Saturday, November 21, 2009

Choir Practice!

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!


  1. I'm so impressed by the amount of fantastic preparation you do; I just wish I were on the right continent to come and support your concert! (Also, my utmost sympathies in the battle with dratted German!!).

  2. Thanks, Englishwoman! If I were a more advanced musician at this point, I might not have to work so hard. This hard work is going into my musicianship "bank." Later, maybe I'll get to live on the "interest" of the hard work I'm doing now, even for the smallest tasks.

    And, I most certainly am looking forward to hearing you in an opera, perhaps in New York, one day!

  3. I listened to some of your practice clips. Despite your struggles with F/F#/G I do envy you a bit; I don't have nearly the power and heft in that range as you do.

    I've performed "Suscepit Israel" as well (although a different part than you); one scary part was the "Recordare" entrance and getting those darn R's to roll on the passaggio!

  4. BY, You are so exactly the reason that I started this blog! To be able to connect with someone who knows the pieces you're working on and get inside them and discuss them from various points of view.

    With every vocal strength that is possessed, there is both a plus and a minus. Underestimating what we do have will cause us to disavow our strengths and devalue ourselves because we lament what we can't do. On the other hand, overestimating it can cause problems too. We take things for granted and forget that there is much more to do! We can over-rely on the strength, and then maybe even tip over into imbalance. The basic thing is to really get to know your instrument and develop your ability to use it with refinement.

    Having "heft" (or any other kind of desirable natural vocal quality) in the voice sometimes leads to a danger of playing it up and showing it off, which can distract from the greater task of knowing what to do throughout one's entire range!!!