Sunday, December 21, 2014

Musical Monday - What Child is This - The Stairwell Carollers

One of the first choirs I connected with was this wonderful Stairwell Carollers from Ottawa, Ontario.  Their history is wonderful & the sounds they produce just lovely.  Thank you Holly for all your support & encouragement.                Enjoy this amazing new arrangement by Pierre Massie. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Musical Monday - The Legend of Harvey

Our choir, the Embro Thistle Singers, would not exist if it were not for a dream that came to fruition through our very own Harvey.  There he is on the far right. No YOUR right.

It was a day in 2010 that Harvey came to me with this idea for a choir and asked if I would consider being the choir director.  Oh yeah, count me in!  He had asked a number of people to come to an inaugural practice.  We had 16 at our very first practice.  Amazing.  

As I had no idea of exactly who would come nor what skills they might bring we sang a number of songs in unison.  Well, it was immediately evident that we had some proficient singers.  Harvey is really good at getting people to do things. 

Knox United Church has given us space to practise for almost 5 years.  We started in the basement and have moved into the church.  We are very lucky to have such a lovely practice facility.  Harvey asked Kathy if she could make it happen.  She did.  

The first accompanist Harvey asked was Ann.  During the first weeks of our inception, she was taken ill and had to have surgery.  Kristy came to us ostensibly as a fill in.  Ann decided that adding ETS to her roster was just too much and Kristy agreed to stay.  

We have had number of people come and go as the years have gone on.  Some found that their schedules were busier than they liked.  Others just found other things to do or had enjoyed what they had done and were ready for a change. Of course, we were terribly sad to lose Damon unexpectedly last year.  Losing a treasured member really makes us be more mindful of just how special each person truly is.  

We have learned many pieces that if asked in those beginning months, we might have thought impossible to do.  We have grown immensely in experience, skill and repertoire.  None of these would have been possible without Harvey's dream and the footwork that it took to get us together.  Once we got started, not even snow storms, extreme cold or major thunderstorms could stop us!

Harvey is a legend in his own time.  Do you have a legend in your group who was a key founding member or is part of the glue that keeps things going.  Share with us.  Maybe your "Harvey" will appreciate knowing just what an important role he/she plays! 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday - ICC and IYC Angels Among Us

This is a lovely sound from a huge combined choir.  They leave out the first spoken or sung story words.  Notice the sign language interpretation to the side.  The descant is really a beautiful addition don't you think?

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?