Choir practice (Week 2 of 10)

February 10, 2010

Despite this week being told to rein in my mania (I assume I was tired after a long day at work) and to heavily relax my tongue (pulling on my throat) and jaw, I managed what I thought were some bright, “golden” notes from the back of the mouth.

Margaret Throsby on ABC Classic FM radio this week has interviewed two singers, Yvonne Kenny and Barbara Bonney. Each had interesting insights to offer on the process of singing: that orchestras need to support not drown out singers, despite the pressing need of conductors to ‘sound’ like they are directing a symphony orchestra; Sir Charles Mackerras allowing singers to be heard whispering over an orchestra; the need to revive ones’ natural voice, the pre-trained voice (Bonney), aking to the point Christopher Bowen is making about the unself-conscious liberating screaming as a baby does; it’s all about letting go (Bonney); cut out the “thickness” in the voice that seems to be the fashion these days (Kenny); conductors trusting singers and musicians to get on with the job and get it right, to feel the energy of the enesemble (witness Jaroussky at the French singing awards and the way his conductor is ‘letting them get on with it’ – see YouTube); bring back the park-and-bark and cut out the spectacle, let singers stand and sing getting clarity in the diction and allowing audiences to hear the words clearly (Bonney).

Main observations from this week’s session:

* get those soft palate muscles moving!

* sing from the diaphragm without moving the lips

* rhythm goes hand in hand with bodily movement, hence the relationship between music, singing and dance

* once that air moves correctly and efficiently from diaphragm and lungs to mouth and the whole system is working well, one feels happy. One might not “be” happy at the time, but becomes happier once this singing thing is working properly. If not feeling happy, pretend to be happy. Pretend and by starting to breathe and sing properly you will become happy. Singing and happiness are very closely aligned. Singing is regrettably not the same as speaking in our way of life; I speak in a cramped, closed way, which means I become unhappy because my body and breath and pulse are all blocked

* exaggerate the required physical deportment, head high and expanded lungs. Try intoning words like “scum” (authoritatively and with vigour) to¬†develop the necessary stance and almost haughty deportment required.

* music, by changing the body from the way we normally work (and speak), alters our mind, by making our mind work in different ways. In music, we work forwards and backwards – abcdefg and gfedcba (say those alphabetical letters backward at speed!).

* nerves effectively close off the airwaves at the vocal chords, causing us to choke, “crack”¬†and “break”. Stop thinking and cry/sing like a baby instead.

Implications for Medieval & Renaissance studies:

* music and the creation of religious, spiritual energy and feeling; music and the maintenance of those feelings; singing as a way of not just expressing feelings and energy and devotion, but a way of becoming happy, spiritually

* the seamless moving from one note to the other in bel canto singing must surely have developed out of the melismatic melodic lines of cantus planus/plainchant, helped along by the reverb of a resonant architectural space like a church

* singers of plainchant must have protected their voices, for a lifetime of singing, by singing correctly, so their breathing must have been correctr and efficient. The vocal chords wouldn’t have been stressed otherwise the voice would have eventually worn out over time.

* be aware of what you’re doing when you’re singing – not the intellectual framework, but what your diaphragm, jaw, tongue are all doing.

Implications for viol playing:

* nerves are likely to freeze up the bowhand wrist, causing ‘scratchiness’ in the production of the bow stroke. Like a singer’s tongue and jaw, the wrist has to be completely relaxed with the fingers (vocal chords) doing all the work holding the bow. Don’t be manic, don’t be tight.

* the same four basic elements of bel canto singing lie at the heart of effective viol playing: proper breathing (full and proper bowstroke); adequate support (bowhand wrist and fingers); opening of the vocal cavities (full use of the resonating instrument space) and forward projection of the tone (mezza di voce bowing).