Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - How Do Know a Song Will "Work" for your Choir

Music conductor avatarWe have talked about choosing arrangements and choosing pieces that suit the choir you have.  Of course, you have to know your venue and audience but really how do you choose a piece that works for YOUR particular group of singers.

1. How OLD are they? - Now, you know that I am not talking about their chronological ages.  I am talking about where their thinking ages are.  Our choir is very eclectic.  They are happy to sing something very current as well as very classic pieces.  Of course, individuals enjoy some songs more than others but they all give their very best effort no matter what.  If your choir is reticent to sing one genre or another, you will have to work up to it.  Stick with pieces that light up their faces and that they do well.  Then, you can add a piece or two that challenge them differently.  You won't really know all of this until you get singing.  Some pieces may have to go on the back burner.  Nothing wrong with that.

2. What skills do they bring? - If you have sight reading capable singers and people who have had lots of choir singing then you can choose songs that have tricky harmonies and take more learning.  If however, like many choirs, you have a mixture of skills then please don't lean on your skilled people all the time.  Choose something that is fun to learn and that has repetitive phrases so that your less trained people can learn without having to hammer it home constantly.  A mixture of challenging & simpler songs will help bring everyone a feeling of satisfaction.

3. Have they got choir experience? - If you have soloists in your group then you will have to work on homogenizing the sound and lots of listening techniques.  Try choosing pieces they may know or learn easily.  That way you can work on creating that lovely blended sound without strong voices standing out.  Don't be afraid to keep it simple especially until the stronger voices get a better idea of how to blend.  If they are focusing on difficult passages then blending will be the last thing they focus on.

Above all, respect your singers.  When a song fits you will know by the smiles and the sound that they create.  I know sometimes I get so stuck on a song I just want it to work.  I have learned over the years to recognize after giving it a fair try and even a performance that it doesn't work and put it away.  We sang Mama Mia at the Embro Fair last year and although they did a good job, it just didn't suit us as well as other pieces.  It is gone from our repertoire.

The bottom line is that you don't always know that a song will work right away.  Be brave, try lots and then be wise and keep or let go according to your singers and your own brilliant assessment.  Life is too short to keep at something that isn't giving your choir a pleasant experience.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Fun Friday - When Johnny Come Marching Home.- Movement and Then Some!!

Remember back when we had the post of whether or not to move when we sing?  Well that elicited some interesting ideas.  Now in the post from August 19 we had the Vocal Majority singing You Raise Me Up with some amazing phrases.

One of our sopranos, Elaine, mentioned that she had checked out other Vocal Majority videos and wondered if maybe some of our members could work on those cartwheels for our presentations.  Indeed, they do marching, cartwheels and full lifts while singing beautifully.  I thought you needed to see what Elaine was talking about.  What do you think?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - Let a Smile Be Your --- FACE

Have you ever walked through a mall or downtown and "people watched"?  Oh my.  There are people walking around who, in my mother's words, would be horrified if their faces froze in that expression.  I have a friend who always says, "If you are happy, notify your face!"  But I say, even if you aren't particularly happy or better yet, having a BAD day, smile anyway.  When someone asks you how you are, always, but always reply with, "Great!"  You'll be surprised with how much better you do feel after 3 "greats".

Are you going to smile whenever you sing?  Yes!  But what if you are singing a Requiem?  Smile.  The most important part of your singing is your engagement with your audience.  Yes, it is.  If you don't have an audience, then why would you sing?  It is very much like the discussion of if a tree falls in the forest can anybody hear?  So if there is no one to hear then, philosophically, there is no sound.

Does that mean we always have to sing happy songs.  No way.  We can sing Palestrina, with a smile as much as we can singing Grandma's Feather Bed.  Well maybe a little differently.  Let me explain.

1. Smile before you sing. - As the leader, you must - LEAD!  So whether you are a section leader, conductor or president of the board, smile when speaking to your singers before you start.  Sing through a song you do really well as a warm up.  Make your singers feel warm all over.  No matter how scary the concert seems, lead with a warm smile and set the pace.

2. Smile while you sing - Smile at each other.  Whether you are a leader or a singer, smile at each other.  Even with great discipline in your choir, if you make a mistake, remember it is now done and SMILE.  It will relax everyone and they will feel better about their performance.  If someone beside you blows a note or phrase or something, suck it in and do not send frowns or negative vibes.  Smiling there could be construed as making fun but afterwards, you can laugh at the "oops" moments together.  Respect among you is so very important.  It is a culture you will always work hard to maintain.  Smiling helps.

3.  Smile with your eyes - No matter what the emotion of the music you are presenting, enjoying the process of singing and performing is paramount.  Although you must not smile while singing "oo". "ah" or "ee" sounds, you have eyes that need to smile.  If you knit your brow, you are definitely NOT smiling with your eyes.  Do some homework in front of the bathroom mirror and see if I am right.  If you don't want your face to freeze that way, change the eyes.

If you are the kind of leader who rants and raves to get the sound YOU think is correct, stop and re-evaluate.  Music is a treasure that must be honoured.  Our choir is working constantly at understanding and being respectful of each other.  I don't rant, although in my early teaching days I did.  I learned quite quickly than neither the singers nor I gained anything from sending out those negative feelings.

A true from your toes smile, is a must as an accessory.  if you must, practise with a mirror.  Make sure it isn't a smirk.  Laugh much.  If you have to, watch funny sketches or movies.  YouTube is full.  If you ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.  Spread the cheer.  If someone near you doesn't have a smile, give them one of yours.  Like measles, smiles are catching.

1,2,3 --- SMILE!!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Another Beginning - Pot Luck and Then Some

Thank you wonderful choir members and your "groupies".  That is the preferred term isn't it Sharon?  We had amazing salads of all sorts with Paul's tuna creation (not to mention his Black Forest layered dessert), Kay's amazing Caesar salad, Marcie's quinoa, Bob's zucchini and cucumber dishes, John & Ann's cupcakes with the music motif and Sharon's apple crisp with ice cream.  Of course, we can't forget Elaine's bean salad and corn chips.  Oh my!!

We had a great privilege tonight in getting to sing through Karen Boyce's arrangement of Sting's "Fields of Gold".
Remember when I wrote the blog about Social Media and Promoting Your Choir?  Well here is something that you can't put a price on.  Karen and I have been chatting on Twitter & Facebook as she and I both write a blog.  She is an accompanist for the Hutt Valley Singers and the Major Minors  in New Zealand and now has written this wonderful arrangement which she has graciously shared with the Embro Thistle Singers.  My choir was opining that perhaps we should be thinking about doing an exchange trip.  From small ideas come some really rather grand plans.  Who knows?

Thank you Karen for your trust in us.  We loved singing the new piece and hope to add it to our repertoire.

Good food, good exchange and great music.  It just doesn't get better.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fun Friday - Celine Dion & The Canadian Tenors - Hallelujah

This is one of our favourite songs.  Talk about an all Canadian moment.  Written by Canadian Leonard Cohen, sung by the Canadian Tenors (they have since removed Canadian from their name - too bad) and harmonized with a surprise visit by Celine Dion.  Yummy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - It's All About the Phrase?

men,metaphors,mountain climbers,persons,uphill,uphill climbsThe phrase is that curved line in a piece of music that is like climbing a mountain.  You start out with lots of excitement.  It is hard work to go up that slanted side and you watch every step.  You reach the top and there you are and boy don't you wish you could stay but -- you have to come down again.  Sometimes in our excitement we come down too fast and we have a very bumpy landing.  Ouch.  Let's explore the science and art of singing in phrases.

Okay then is it the words that dictate the phrase or the notes?  If you are talking about orchestra this question is mute.   What is a phrase?  Now here we can get really particular or go with common knowledge.  I have studied "phraseology" (apologies to the mayor in the Music Man) and it can be very complicated.  There are antecedent and consequent phrases, one which sets the sounds and the second follows and finishes the musical thought.  Simply put, the phrase is leading to an ending (antecedent) or creating an ending (consequent).  If you treat every musical phrase as consequent, it would be like those people who make declarative sentences all the time.  You start to tune them out because you can't differentiate between the ordinary and important.  Nevertheless, a phrase happens when and idea needs to be made clear.  The sound starts off with less power, builds to an apex and then goes back gently to a cadence or a finish.

Now, we're cooking.  The phasing of the music helps us to hear what is important.  Phrasing is the words and music broken up by breaths to enhance the meaning and sound.
Listen to this choir who has some really lovely phrasing.  I do like this better no watching but just listening.  What do you think?

Their phrasing certainly adds to the meaning.  And that is what phrasing is all about. Period. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Fun Friday Queen - Elton John & Axl Rose - Bohemian Rhapsody - (Freddie Mercury Tri...

This is so much fun to listen to if you haven't done so in a while.  Some really great guitar in here.  The audience is SO into this one.  Are you?