Posted on November 29, 2011 by Michael
It was my good fortune to sing under the baton of Robert Shaw for a span of nearly a quarter century. During that time I experienced some of the most well planned and executed rehearsals of my entire musical life. Mr. Shaw was a master at knowing how the music should sound and what needed to be done to accomplish that sound. He believed there were four foundations of choral technique and that for successful performance we must always keep them foremost in our minds.
1 – Intonation is the sine qua non (without which nothing) of choral singing. In other words, correct pitch is essential!
2 – Time is divisible, and must be particularized with a precision similar to that given to intonation. Count singing anyone?
3 – Vocal tone (in addition to being capable of absolute pitch at an absolute moment) is also capable of a variety of dynamics and colors.
4 – Choral music has words and the distinct and successive sounds which form these words must be given their moment of time.
These four basic concepts, followed carefully and constantly in rehearsals, can produce some fine choral singing. It sure worked for Mr. Shaw!
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: Foundations of Choral Technique, Intonation, robert shaw, Time, Vocal tone, words | 1 Comment »
Posted on November 22, 2011 by Michael
This is a “reprint” of a blog I’ve posted the last two years about this time. It resulted in some absolutely great responses and I wanted to run it again to see what interesting things my readers would have to offer this year. Here it is:
You may have heard of the “six word story” idea that has been floating around the internet and college writing classes for some time. The goal is to come up with a phrase that describes in exactly six words a person’s thoughts on a particular subject. The concept is believed to have started with the famous author, Ernest Hemingway, who accepted a challenge to write a short story in six words. His response was this – For sale: baby shoes, never worn. Of course, few persons would be able to come up with such a thought-provoking six word story as the one produced by Hemingway. Still, it is a fascinating exercise and a good way to refine and distill our ideas on a specific theme.
The Thanksgiving Holiday seems to me to be a good subject for a “six word story.” I encourage the readers of this blog to come up with some examples that express what Thanksgiving means to them. I’ll get you started with two of my own. I love eating at any time (big surprise), but especially at Thanksgiving, so I came up with Favorite meal – turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie. Another one hints at the busy rehearsal and performance schedule that awaits musicians after the Thanksgiving holiday. Last rest before rush of December.
This should get you started. I look forward to hearing your “six word stories.”
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: hemingway, Michael O'Neal, six word story, Thanksgiving | 7 Comments »
Posted on November 16, 2011 by Michael
It was my good fortune to sing for many years under the baton of Robert Shaw. As the unofficial, but widely accepted, Dean of American Choral Conductors, Mr. Shaw was in a firm position of authority to remind choristers of their responsibilities to their ensemble, and even more importantly, their responsibilities to the composer and the music. I’ve never forgotten his lectures on the subject, which came in both written and oral versions. They were always sincere, heartfelt, and often stinging, for they usually came in response to a less than acceptable rehearsal by his chorus. Those of us in the chorus often felt ashamed following such admonitions, as we were reminded that the music deserved no less than our best effort, and that we were risking the success of the upcoming performance and showing a lack of respect for our fellow singers when we came to rehearsal less than fully prepared. It was also noted by most of us that Mr. Shaw always came to rehearsals fully prepared and it seemed only proper that we should do likewise.
Following a recent rather challenging rehearsal in which I felt an inordinate amount of time was spent correcting notes and intonation, I was led to write a note of my own to my chorus. First, I told them that much good had been accomplished as we fine tuned (both literally and figuratively) a number of spots in the music. The progress made during the rehearsal was substantial and I appreciated very much how hard everyone was working. Still, much of that work should have been done outside of the rehearsal and that brought me to my next point. It was to understand the importance of corporate and individual responsibilities in a choral rehearsal. This was something Robert Shaw discussed often with his singers and it recognizes that what we present to an audience is a group effort made up of personal contributions. I reminded my chorus that a favorite phrase of mine is that the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” That phrase reminds us that in a choral performance we must perform as a unified whole. But prior to achieving that unified whole there is an individual responsibility that must be accepted by each of us. Our corporate responsibility as a chorus to do honor to the composer and the music will always be controlled to a degree by each singer and his commitment to that corporate responsibility. Therefore, the old adage about a group being only as strong as its weakest member resonates strongly in choral ensembles. We become our best self (chorus) when each singer decides it really depends on him or her.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: choral singing, chorus, Michael O'Neal, responsibility, robert shaw, singers | 2 Comments »
Posted on November 9, 2011 by Michael
This past Sunday’s edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution included two stories in the Arts section that caught my attention. One was an article describing the recent restructuring of the Georgia Council for the Arts (GCA) which now places it under the Department of Economic Development. After years of cuts, Georgia is now ranked 50th in the country in terms of its legislative appropriation to its state arts agency. In fact, state funding for GCA has declined sharply since peaking in 2002 at $4.5 million. The fiscal 2012 funding of $574,000 is on par with late 1970s appropriations. In fiscal 2011, Georgia dedicated 8 cents per capita to the arts, last in the nation. Minnesota, the leading state, committed $5.69 per capita. For those of us in the Arts, this is a very disturbing trend. As we all know, our country is experiencing difficult economic times and it is not surprising that public arts funding would be affected, but for Georgia to be absolutely last in arts funding among the 50 states would suggest our legislators do not take seriously the beneficial role of the Arts in our society.
Contrast the above story to one found on another page of the same Arts section. Researchers in Norway studied data from more than 50,000 people on activities like museum visits, SINGING (my caps), volunteering, painting and attending concerts or sporting events. They discovered that engaging in arts and culture was linked with higher self-scores of physical and emotional health. To those of us engaged in music, and especially choral singing, these results come as no great surprise. We’ve always known the benefits one obtains from choral music, either as a participant or an audience member. Still, as public and corporate funding for the Arts grows increasingly scarce, it may become more and more our own responsibility to personally support that which brings value and meaning to our lives.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: AJC, arts funding, Atlanta Journal Constitution, GCA, Georgia Council for the Arts | 1 Comment »
Posted on November 4, 2011 by Michael
A common fear for many singers is that of memorization. The singers are afraid, perhaps with some justification, that they will forget the lyrics of a song in performance. While forgetting words is obviously a more serious problem for an individual vocalist who is up there alone, it is also an item of concern for many choral singers when informed they must memorize a piece for performance. I mentioned above that singers may be justified in their fear, but let me qualify that statement by adding that the fear can be eliminated, or at least greatly reduced, by utilizing several memorization techniques.
1. Write out, in long hand, the lyrics of the song. The very act of writing the words is a great mental exercise and you will be amazed how it helps you retain the text.
2. Enlist the aid of a lyric sheet. This can be the same sheet you wrote out in long hand, or can be something you created at your computer and printed (this works best if your handwriting is as bad as mine!). The way this sheet can be used is to keep it upside down until you can’t remember the words. Turn it over quickly to remind yourself of the text and then practice that part of the song until you are able to do it without the benefit of the lyric sheet.
3. Use a “cheat sheet.” Keep in mind this is only for rehearsals and not for performances! On this sheet you can write the first two or three words of each line or section and refer to it as needed during the rehearsal process. You will quickly learn you need to look at it less and less.
4. Listen to a recording of the piece multiple times. With so many good recordings available of choral music these days, it is fairly easy to obtain one with which you can practice your memorization. Using a CD or mp3 player in your car (only use the car speakers – no personal headphones while driving!) to listen to music you will be performing can be a great way to practice your memorization.
I borrowed some of the above thoughts from www.singernetwork.org, a wonderful resource for choral singers of all ages. Admittedly, the suggestions are intended to work primarily with text memorization, but they will also help with learning the musical line. I’m interested in hearing from you as to what techniques or approaches you may have tried which have proved successful in memorizing choral pieces, both words and music.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: memory tricks, Michael O'Neal, mnemonics, singernetwork | 9 Comments »