Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Afterglow: Westminster Choir Festival

This is a quick post just to let you know that I'm exploding with stuff I want to talk about in the coming weeks after experiencing many wonderful new ideas and concepts at the Westminster Choral Festival at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ.

I attended this continuing education festival and took it for credit.  As part of that I had to journal about my  experience there, so I will be taking from my journal and picking out stuff I think other avocational singers out there might be interested to read about.

I was exposed to some new concepts, such as "count singing," and a few other ideas about choral voicing and sound, but I would like to have time to do a little google research so I can better talk about these things with you.

All in all, I came off this choral festival week more excited about choral singing than I ever have been before.  I think one of the main reasons is because of the exciting, vibrant, creative choral director, Dr. Joe Miler.

What I loved the most about working with Dr. Miller was how free and healthy he wanted the voices to be, and how, even though he was directing a group, he somehow imparted great care and respect for the individual voice and was able to somehow guide the individual so aptly while leading a giant group. There was space for everyone in his choir -- "big" voices, "little voices," "pingy" voices, "breathy" voices, etc...   He knew what to do with all those sounds and colors and make them work together.

It was possible for me, as a "big-voiced" singer to feel great freedom while singing in a choir, something that I usually don't experience.  I often feel like I am sitting in a little confined box, holding myself back in order to blend.  There are definitely many things I've learned with this "holding back" kind of singing.  It has been a challenge over the years to find ways to master my voice so that I could sing in that little box in a healthy way, and it has not been without value to try to do so.

However, the experience of being able to feel less confined while singing with a group, and the feeling of my own free resonances melding with the other resonances in the room was really wonderful and left me renewed and invigorated about choral singing.

In the next few posts I'm probably going to be recapping some ways I've grown after this choral festival.  I hope you will join me in the days to come as I share some of my experience with you.


  1. This is a great post! I'm glad you had such a special time. Also I know exactly what you mean about

    find ways to master my voice so that I could sing in that little box in a healthy way, and it has not been without value to try to do so

    Since for good or ill most of my singing will be in a choir (or as one of their featured soloists) I have needed to do this and I have largely been successful.

    It's particularly hard for me as a (yes, I'll own it!) big voiced dramatic mezzo singing second soprano in a choir of about 16-20 people. When it breaks down to SATB for me it's a toss up. I generally sing whichever part is closest to middle register - either soprano or alto. (My voice is very loud above the staff and not particularly so below.)

    I sing soprano less now because we have a real, operatically trained coloratura soprano in the choir. Previously the soprano section was me and some untrained singers with small light voices above the staff.

    Probably the hardest thing I ever had to sing (and this includes the Judgment Scene from Aida!!) was the pianissimo High A in the middle of Randall Thompson's "The Last Words". Actually it was marked MF, I think, but for me it was "pianissimo or die!"

  2. babyD, it sounds like you understand the issue exactly!! Only you sound a little more advanced than I. I would never be able to manage a pp high A. I struggle with anything on the delicate side once I get above C third-space-on-the-staff (as evidenced in Frescamari's Practice Room). That's why I put myself down in the alto section.

    Although, Dr. Joe Miller was extremely helpful in aiding me (us alti) in singing more delicately in the "voca me" section of the "Confutatis" in the Requiem. In fact, I can't believe how helpful he was to me as an individual singer in that regard without giving me specifically individual instruction.

    I heard at one point during the festival, which made me laugh out loud, that dramatic sopranoes are "happy as clams" to be seated at bottom of the alto section and singing there all day.

  3. I actually don't want to be at the bottom of the alto section because I need the vocal workout for my head voice and I don't want my voice to get bottom-heavy. My favorite part is second soprano (if the whole piece is in 8 parts) because it usually has a few Fs or even a G but never higher and it rarely goes below the staff. (Most second soprano parts are "Habanera-ish" or "Siebel's Flower Song-ish" in range.)

    As for the pianissimo High A, I did it by keeping my mouth closed all the way up the scale (the A was part of an ascending scale - I never would have been able to do it if it involved a jump)and opening it a tiny bit as I got to the note before. I also looked in a mirror the whole time we were rehearsing. I must have rehearsed that piece so many times I had it memorized.

  4. I'm so excited that this choral festival has fired up your enthusiasm! It's a rather uncommon gift to work with a choral director who welcomes bigger/operatically-trained voices and knows how to work with them. That's definitely something to look for when you consider future choral endeavors.

  5. Yes, BY, I am fired up about this new kind of choral experience. In fact, it's made me look at choral singing in a completely new way and I hope to be writing some posts about that soon.