Posted on August 31, 2010 by Michael
As choruses (community, school and church) resume rehearsals following a summer vacation, there are often many singers who feel their voices have lost some “conditioning” during the break. It’s normal to feel that way, for singers are similar to athletes – we need to keep our voices (and bodies) in good singing shape. As the new performance season begins, there are several things we can do to get our voices back where they were at the conclusion of the past season, or possibly, in even better condition.
(1) Hydration and Exercise. Singing is a physical activity and to perform at our best we need to take care of our bodies. It is important to drink lots of water (experts usually recommend eight glasses a day) and to engage in moderate physical exercise (walking, or any sort of aerobic activity that elevates the heart rate).
(2) Daily Vocal Warm Ups. Most choral directors include a time for vocal warm up at the beginning of a rehearsal, but it should really be the responsibility of the individual singer to get his or her voice ready to rehearse. Even something as simple as humming an ascending/descending three note diatonic pattern is helpful. The warm up should start in the middle of the vocal range and gradually move outwards (up and down). We should also be doing our vocal warm ups every day, and not just when we have an ensemble rehearsal. Following a short warm up period (10 minutes) it can be useful to sing a simple song (folk song or hymn) without accompaniment. The formation of words in the song activates the lips and tongue and helps prepare the singer for the more strenuous vocal activity of a rehearsal.
(3) Patience. Try to remember that achieving anything of real value usually requires dedication and hard work, and that is certainly true with singing. But as most choral musicians know, the result is worth the effort. Keep in mind that rehearsals and performances will always be more rewarding if we’re in good vocal shape!
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: choir, chorus, exercise, hydration, singing, vocal warmup | 2 Comments »
Posted on August 24, 2010 by Michael
Although the calendar year begins on January 1, the “choral year” usually begins in August or September. School choirs, church choirs, and community choirs across our country are all beginning a new season of music making right about now. With that in mind, I’d like to discuss in today’s blog a quality I think we should bring to this new year of singing, and in fact, to each rehearsal of the year. That quality is energy, and I believe it to be a key ingredient of good singing. Beauty and placement (resonance) are also important parts of fine singing, but it is energy that is on my mind as we start this season.
Consider the fact that the voice is a “living” instrument and that energy is the foundation of the sound created by that instrument. One of the essential differences between an excellent choir and a merely average choir is the energy the excellent choir brings to its performance. Realizing that a choir is made up of individuals will remind us of our personal responsibilities in creating choral energy. If each singer enters the rehearsal room with an attitude of enthusiasm and motivation, there will be a much better chance that choral energy will be achieved in the rehearsal.
Here are some synonyms for energy: animation, drive, intensity, spirit, vitality, zeal. Here, also, are several antonyms for the same word: idleness, inactivity, laziness, lethargy, tiredness. Which set of words would you wish to be used to describe a choir in which you sing? I would expect it to be the synonyms for energy, rather than the antonyms. I invite you to share your thoughts about how one can bring this special energy into rehearsals and then maintain it throughout the season.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: choir, energetic singing, energy, MOS, voice | 4 Comments »
Posted on August 16, 2010 by Michael
The Sixth Annual Michael O’Neal Summer Singers performed Salute to America to a large and enthusiastic audience yesterday afternoon. The chorus of 150 non-auditioned, volunteer singers presented a polished, energetic, and completely captivating performance of The Testament of Freedom (Music: Randall Thompson; Words: Thomas Jefferson), Song of Democracy (Music: Howard Hanson; Words: Walt Whitman), and arrangements of America, the Beautiful, God Bless America, and Battle Hymn of the Republic. Rounding out the concert was a two person version of Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever on the mighty Moller organ of Roswell UMC. The two persons performing that showstopper were Tom Alderman and Allen Baston. Tom also serves as the principal accompanist of MOS and provided phenomenal organ transcriptions of the Thompson and Hanson pieces. If there is an organist anywhere who could have performed this music more magnificently, I have not met him or her!
Our Summer Singers chorus (MOSS) is always a joy to conduct, but this summer was a special treat. I don’t think we’ve ever had a MOSS more dedicated and involved than this one. With six Monday evening rehearsals spread out over two months, it was imperative that the singers work on their own between rehearsals if they expected to perform their best. It was clear to me that these chorus members took their personal and collective responsibilities very seriously, for they sang a concert I will remember for years to come! Thanks to all who sang and all who attended. Aren’t we lucky to have choral music in our lives?
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: Allen Baston, Howard Hanson, Michael O'Neal, Randall Thompson, Salute to America, song of democracy, Stars and Stripes Forever, The Michael O'Neal Summer Singers, thomas jefferson, Tom Alderman, walt whitman | 5 Comments »
Posted on August 4, 2010 by Michael
A question that pops up now and then (especially around audition time) is how to cope with a “mature” or, shall we just say it, an “aging” voice. It’s a challenging issue, for no one enjoys admitting that he can’t manipulate his voice as easily as he once did. The good news is that we can continue singing with a relatively good tone well into our retirement years, and for many of us, that’s when our schedules finally allow a lot of singing! Still, we need to accept some “adjustments” to our vocal production.
First, we need to understand that our range will probably diminish as we age. This phenomenon is usually experienced more by sopranos and tenors, and they may discover the need to move from 1st to 2nd or even to the alto or baritone part. Breathing and breath support also become an issue, and the older singer may find herself taking more frequent breaths than in the past. There’s nothing wrong with breathing more often (hey, it keeps us alive!), and low, diaphragmatic breathing, combined with good support, is a wonderful physical exercise for the older adult. Excess vibrato can also become a problem in the aging voice and it is often related to the breath support just mentioned. The singer can “correct” much of the vibrato issue by concentrating on singing as straight a tone as possible. It’s amazing the role our minds play in singing, and the mature singer can use his well developed mind to “imagine” the beautiful tone he wants to produce. The older singer should also be careful about the volume at which she sings. I often tell my singers to never sing louder than their own “personal” beautiful tone. With the older voice, we usually discover that for a tone to be beautiful and controlled, we may need to sing with a somewhat softer sound than we did twenty years earlier! The key to success, no matter what our age, is to come to rehearsal prepared, and ready to concentrate and work to be the best singer possible.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, there is good news for the older singer. It is great to know that almost all choral singers can find a way to participate in some choral ensemble for as long as they live, and when you think about it, a lifetime of singing is pretty good!
Filed under: Choral experiences, Choral rehearsal | Tagged: choral singing, older singers, aging voice, vibrato, breath support | 6 Comments »
Posted on August 1, 2010 by Michael
To blend or not to blend, that is the question. With apologies to Shakespeare, there really shouldn’t even be a question here. Most of us involved in choruses, either as singers or conductors, would say that of course we should blend. Therefore, why is it that so many choirs fail to achieve a good blend? A possible reason is that it requires a high level of concentration and commitment from both singer and conductor. It doesn’t just happen. So, what is blend? One definition suggests that blend means “to mix smoothly and inseparably together.” I think that definition works very well as a starting point in considering choral blend. First, let’s differentiate between choral balance and choral blend. Try to think of choral balance as being something that occurs primarily between voice sections, e.g., balance between the sopranos and basses, and choral blend as something that occurs within a section, e.g., all the tenors singing in such a way as to unify their sound and sound like one voice (this is something, by the way, that is almost impossible for tenors to achieve!). Obviously, there can still be blend between sections and balance within sections, but for the time being I’ll ask you to accept my generalized descriptions of each.
My concept of blend includes several key points: correct pitches and rhythms, unified and well produced vowels and consonants, and proper breathing and support. Add to this a real desire on the part of the singer to truly have his or her voice become part of the choral sound, and be willing to be a “part of the whole.” I mention this because we live in such a self-absorbed society today that being the “center of attention” often seems to be more attractive than being a small, though integral, “part of the whole.” While I don’t necessarily believe that choral music holds all the answers to the ills of our world, I do consider it to be a good start! So, as a conductor, I pledge to concentrate this year on achieving a beautiful choral blend, expecting that my singers will supply (with my help) the pitches, rhythms, vowels, consonants, breathing, and support that will make it possible.
So, what have been your experiences with choral blend?
Filed under: Choral experiences, Choral rehearsal | Tagged: Michael O'Neal, choral singing, breath support, choral blend, blend | 9 Comments »