Choral Caffeine: Teaching Text
Date: January 7, 2014
One is by no means a great bassist. On our best day we manage only to muddle along. But it doesn’t matter how well one plays, there is no way to communicate on ANY instrument the word “love, the word “blue,” the word “chocolate,” or any words at all. Therein lies the obvious (and to one’s way of thinking the most important) difference between vocal and instrumental music.
As choral musicians we have the remarkable opportunity to communicate clearly defined ideas with text using sung sounds as the medium.
In his article, “Taming the Text,” (Washington ACDA’s Unison, Vol.14, No.3), Randel Wagner discusses nine methods for addressing text in the choral rehearsal. Point number four is as follows:
Try the following activity, one that is most useful in a group setting. Choose a word or phrase of the text. Start by saying the phrase—in this case we will use the phrase "green tree." All students are to ask as many questions as possible. No one should answer the questions out loud. Each person should note what pops into his or her head.
Here are some sample questions:
What shade of green are the leaves? What kind of tree? How tall? Evergreen or deciduous? How did the tree originate (planted, windblown seed, animal droppings)? Age? Health? Time of year?
Location of the tree? What happens in the wind? Home to animals? What color do the leaves turn in fall? Does it produce fruit? Smooth or rough bark? Is it a flowering tree? What kind of sounds does this tree make in the wind?
By practicing this exercise, a wealth of images, sensations, and ideas become the property of the group, just like an orchard with its varieties of fruit. With the wide range of answers available, the actual performance can be like picking fruit from the orchard.
(For additional articles on a dazzling array of choral topics, visit ChorTeach.)