to fix a small problem and get the mojo going.  Click on the name of the song if you forget what it sounds like.  You may have another that will do much the same job.

If You're Happy & You Know It - If you have staccato or legato changes so that with this wee song.  You could also try  slides, clean phrasing
clapping, snapping, shake hands.

My Bonnie -  If you click on the My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean link you will hear a good rendition of this children's song.  The Intervals & pronunciation really make this one a good one to do.  this is always a great song to get the letter "b" formed correctly.  It's called the "bouncing B" for a reason.
P.S. If you have a children's choir or people who get restless here is a great bonus activity.  On the first word starting with "b" stand up.  On the next "b" word, sit down.  The chorus needs directing, Bring back, oh bring back, oh bring back my Bonnie to me, to me. REPEAT.  I LOVE this one.

Partner songs - Row, Row, Row Your Boat & 3 Blind Mice- These are songs you can sing together.  This is especially good for children or amateur singers to get used to harmony.  You can sing one staccato, while the other group is singing legato, then switch.  Sing with varying dynamics decided upon before you sing or with signals as they sing.

Hokey Pokey - or Hokey Cokey in the U.K.  You can sing this sitting or standing for just plain good exercise.  Then sing it watching out for slurs or do them on purpose. You can use these words to crisp up the diction.

These are just a few suggestions.  Anybody have any other ideas?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fun Friday - Flash Mob @ the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

What an appropriate place to have a musical flash mob.  Notice how the crowd doesn't just keep on but actually pays attention.  Such talented people. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday - Mary, Did You Know? - Pentatonix

Last year, we were asked to consider singing this beautiful song.  You will remember we posted Mark Lowry singing his song in two different styles.  Here the group Pentatonix use their unique harmonies to interpret Mary Did You Know in a little different way.  Perhaps, we will get a recording of the Embro Thistle Singers singing this song at our gigs this season. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Musical Monday - How to Handle Negative Comments

As much as it pains us to admit, we do get negative comments from time to time.  How we handle those can set a tone for our choirs.  Getting upset or defensive can create a combative climate.  Bowing to each negative and trying to change according can create conflict and confusion.  So just what do we do as choir leaders & as choir members to handle those sometimes dreaded comments.

1.  See the good - First of all, know that someone is going to disagree.  It is the nature of people to have an opinion and even more often in the art world.  If someone is offering an opinion, (and remember that it is just that - THEIR OPINION - more on that later) then they have heard something that hit them where they live and want to comment on it.  That is good.  If no one says anything, then perhaps some re-evaluation is needed.  Something not worth talking about didn't make much of an impact.  So even seemingly negative comments are good.

2. Let the audience own it - One of the things I learned during my own children's teen years was that they were NOT going to like something.  Similarly, some people cannot find the good in anything.  They have to pick things apart.  some people are just simply having a bad day and you happen to be the target.
     When someone comes up and says, "I don't know why you would have chosen that song or interpretation or arrangement or whatever."  Your usual response is go into defensive mode with something like, "Our choir liked it.  Or we are too big/small for another arrangement. Or ---   S T O P !!!!!!!
DO NOT DEFEND!  Let the person talking own the comments.  You must respond with something like, "I am sorry you feel that way." or "What an interesting idea."  or "Perhaps, you will enjoy our other choices."  You see, the person with the comment owns it.  You take ownership when you try to defend.  Whatever you do, smile nod and when in doubt you smile, nod and say, "That's great!  Thanks for your feedback."  And then walk away baby, smiling all the way!

3. When the choir disagrees -  Depending on the constitution of your choir, you may have a committee that chooses music or you ask for suggestions.  In that case, it puts paid to criticizing choices.  However, their can be differences of opinion on interpretation or learning methods etc.  Our choir is always encouraged to share their opinions.  Some do it quietly, and some not.  We have no one who dissents just to be obtuse, thankfully, but you may have.
I believe that respect is earned.  I love to get opinions and ideas.  Some of them are really astute.  Other eyes and ears helping are great.  However, they know that in the end, I get to choose.  Earn that respect by first respecting the rights of others to hold and share opposing opinions.
The best solution is to be open to ideas and as often as practical, try them.  If however, you have a Negative Nelly or Ned you may have to do some quiet, private intervention and point it out.  Often they don't even realize they are being so negative.

Welcome the comments.  Do not defend to outsiders but take on their comments to see if improvements can be made.  All comments, negative and positive are signs of interest.  And that's a good thing - right?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fun Friday - Baby It's Cold Outside

Brrr.  What happened to our fall temperatures.  This song is really ringing true today!  Here is a jazz choir having a great time & really nailing the timing and harmonies.  P.S. Chris you will be happy to see they wear NO uniforms!

Now here is a contrast.  Switching the parts and some of the words.  Which do you like better?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday - A Timely Video for Remembrance Day in Canada

The services to honour our men & women in uniform were well attended Tuesday this week.  Even the tiny ones seemed to know the gravity of remembrance.  Let's take that "pittance of time" from Remembrance Day and each day & think of how we can make life happier and fuller for others.  More people acting in peaceful ways will create and wave of peace.  In our own corners, may we share our music & our love for each other!  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - Do Christmas Songs Have to be "Christmas-y"?

Now, let's start off by saying, we at the Embro Thistle Singers do CHRISTMAS.  We don't say "holiday" concert.  We don't avoid the Christian story nor do we skirt around Santa.  That suits most of the people who ask us to sing.

We did sing a concert for an "Appreciation Dinner" at Christmas time for an international group that doesn't allow any reference to Christmas at all.  They wanted to be inclusive so no Christmas.  Because they work throughout the world, they don't want to be seen to support any religion or belief system in particular.  Interesting.

So how do you chose Christmas music.  There are secular songs like White Christmas and Christian songs like Mary Did You Know and everything in between.  So how do you choose.

1. Audience - Obviously, you have to know what they want.  It is most important to honour your listeners.  If what the people asking you to sing is unpalatable to you, then just don't accept that gig.  If you sell tickets, then you choose music you know your audience will come to hear.  Every year at Royal Albert Hall in London, England, there is a Christmas concert with various big name musicians. One of the enduring features is the sing along with the carols.  It is a staple and much anticipated by the crowd that comes.  Why would they change that?  It works and brings in the audiences year after year.

2.  Choir abilities - Be very certain that the difficulty level of your music suits the members of your group.  It is lovely to take on the Hallelujah Chorus if you are a large group with experienced singers.  Young, untrained or small groups will not do justice to such a piece.  There are pieces of music we have started and put aside.  We didn't have enough time to bring it to a concert worthy level.  If in doubt, throw it out.

3. What you like - We are singing Baby It's Cold Outside, Angels Among Us, and Mary Did You Know and Calypso Carol which are new to us this year.  What a mix.  Baby is just about a couple on a date in the winter.  Angels Among Us is a story of kindness and Mary & Calypso tell parts of the Christmas Story.  We have sung You Raise Me Up, When a Child is Born, Because We Believe, Wonderful World, Over the Rainbow as well as many great Christmas pieces.  We did the 12 Days After Christmas which gave us many laughs too.

So in answer to the question in the title, no Christmas music can be whatever moves you.  Our audiences appreciate our eclectic lineup of songs and we enjoy all the songs we sing.  We want to sing music that tells stories of hope, caring, love, humour and friendship.  Some music is just for fun.  Whatever we sing, it must be musically satisfying, appropriate to our skills with a chance to stretch and learn.  Sing, just sing and make it count.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Fun Friday - Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better - Annie Get Your Gun

When I was in grade 13, I got to play Annie.  I loved singing this song & this pair does a great job.  I light of our post on Tonal Tuesday, you can see that sopranos & basses could do a great job singing this to one another.  Tee, hee.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - Explaining the SATB Choir

There is a really fun explanation of the 4 basic choir sections as seen by a young person.  I don't know where the original document came from or I would give proper credit.  I am shortening it up somewhat for our busy readers.  Have a wee giggle but realize that those of us privileged enough to conduct a choir, know secrets not shared here.  Stay tuned for more.

The four parts of the choir can be easily distinguished and here is how.

entertainment,music,occupations,opera singers,operas,persons,singers,vocalistsSOPRANOSare the ones who sing the highest, and because of this they think they rule the world. They have longer hair, fancier jewelry, and swishier skirts than anyone else, and they consider themselves insulted if they are not allowed to go at least to a high F in every movement of any given piece. 

ALTOSare the salt of the earth - in their opinion, at least. Altos are unassuming people, who would wear jeans to concerts if they were allowed to. Altos are in a unique position in the chorus in that they are unable to complain about having to sing either very high or very low. They know that while the sopranos are screeching away on a high A, they are being forced to sing elaborate passages full of sharps and flats and tricks of rhythm, and nobody is noticing because the sopranos are singing too loud (and the basses usually are too). Altos get a deep, secret pleasure out of conspiring together to tune the sopranos flat. Altos have an innate distrust of tenors, because the tenors sing in almost the same range and think they sound better.

TENORSare spoiled. That's all there is to it. For one thing, there are never enough of them, and choir directors would rather sell their souls than let a halfway decent tenor quit. And then, for some reason, the few tenors there are, are always really good - it's one of those annoying facts of life.. So it's no wonder that tenors always get swollen heads - after all, who else can make sopranos swoon? It is a little-known fact that tenors move their eyebrows more than anyone else while singing.

Image result for TUBABASSESsing the lowest of anybody. This basically explains everything. They are stolid, dependable people, and have more facial hair than anybody else. The basses feel perpetually unappreciated, but they have a deep conviction that they are actually the most important part (a view endorsed by musicologists, but certainly not by sopranos or tenors), despite the fact that they have the most boring part of anybody and often sing the same note (or in endless fifths) for an entire page. They compensate for this by singing as loudly as they can get away with - most basses are tuba players at heart.
As for the sopranos, they are simply in an alternate universe which the basses don't understand at all. They can't imagine why anybody would ever want to sing that high. When a bass makes a mistake, the other three parts will cover him, and he can continue on his merry way, knowing that sometime, somehow, he will end up at the root of the chord.