Sunday, April 16, 2017

Musical Monday - Silent Monks Sing the Hallelujah Chorus

The Hallelujah Chorus is often an Easter musical offering.  Watch this one and you will see words you might not have known were there.  The timing is great and the short guy is a lot of fun!!!
Happy Easter. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Musical Monday - Happy

For holidays, we often greet each other with Happy ______.  Here is my spring greeting to all.  I love that this is a rehearsal and look at the energy & the joy.  As you walk through the woods, or down the sidewalk, sing along.  I know it is beautiful in the U.K. right now and it is here in Southern Ontario.  Oh boy, we are HAPPY!! 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Musical Monday - So, you think bagpipes are boring?

Now, our choir is called the EMBRO THISTLE SINGERS and our roots are in the very Scottish town of Embro, Ontario where the Embro Highland Games take place every July 1 without fail.  They have pipe bands & caber tossing, dog trials & kilts for sale. BUT - they haven't yet had this kind of group. The Mudmen have been to visit but maybe the regular pipe bands should think about this.  Creative or what?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Musical Monday - Labels Can Hold You Back

Image result for clip art music teacherAs a new, idealistic music teacher, I had decided that I would never have that ROCK music in MY classroom.  Well.  That changed when I happened upon the Herbie Hancock, the History of Rock & Roll.  Of course, I had never realized just how amazing this art form really was. With all its ties to R & B, Jazz and even Folk, learning how the music came about was so much fun.  Then of course, teaching that to my students was amazing.  We went so far as to learn about the technology that grew with the music.  I think that unit that I developed was one of my favourites to teach.

You see I had resisted rock music because I just knew the label but not the actual musicality.  Are you resisting introducing some music to your singers because the label of a certain type is holding you back?  Here are some ideas for you to introduce some different forms to your repertoire.

1.  Listen to LOTS - With the advent of You Tube you can listen to all sorts of music.  I challenge you to listen to something you have never heard before.  Remember that not all music of a certain genre will suit you or your singers.  Listen to a WIDE range of styles and types.

2. Liking is forbidden - In my classes, the students & I were not allowed to say that we liked or disliked a piece of music.  We decided that you only used liking to decide on buying music but not on listening.  Some music is so outside your usual that you absolutely have to detach the LIKE mechanism to let the music speak.  Like our Friday Facebook cartoon says, you may think Mozart but Cage is what is playing.

3. Enjoy - No matter what style of music you choose, enjoy the experience.  Pieces that you choose to try may be the best thing you have ever experienced.  Other pieces may be interesting and fun but not something you will revisit.  No matter what, enjoy the ride.  Learn but do NOT put up walls between you and any single type of music.

4. Leave the labels off - I try really hard to not label a song as a hymn or country or rock or modern etc.  I just present the music and away we go.  There are pieces we enjoy doing more than others of course but we don't dismiss a piece because of its genre. Have fun exploring lots of kinds of music.  Never let a label hold you back.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Musical Monday -Enunciation and Then Some - Neil Patrick Harris 2013

We all know how much work it is to get ready for a concert.  We have venues & instruments, costumes & props, movement & placement that are all part of the equation.  

Here is an opening number to end all.  Please watch Neil Patrick Harris and how every word he sings is clear.  He dances, runs, spins & disappears and yet, we hear every word.  

All I can think about is just how much he has rehearsed and then some.  What a fun performance.  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Musical Monday - Seating/Standing Arrangements for Success

If you look at these seating/standing plans you will certainly find one that you currently use.
We have been using a form of the top suggestion since we began.  We just moved our parts around.  Tenors & sopranos are in front and altos & basses in the back.  When we changed to this after having been static for some time, all of a sudden everyone could hear the other parts better.  What Kristy & I decided was that we needed to move people around more often.  After many changes and trials I think I have a good idea of what works for amateur choirs.
1. Ideal - you guessed it.  The ideal way to sing with maximum blend is with everyone standing with someone not singing their part.  Kirby Shaw liked his people to stand in quartets.  Personally, I feel people should just stand where each can hear well and blend well.

2. Beats - there are people who should not stand with other singers.  It is really important that you listen to how people blend and that you empower your singers to listen for how their voice FEELS next to another singer.  Some vibrations or beats between voices just don't jive.  There is a disconnect and jarring with those voices.  Not matter what you want for a seating/standing plan, sometimes you have to really pay more attention to the vibes!

3. Height etc. - you have to make certain people can comfortably see the conductor.  Remember that the direction is what keeps everything on track no matter where people are.  We have one singer who sometimes needs to sit on a stool.  We have another singer who has difficulty with focus unless close to the action.  Individual needs must be accommodated.

4. Distance - you need to go to the far reaches of your rehearsal space and see what the sound is like.  Then stand close by and see what you hear.  Change accordingly.

5. Input - ask the singers.  How do they feel in each position.  We have decided that we want to change our spots quite often.  Change has enhanced our ability to hear and blend.  As we change, we hear things differently and that is always good.  I can get too set in my ways and the singers are great at encouraging change for good.

6. Record - using your recording devise will give you a objective ear for the sound that results from placement among other variables.  Let the choir hear these recordings so they can adjust accordingly.  

All in all, please have fun.  Enjoy the music you are making and don't be too bossy as the leader.  If you have a huge group then you may have to keep the numbers in mind to make certain that a good blend is still happening.  Just keep trying lots of ways to make music better by giving your people the best chance to hear, blend & see well.  The finished product is the true tell of just how things are going.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Musical Monday - Victor Borge & the Aria

Now we all know that opera is an acquired taste.  How do you acquire that taste?  Well, by hearing really good operatic bits and understanding them.  Victor Borge was a great musician & had amazing comedic timing.  Had we been able to have YouTube bits like this when I was teaching music, opera would have been an easy one to teach.  
Even the songstress in this bit is having fun while singing some amazingly accurate sounds.  Using clips like these can help anyone appreciate various styles of music and have fun doing it. Try something different today!!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Musical Monday - Hitting the Top Notes with Ease

Image result for clip art singer in choirWe all have times when we get some notes in our parts that are on the top end of our comfort zone.  When you research how to sing those "high" notes no matter what part you sing, there are very physical tips to help you.  I truly believe that you must be in the right physical stance but there are some really easy mind tricks that have helped me and my singers over the years.

1. Stand straight - Well yes BUT---

  • stand with feet slightly apart and weight centred on the balls of the feet
  • make certain you do NOT throw your head back but rather tuck your chin down slightly.  Now try both ways.  Stand with your eyes looking to the ceiling.  Yes, you will feel the restriction in your throat.  Now, stand with your chin slightly tucked while thinking of your spin as a straight stick right up the back of your head.  Feel now how much more open your throat feels.  You got it!!
2. Take a deep breath - Indeed you need lots of air to produce a lovely in tune sound.  However, if you breathe incorrectly it can end up being a breathy sound instead. 
  • prepare for the note by always breathing well.  Depending on where that note occurs in the song, you may have to break up phrases to get the required breath.  When you are a choir singer, just breathe where the person beside you does not. That will ensure no "holes" in the sound. 
3. Stop thinking - Yes I really mean it.  If you THINK the note is high, you will reach for it and that usually means you will hit just under the note.
  • think like a basketball player instead.  The note is the ball. Stand well, chin down then let the note fly and enter the basket gently from the top.  No jamming here.  I find thinking of the note as being gently dropped from the top allows me to get it in tune.  If the basketball player always thought about just how high the basket was, there would be very few that scored.  Think above the note and let it sit in the right place.  Ah. 
4. Be a champion athlete
  • We all know that it takes a lot of physical effort to sing well.  
  • It takes a positive mental attitude as well.  
  • If you think you can, you will.  If you think you can't, you're right.  
  • Be in the best shape YOU can be.  Walk and breathe between the poles on the road and let it out in a hiss.  Think about your posture while in the shower.  
  • When you let the little "can't" gremlin into your brain, quickly say, "Cancel, cancel, cancel!" or shake your hands as if getting rid of something sticky and say, "Let it go, let it go, let it go." You are in control.  
4. Relax, enjoy and do the best you can with the tools you have.  Sometimes the best of us have a bad day and those top notes just aren't going to happen.  Get in the proper stance, breathe and open your mouth with a singer's smile.  Someone will get it.  THAT is the true joy of being in a choir.  There are very few times when that note is yours alone.  Fake it and smile.  Oh yeah. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Musical Monday - Feel GREAT with Love Is Like a River

Just 'cause music is that feel good medicine. Listen, enjoy and energize.  Check out the amazing pianist!!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Musical Monday - Using Vocal Fry in Your Singing Can Actually Help

In past posts, I have decried the use of vocal fry (explained perfectly in this video).  Actually, in researching how to heal an overused voice, I found suggestions to use a bit of vocal fry to help heal as the voice heals best when used gently to keep the blood flowing etc.  Well, I was intrigued. 
Here in this video, the use of vocal fry or creak is illustrated.  As in all things, moderation is the key.  Judicious use of fry is helpful but to use it all the time as some current singers seem to be doing will cause you to lose much of your range.  
I will listen differently to a lot of music differently after this tutorial.  

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Musical Monday - 5th grade boys Synchronized Air Swimming

These young fellows do a masterful job of being truly synchronized.  They work so well with the music and the result is pure fun.  This will be a lasting, fun memory for them for sure. It is certainly a fun one for us!!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Musical Monday - Andre Rieu Amazing Grace - Scottish Style

Andre Rieu has so many creative ideas for presenting music.  This is for our Scottish friends who have just celebrated Robbie Burns Day.  Address the haggis and enjoy this wonderful treat. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Musical Monday - Honey & Lemon for Singers: Fact from Fiction

We have all had those times when we want to sing well but have a scratchy throat.  I have found that a lovely hot cup of tea with honey & lemon really feels great.  However, after about the third cup, I am not wanting any more. Below find lots of detail about what honey and lemon do for you.  Suffice it to say that REAL honey and lemon will not steer you wrong.  Plain water may work just as well.  The bottom line is that you have to try different solutions and find what works for you.  Sometimes, just resting your voice is what is needed.  Read on to see what the expert says. 

“Honey & Lemon: It Heals My Flu or Cold”
This claim has been around for a long time; Egyptian physicians used honey to promote health and Greeks believed in its promotion of virility and longevity.
There is some truth behind these historic preferences.
Honey is high in many nutrients including iron, copper, manganese, silica chlorine, calcium, potassium, sodium , phosphorous, aluminum and magnesium.
The darker the honey the higher the nutrient content.
Lemon has been recognized for its natural disinfectant properties. It contains pectin which acts as a vacuum to help clean out the gut including environmental toxins.
The high potassium content aids in the elimination of these pollutants. Lemon has a high source of vitamin C to help fight infection and, like honey, contains calcium, magnesium and potassium.
The combination of the two intensify the antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.
Lemons contain almost 90% of vitamin C as a whole fruit which helps repel free radicals and protects the healthy cells from becoming cancerous; all promoting healing when your immune system is compromised.

Caution: But is Honey & Lemon Good All the Time?

Research published by Pediatrics Digest concluded that citrus honey improved the cough symptoms during an upper respiratory infection, leading to a better chance at sleep— I’m talking NATURAL citrus honey not "cough drops".
Remember to always be your own judge. We all react differently to remedies so take the information and personalize what may work best for you.
Give it time to kick in as it may not usher an immediate response

So, is honey and lemon THE cure?

In a word: no. Singers need to deal with the root cause, resting during a cold, learning healthier speaking and singing technique.
Of course, hydration is a part of great vocal health – and has rightly been described as the “engine oil” of the voice.
On this score, hot water with honey and lemon is better than alcohol and caffeine based drinks
The thermal effect of the warm liquid will help increase circulation to the affected area and the osmotic effect of the honey will aid in decreasing the swelling of the throat.
But, please, do not underestimate the power of staying hydrated on a regular basis with good ol’ H2O.

“It cleared my throat of mucous so I could sing flawlessly!”

Although a little bit of phlegm may be necessary to lubricate the vocal cords, too much can cause excess vibration.
Here, the combination of warm water and a drop of lemon scores some points.
It can help loosen the buildup of mucous, while the addition of honey can help coat it.
Add a bit of Cheyenne pepper or something spicy to the mix and you can clear up your sinuses to prevent the drip down to your throat.
-Sharon Zarabi

Sharon Zarabi
Sharon Zarabi is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Dietitian Nutritionist (RD, CDN) and Certified Personal Fitness Trainer with the International Fitness Professional’s Association (IFPA) and Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA.) She is a contributor to The Singer’s Guide to Complete Health (Oxford University Press) and her work can be viewed at

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Musical Monday - Eating for Singing Success

Image result for clipart eatingAs much research as I do about eating and performing, I still come up with general good eating guidelines.  I have included below an article by Sharon Zarabi that was found in Voice Council Magazine.  It truly is the basics of eating well for general good health.
Over the years, I have come up with a number of tips that have helped me and the singers with whom I have worked young and not so young alike.
1. EAT SMART - Eat foods you enjoy but keep the amounts reasonable & at least an hour before a rehearsal or performance.  When you eat, your body uses a lot of energy to digest that food.  You won't have as much energy to sing and you will probably feel uncomfortable.  Keep it light before hand.
  • Spicy foods - for all the reasons above & the fact that you are with others & any digestive discomfort will by passed on.  Pun intended.
  • Milk products - I have stayed away from milk, cheese, ice cream, cream etc. because I find it does make mucus thicker.  Some people will say that it doesn't bother them.  Great.  As a general rule, it is a good one to follow. 
  • Sweets - I find that sweets act much as milk does.  Save the sweets as an afterwards treat. 
Check out these general rules below.  They make sense. 

Do not wait until you are starving to eat

You may be at practice, on the road or have social events that go until wee hours of the night and with socializing comes drinking and foods that are not timed with physical appetites. Keep nuts, low sugar protein bars, and fruit with you at all times. Green apples are my favorites! The pectin (a fiber in the skin of green apples) keeps your belly satisfied. Try to get some calories in every 4-5 hours.

Do not make any food forbidden

The psychology behind avoiding prohibited foods makes them more tempting. If you choose to indulge in a not so healthy treat, do not go overboard, and OWN it. Eat less the next day or be sure to get some calorie burning exercises in to counterbalance the extra energy.

Read your labels

If it is lacking dietary fiber and protein, both of which keep you full, you probably shouldn’t be eating it. It’s a waste of calories and goes straight to the waist line all with still leaving you hungry. This disrupts your body’s understanding of what satisfied actually means. Check for foods that have greater than 3 grams of fiber and more than 5 grams of protein when available. Proteins include fish, chicken, beans, eggs, nuts, soy and meat. Keep canned tuna and low sugar protein bars at hand. This will help you with tip #1.

Drink your water

You need to hydrate those vocals chords and nothing quenches thirst better than pure water. If you get bored of plain water, carry bags of flavored teas with you and seep them in hot water and then add ice cubes for an enhanced flavored beverage without all the added sugar.

Move your body

Get the blood pumping, and muscles building with both cardiovascular and strength training workouts. When in the hotel, take the stairs, before a performance pump yourself up with a set of push-ups; when brushing your teeth work those legs with squats. The little things add up and can change your figure.

Keep a food journal

If weight loss is your goal, it’s good to keep a list of what you eat, when you eat and how you feel. This can help you discern between the foods that actually keep you full and to avoid any foods that may cause gastric distress. The last thing you need when going up on stage is an upset stomach or itchy throat, so keep a log to help you identify those foods may be “eating you up.”

Avoid late night eating

When you eat and recline you are not letting your body digest the food properly. The gastric juices will push back through the esophagus causing heart burn and irritating the throat. Also, if you wait until you are hungry to eat, you will eat more than your stomach can handle and, in the long term, this can lead to GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease). The acid build up will affect voice quality – so, full circle back to tip #1.
Keep these tips in mind to keep you on rockin’ on stage!

Sharon ZarabiSharon Zarabi is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Dietitian Nutritionist (RD, CDN) and Certified Personal Fitness Trainer with the International Fitness Professional’s Association (IFPA) and Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA.) She is a contributor to The Singer’s Guide to Complete Health (Oxford University Press) and her work can be viewed at

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Musical Monday - The Nutcracker - Very Fun

The Nutcracker Ballet is a holiday favourite but I will bet you have never seen it done like this.  These dancers are very true to the music but oh the moves are such fun.  Happy New Year!!