Sunday, March 29, 2015

Musical Monday - Should You Use Recorded Accompaniment?

Image result for clip art recordingsAs a music teacher in schools, I seldom had a piano never mind a pianist to play it.  I am NOT as pianist.  I can thump out chords and simple accompaniment but not while my choir or class is singing.  Because I taught a few years ago before digital  recordings were common, I didn't have simple or small devises to carry around and use.  Even when I had a "music room" my equipment was basic and so using recorded singing accompaniment was very seldom part of the singing.

When we did musicals with young children or young adults, there were usually recorded accompaniments available and I avoided them at all costs.  Let's see how your ideas compare to mine.

1.  The Good - All of us have sung along with the radio.  If you are old enough and watched American television you even "Sang Along with Mitch".  Mitch Miller made the sing-a-long popular by having the words to the songs his band was playing show on the bottom of the screen.  Check out the video on Thoughtful Thursday and see.
However, I really think that after you have learned a song or sung it for fun, you need to get away from the restrictions of a recorded accompaniment.

2.  The Bad - I found that recorded music is SO unforgiving that I, never mind the children, get frustrated trying to sing with it.  Worst of all, if you get off the beat, it is almost impossible to get back on.  With a packaged accompaniment, it is well nigh impossible to be creative.  Doing a rubato or even a ritard where YOU and the singers feel it, is just not going to happen.  When someone drops the ball and misses an entrance, too bad so sad, the music moves on without you.  That inflexibility is just not what singers use well.

3.  The Ugly - If we have a song with some tricky parts, our amazing Kristy will pull out key notes especially as we are learning, so that the parts in question can find their entrances.  Oh that isn't going to happen with a recording.
When a rhythms get out of sync, the recording keeps going and only emphasizes
how bad it really is.  Your accompanist can thump out the right rhythm and you can get back on track.
If the singers are not in tune, the music carries on and there is little chance that they can find that RIGHT note.  the flexibility of a Capella or accompanied singing is so much more helpful.  Of course, the "live" accompaniment has to be on the same page as the singers.  When I went to an Il Divo concert, the conductor of the orchestra thought he was the act.  He forgot to pay attention to the singers.  They even looked over at him a number of times but it didn't help.  Maybe that time, a recording would have been better.

I know sometimes it recorded accompaniment may seem like THE answer.  I urge you to go without accompaniment or have an accompanist wherever possible.  Singing can be very stilted and non-creative otherwise.  What do you do?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fun Friday - Gustavo Dudamel presents "Mambo"

A while ago we talked about "Proper Behaviour at Concerts".  What do you think about this?  I think if more orchestras were this lively, they would have no trouble filling the theatres and staying in business.  Thanks Elaine!!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday - Gustavo Dudamel - Batuque (Oscar Lorenzo Fernández)

I love this conductor.  He has life and excitement and it is reflected in the music the musicians make and the audience reaction.  It is a huge orchestra with a grand sound.  The audience LOVES them.  Check back tomorrow for something more. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Musical Monday - Why Can't I Sing?

Image result for clip art singersIf I had a dollar, even a Canadian one, for every time a person has said to me that they just can't sing, I would be rich.  Why is it that so many people really feel they can't sing?
There is a theory that it is actually a "brain" deficiency.  Click here to read that article.   This could be true and still the end of the article suggests that people could practise to get better.  
I think for the most part there are some much simpler reasons & solutions.
1. A negative comment - Truly it can be as simple as someone having said to the person that they sounded badly or shouldn't try to sing.  That can be very hard to overcome.  If you are told that you are no good at something, you take it as truth, period.
May I suggest that we make a concerted effort to catch people of any age at doing something RIGHT.  We are really good at catching mistakes and pointing them out.  I feel we really need to switch our thinking and look for what is well done even if you have to wait for a long time for it to happen.  Yes, you have to tell people when something isn't correct because they can't keep repeating the mistakes BUT make certain that the positive words are bigger, brighter and more important than the negatives.  e.g. Stop - that was incorrect.  Let's go back and make it sound like that last part of the song before where you really nailed those rhythms."  Focus on the right in correcting the wrongs.  Perhaps then we will have fewer people feeling badly about a mistake.  For heaven's sake, if we don't make mistakes we never learn.  Mistakes are KEY!  How we handle them in building people up will make a difference.

2. No tone matching skills - Although this is referred to in the article I mention above, I think there are many simple steps to help people.  One of the simplest is to encourage people to sing with a favourite song.  It is imperative that we help people find a song that works for them.  Some may be out of their range and so they will feel a failure if they use it.  Or some songs have such a "muddy" sound it is hard to hear the tune.  Have them give you suggestions for songs they like and perhaps play them together and figure out which ones will be best for learning to HEAR the right tones and then tone match.
If these people are in your choir, make certain they are surrounded by solid singers.  It isn't easy but very do-able.

3. Not enough opportunity to sing - That is very real.  If the adult never had the opportunity to sing as a child either at home or school then it will be much harder to learn the skills as an adult.  Children are more ready to learn and make the necessary mistakes.  Here you must create a comfortable learning environment and let the person be a child and discover music and singing.

I hope you sing all the time.  Make up songs, sing along with everything.  Sing to babies, dogs, children, other adults.  Sing because you can.  Release the negatives and sing.  Ta, da!!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Fun Friday - Celtic Woman - You Raise Me Up

This is one of our favourite songs.  The ladies' voice bring a very different interpretation to this song.  What do you think?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday - One Voice Children's Choir: "Let It Go" from Frozen

This tells you why singing in a choir is really important.  It also shows that the production of really good sound takes work but oh how lovely it can be. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Musical Monday - Who, What & Why Are the Voices in YOUR Choir?

Some time ago, we had a post on the SATB choir & fun explanations of each part.    Indeed, each part brings a special sound and character to the choir.  I have had the joy and pleasure of singing in or conducting all kinds of choirs from female triple trios to boys' choirs and every type of mixed choir both sacred and secular.  One thing I know for sure is that there is no one "type" of choir better than another.  Every kind of choir has strengths for the music chosen.  If you have a specialty choir you may need to just take the general ideas here.  This is more directed to community type choirs.

1. Men - In case you hadn't noticed, men & women bring very different characteristics to a group.  In my experience, often the women feel more comfortable with singing in a group while the men are more hesitant.  The guys often think they must be correct & perfect before they execute any activity.  Making mistakes is not something they do easily or happily.  It is incumbent upon the fellow members and the leader to create an atmosphere conducive to accepting best efforts.  Mistakes are absolutely necessary and important.  Without mistakes, you don't learn.  Period.
Men will often say that they are interested in singing but they "can't" sing.  They have had negative school experiences or have avoided musical activities all together.  Again, we must create an atmosphere of inclusion for all skill levels.  Even in a professional choir, you will have people who are at a variety of levels of ability even with identical educational backgrounds.  STILL you must allow for that comfortable learning especially with the males until you build more and more confidence.  That will spill over into newer members and new endeavours.
Image result for lady singing clipart2. Ladies - I have found that ladies usually come with more confidence in their abilities and actually some with so much that it can become overpowering.  We have a few ladies in our choir who are professional level singers but who, blessedly, know how to blend with the voices around them.  Now, that is true professionalism.  However, there are some who are the "Mrs. Sketchers" of the choir.  God bless Mrs. Sketcher.  When I came into our church choir, Mrs. Sketcher had been a staple of the senior choir for absolutely EVER.  She had a loud voice with a heavy vibrato and she knew every single piece of music ever written (at least I thought so) and sang each at top volume and vibrato.
In addition to the building of skills and confidence mentioned above, listening skills are absolutely important.  Check out some of the ideas from a previous post.   Even while encouraging the listening and blending among other skills, we must love and support the Mrs. Sketchers and help them to be even better.  Not easy but oh so important.

3. Young people - Yes, young is less than the average age of the people in your core group.  Whether your young people become members of the choir or are added to the choir for specific songs or performances, they add immensely to the sound and the energy.  Our junior choir joined the senior choir at church for special occasions and we sang separately AND together.  The kids loved singing with the bigger voices.  Often, we used the young peoples' music & added the senior sound.  We sometimes used rhythm instruments or sang certain verses.  I have used a large children's choir to co-perform in large concerts with an adult choir.  Yes it was lots of work to get just the logistics of rehearsals and songs organized with the other group but it was a super experience.  It really helped with ticket sales for any of you having trouble filling a hall.  It also injected energy and enthusiasm through both choirs and brought a renewed sense of fun to the music.

These are but a few generalizations but those that seem to be prevalent in most singing groups.  Review in your mind how your choir is working, and see if some of these suggestions might make a difference.  Sing for joy & be certain your choir is not only learning but thriving both as a group and individually.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Fun Friday - Spring, Spring, Spring - Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby

Although it isn't actually spring here yet, the weather is ABOVE zero for the first time in almost 2 months.  YES!  This is a fun Crosby & Astaire number to celebrate our improving weather.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday - My Fair Lady Medley- UC Men's and Women's Chorale

Here is a fun medley and these young people are really enjoying themselves.  Don't you think this type of presentation with costumes and some actions are a way to present a musical without having to do all the speaking and sets?  Dinner theatre anyone?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Musical Monday - Dreaming is Believing

Yes we do.  In past posts, I have discussed how listening to a piece of music can help get the idea of the sound of the printed music in  your choir's heads.

I think it is really important to help get the idea of the sound right but also to help your choir create a dream for how they will feel while singing and how they want the audience to perceive the piece.

1.  What are the perceptions? - When you bring a piece of music to the choir, some may have preconceived ideas about what the song means.  It could be what happened to them when they first heard it or experiences that the song brings to mind.  One of the activities I think is really important is to read the words.  When you do that, it gives you the chance to ask what they choir might think they mean.  In hearing what others think, it might expand the ideas of those with a negative feeling. It is important that if someone doesn't say something but shows feelings with facial or other expressions that you have a wee chat.

2.  Share YOUR dream - Yup.  As a leader or a singer, you need to share your dream for this song.  I am convinced that as a director, I must know what I want from this piece.  I want it to be prayerful, or fun, or make them want to dance or cry.  If the choir doesn't agree, they will tell me.  If your dream is clear, it makes it so much easier for your singers to work towards that vision.

3.  Be prepared to be flexible - When the choir is sharing ideas or during a performance, I sometimes have a revelation.  My dream is not the best one for this song sometimes.  I must be able to see and understand alternatives.  The singers must do the same.  Bringing inflexible interpretations by leaders or singers can be really detrimental to a song being well done.

Perhaps the most important part is to be able to hear the finished song before you even start.  In saying that, you have to be willing to hear it differently as you progress.  Enjoy this journey.  It really is the key to making the music come alive.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Fun Friday - My Fair Lady "Get Me To The Church On Time" Music Video

This is the movie version of the same song from yesterday.  Big differences here wouldn't you agree.  Which do you prefer?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday - Get Me To The Church On Time (Broadway Version)

This is the Broadway version of the song.  It seems rather serious at least musically.  Now tomorrow, listen to the movie version and see what you see as the differences.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Musical Monday - But What If They Can't Sight Read?

I have got to admit that my least favourite part of music theory was sight reading.  I really disliked having to recognize intervals and be able to perform them like a trained parrot.  I saw no need at all for having to have in my pocket that a certain spaces between notes sounded like some song.  Now, I must say that our Kristy is an ace at helping our singers hear the major 6th is the first 2 notes of My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean. However, I just wanted to learn the tune and be done with it.  Guess what?  I still feel much the same even after all these years of teaching choirs.  Remember it is Kristy who uses songs to help our singers. 

So how do you help people to sing something they have never seen before?  
1.  Songs - Okay so it really does work for some people.  I think my big things was having to memorize those song intervals without any real music to study.  It does help some people to be able to have a real song to replicate.  

2. Repetition - People can learn easily that notes on one line (space) and then on the next line or space are 3rds, skip a line and then you have a 5th.  It really doesn't matter if you learn the name of the interval but to begin to recognize the SOUND that the sets of spaces makes is really important.  Our job as leaders is to point them out as they sing.  Make certain that the sounds they hear for them to replicate are well done.  Learning by rote or by listening rather than reading can be done in tandem with the reading.  It is a great way to learn both.

3. Same as above for rhythms plus - The one thing I would add to using songs with similar rhythms & repetition is to clap or say rhythms.  Sometimes even walking out a rhythm is helpful.  

4. Make it part of the warm ups - It is always wise to put challenges into the warm ups.  If there is an interval or phrase that causes some difficulty, then build that into a warm up.  Make it fun and let your singers hear it from every angle.  You will be surprised at how fast something can be learned when it is done with fun. 

Relax.  Sight reading can be learned by people who "don't read music".  They may not be able to sit down and play a tune but they can tell where the notes are faster and slower and have big and small jumps.  It is absolutely imperative that we help each other recognize what that hen scratch called "music" means in sounds.  Be patient and give people time to learn.  DO NOT be impatient.  People are all different and learn in various ways.  Bottom line - make it fun and both teacher and student will enjoy the experience.