Thursday, March 13, 2003

Open your mouth

I find myself always asking my singers to open their mouth more when they sing. It's a simple thing that can really improve the sound. Untrained singers are usually used to frontal resonance toward the mouth and teeth. By opening the mouth, a singer stands a better chance of getting a fuller, warmer sound than one that is focused in the front.

Where else is opening your mouth a good thing? Not too many places.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Rowdy Choristers

The best way to stop a disruptive person in the choir - the jokster, the punmaster, the back-seat conductor - is to keep the choir singing. If it gets a bit out of hand, it's easy to make it stop: "Let's start from the top, here's your notes!" and then a cue. Once their singing, the interruption is over.

Not to say that volunteer choirs don't need a little levity. But I'm had times where some people just won't stop...

Saturday, November 23, 2002

My Wife Sings Like an Angel
I have to brag about my wife for a minute. She sounded great in the Mozart concert last night, as she does each Sunday. Her voice has a wonderful warmth and presence that is so moving. It's not a "was that a mosquito that just flew by my ear sound" but rather a 5 course french meal with all it's sophistication and complexity, and ultimate enjoyment.

What a gift and a blessing. We met in the choir too so that's another good reason for singles to join up!

Recommended Recording

Images of Christ has a bunch of wonderful motets in both English and Latin. The Casals "O Vos Omnes" is a very moving piece and there's some other gems as well. The execution is flawless.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Consider the Christmas Proclamation

At midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, it's customary to sing or read the Christmas Proclamation, an ancient text that announces the birth of Christ in both salvation history and in human history. The text for the proclamation is found here, along with a real audio file of the chant. It is normally sung between the greeting/introduction of the Mass and is immediately followed by the Gloria.

As a chant, this should be sung simply and comfortably - it's not an opera aria or a Rory Cooney song, and as with all chant, the "me" needs to get out of the sound in order to get the purest tone possible. The repeated notes are what's called a reciting tone, words on the reciting tone are normally meant to be faster than any notes that move. Be careful of punching the words, because if there's too much emphasis on individual syllables the flow of the chant in lost. It's not necessary to start on the note that's written in the score, pick a note and range for the entire chant that is comfortable for you so the chant can be sung properly. Finally, I sing this with no vibrato in order to make the tone as simple and striking as possible.
Be Clear With Your Cues

A dear friend and teacher of mine, Anthony Maiello, is the director of instrumental studies at George Mason University. I learned a very important thing from him about cues - that is the preparation for the giving a cue is as important as the cue itself. If the choir comes in on beat one, then the conducting movement on the last beat of the preceding measure needs to be crystal clear. In conducting "And the Glory of the Lord" from Messiah he even had me stretch my hand back and above my shoulder as the preparation for the cue - it's something the choir can't miss. Because of his teaching, I rarely run into trouble with the choir not understanding when to come in.
What is Forte?

Forte, the Italian word for "strong," means loud. But it means only as loud as you can sing beautifully. Directors should not be afraid to reign in singers that sing so loud that they don't sound good.
Singing is not like Speaking

Choirs need ongoing guidance from the director in order to make the most beautiful and appropriate sound for their repertoire. I'm constantly saying and demonstrating that speaking is different from singing. In choral singing, all regional accents need to disappear: the "r" sound with a closed mouth need to match the vowel sung in conjunction with it rather than be a held "rrrrrrrrrrrrr" sound. Choral singers need to get used to singing on vowels instead of closing to consonants early, like singing the word "king" as "king" rather than "kinnnnnng." Vowels need to be warmer than in speaking.

Different styles of music need to reflect different choral sounds. Often, my choir will chant the Gloria or other Mass parts, while the Psalm has a contemporary setting with piano accompaniment. Obviously chant-singing style is much different from singing a contemporary piece, but it's easy for a choir to forget and sing everything in the same manner. Often, mentioning it and getting the choir to concentrate on it makes all the difference.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Sound system

We had an interesting music directors meeting at my parish where we discussed the use of the sound system for amplifying cantors and instruments. I tend to think that sound systems are necessary evils and that are often badly configured.

Some people seem to think that microphones and speakers exist so that everything can be loud. It's the idea that a speaker or singer should "fill the church." That way, you can be sure people hear everything, every word, syllable, breath and inflection. If a guitar or (heaven forbid) gaggle of guitars are all amplified, along with the singers, then this attitude tends to translate into BIG LOUD CAMPFIRE SING-A-LONG, where the roof in nearly blown off the church. The same thing can happen when the organist pull out all the stops (no pun intended.) I remember seeing a scrawled letter next to a fund-raising notice on a choir room bulletin board. The notice was for new pipes for the organ. The letter was from a very sensitive person who wrote "Don't you think the organ is loud enough? And you want more pipes? Not a dime from me!!!!"

I like my amplification to bring the sound to a level where an attentive person can hear what's going on. Just loud enough that the person still needs to concentrate and focus on what is being said or sung. Any louder and bad sounds become horrendous, and normal sounds are screams. It becomes very easy to tune out such an assault on the ears, and literally stop listening. Or course, there's still some additional help for people with hearing problems. But overall - sound systems should encourage active listening.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Christmas is coming!

We do about 20 minutes of music before the 10pm Mass on Christmas Eve at St. Mark's in Vienna.

I'm thinking of doing the Leo Nestor "Virgin Great and Glorious" which is a great 4-part Christmas anthem with organ. I'm looking for the Shaw/Parker arrangement of the "Carol of the Birds" that's on one of the Robert Shaw Christmas recordings. We'll probably do "Pat-a-pan" again because it's got a great tune and has the word "Willie" in it. We almost always do "Carol of the Bells."

Other than that I'm not sure... Why don't you let me know what you have planned for Christmas.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Great stuff in this score. European Sacred Music, edited by John Rutter. It's worth buying one copy so you can decide the pieces you should buy multiple copies of.