Sunday, October 21, 2012

Turning a corner

This week, we finally turned a corner. Or two. The turning process has taken the better part of 3 weeks, but we are there. A ton of rehearsals will do that a choir. Time spent together making music actually works as team building.
At the beginning of the week, I began by telling the girls, "When I wake up in the middle of the night, this is what I worry about....."
Posture. I have never had huge posture issues from my choirs, but this year is different. It's a problem. The girls need to open their chest cavity. It's not about sticking the chest out, it is about expanding the breadth and width of the chest cavity. Bring the shoulder blades closer together without tension. Stand with confidence.
Breath. The breath of a singer is the money. It is THE key to successful singing. Without knowledge & PRACTICE of breath intake and placement in the abdominal core, phonation is just an exhausting joke on the vocal muscle. We have practiced breath intake over 4 beats, 2 beats, numbered breathing, measure breathing, BAR - breath as release, and how to execute a QDB - Quick Deep Breath. But are they doing it? The 2 beat breath is becoming a habit. The QDB is next. We are working on numbered and measure breathing - this is successful if the music is marked and it is memorized into execution.
Soft Palatte. I have 4-5 singers that are not raising the soft palatte to sing. We did several exercises to find the soft palatte - I didn't make them stick their finger in their mouth, but that could be used. We practiced the Gasp breath, the yawn, and the Ah vs. uh trick. The soft palatte is raised in PRACTICE. The singer has to be able to physically FEEL the soft palatte in the breathing & phonation process. Honestly, this is a very difficult skill for a 7th grade girl. There are so many other physical issues they are going through, so asking them to feel the kinesthetic movement of this area of the body is abstract. And they give up. Because it is hard.
The revelation of these 3 concerns seemed to get a little bit more buy-in to what we are doing.Then we began to concentrate on Au Joli Jeu.
Au Joli Jeu
Friday's lesson was exhausting and exciting. I wanted to change the dynamic contrast, firm up m24-27 (the cross voicing was suffering), and move into more a dance like tempo. I had been trying all week, but it wasn't happening. I began with working on m24-27 - specifically targeting m26 where the Soprano 1 and 2 sections cross voice on C# and E for 3 beats. I took the Altos off the risers and put them in a semi-circle facing the risers, then spread the Soprano 1 and 2's out over the risers - facing each other. We slowed the tempo way down to find the weaknesses. The Altos were getting frustrated - they have to sing the same note for 7 beats. Everything firmed up in a the slow tempo - each part could be heard, the balance was present, and it didn't sound weak. Speed up the tempo and it would fall apart. UGH. Repetition was not our friend. I had to get away from this problem for a second, so I focused on dynamics. We chanted the solfege slowly with dynamics - it is a stark contrast in this section - a 3 beat crescendo from soft to loud, then it happens again. We sang this dynamic contrast slowly. We chanted the section a little faster with dynamics, then sang it. Suddenly, I heard the trouble spot firming up. I had found a back door without realizing it!  We began speeding up the section with dynamic contrast and suddenly, the cross voicing problem had solved itself. Repeat a few times to make sure it wasn't a fluke. I'm still not sure how it happened. I put the altos back on the risers. It was time to move to a dance like tempo. We moved to the beginning and picked up the tempo - they sounded like they were in the 4th hour of a Monopoly game. I knew, at once, that I had to focus on the character of the piece. They laughed at me when I mentioned the 4th hour of Monopoly, so I said, "I need you to sing this song with the energy, lightness, and quick thinking of playing War. Ya know, the card game?" Suddenly, they perked up and the song CHANGED. Really changed. Suddenly, they were in character! These were girls playing the Game of Love like it was the Game of War! This is where quick thinking comes into play as a choir director - this stuff DOES NOT make its way into lesson plans - teach energy through character role play. Measures 11-17 became role play - it is a duet trade-off between the Soprano 2's with the Soprano 1's and Alto's. I told the girls to turn toward the section they were in duet with - at this point, the song became PLAY. The girls were having fun and they understood the character of the piece. It was a transformative lesson. That song will never go back to boring notes. Sharing the music has begun.

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