Choir Practice (Week 5 of 10)

March 5, 2010

Time is being divided between vocal technique (closed/dark and open/bright vocalising in my case) and reading music, with some overlap between the two (how coordinating the different physical components of making a sung sound can affect things like pitch and intervals). This week’s lesson started with the alphabet and went on to identify and sing back concordant and discordant intervals as well as 4ths, 5ths and octaves as well as 3rds and 6ths. Perhaps the most lasting outcome from this week’s session was how the body has its own ‘brain’ and that’s the one we have to tap into as musicians and singers, the one associated with the interface of music and movement (dance), as well as the persona of the Inner Singer.

Top Ten Points this week

* reinforcing lip position/attack of sung letters of the alphabet

* identifying tones and semitones (revision from last week)

* singing back the notes of the octave while retaining pitch through coordination of breath from diaphragm via vocal chords, soft palate, tongue and lips (sometimes requiring unlearning of habits acquired through ordinary speaking!), including pitch recovery

* identifying internvals (dissonant 2nd and 7th, consonant 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, octaves and tritone)

* transferring interval recognition to notation

* relaxing the tongue for trilled ‘r’ (needs a push of air to begin with)

* tongue movement with and without synchronous jaw movement, on single notes and moving notes

* posture and ‘looking-straight-ahead’, including chest expansion with requisite back arching/pressure on coccyx in upper register (as reinforced by raked stages); undoing postural habits associated with standing straight.

* individual attention to closed/open and bright/dark voice, relaxation in the jaw, posture assisting push from diaphragm and not cramping the vocal chords.

This is an entirely new way of working for me. Each and every individual is singled out on every possible occasion; every sound is critiqued.  This approach is entirely at odds with almost every musical environment I’ve been in where the individual is shielded from having to make a solo statement; it’s obviously challenging (there’s absolutely no room for self-consciousness or embarrassment) and gratifying (instant feedback). The momentum is of course building for ‘choral music’ beyond individual ‘singing lessons’ and the team is dividing already between those keen on staying back and listening to the proper choir later in the evening and those who are deciding not to continue after these lessons designed at learning how to read music and introduce one to one’s voice.

Implications for Medieval and Renaissance musicology

 The working through the sung alphabet is an object lesson in the vocales and consonantes (themselves divided between mutae and  semi-vocales) – see p.181 of Leo Treitler, The “Unwritten” and “Written Transmission” of Medieval Chant and the Start-up of Musical Notation,  Journal of Musicology vol10 no.2 (Spring 1992): 131-191.

Of note also in the identification and singing back of intervals is the concept of consonance in the Middle Ages, of the ambitus in modes,  the tritone, of the principles underpinning organum. Other aspects include the power relationships in the monastic community and exercise of that power in the musical context, notions of mind and body in the Medieval world view and how ambiguous singing is as a bodily function: both sensual/expressive, and spiritual/godly.

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