One of the outlets for singing that avocational singers across this country has is singing with a choir. I sing with a wonderful all-women's choir called Cantigas Women's Choir.
Now, choir night should be nice and relaxed, right? Just go, sing, blend in, don't worry about anything and have a nice night out with the gals, right?
Well, not exactly.
And especially not exactly for a great big solo voice-type, dramatic-soprano like I may be.
It is a real struggle. Everybody has their stress about it, if I judge from the little voice recorders hanging around the women's necks around the room. Each choir member has their own customized set of issues to wrestle with, and which will produce growth in the individual's musical life.
Like many others, I have my own particular set of struggles. Each year, I take a new set of challenges and work on them to try and grow myself as a musician, and this year I've decided to work on balanced and soft singing.
Challenge Number One: Balance in the middle and coming in on those Gs and F#s and Fs. The balance in the middle problem comes from the fact that there are a bunch of sets of muscles working together to make the sound in the larynx. One set of muscles works with a bunching scrunching kind of action and controls how thick the cords are, while another set of muscles pulls on the cords and stretches them. Getting just the right amount of stretch to bunch is tricky throughout the voice, but especially in that middle area where they are both working about equally. It is in that area that there is a little "break" in the voice that most people who sing feel. People studying classical singing all work hard to "smooth" out this break (and a few other tricky spots) in the voice.
In choir, if I have too much "bunch" I will sound "off" to the choir director. If I have too much "stretch," I will also sound off. It's only when I get it in balanced that I see a smile on her face up front.
Well, it just so happens that a lot of songs have these kind of exposed entrances right on the notes in this tricky part of the voice. So, tonight I spent a lot of time working on that, and you can hear it, if you have the inclination, heart or patience, in a bunch of files in my practice room. (See "Choir Practice: Warming Up," "Choir Practice: Bach Magnificat 'Suscepit Israel'" )
Challenge number 2 is soft singing. Singing softly is not going to magically appear in my voice. I am going to have to work really hard to achieve it. It's getting better, but there is a lot more work to do. I have practiced singing softly in the version of Ave Maria our choir is doing. (See "Choir Practice: Choral Ave Maria")
The other challenges concern wrestling with a language I've never sung in before, Finnish. I also struggle with German. (See "Choir Practice: Finnish language 'Vesi vasyy lumen alle' and German Language 'Zion hort die Wachter singen'" )
Once you've had a little preview of these choir songs, I invite you to come to the concert on December 12. The information is on the Cantigas web site. Check it out!