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choral singing vs. solo vocal singing

Dear Colleagues;

I am very interested to know eveyone's professional opinion/experience
with the difference between vocal technique that a solo classical singer
(professional OR amateur) might employ versus a choral-vocal technique.
Do you feel that they are and should be virtually the same? Drastically
different? Somewhere in between? Any and all replies, with specifics
please on HOW you approach vocal technique within your own choral group
are greatly appreciated.
Also, have you had conversations with other collegues about this topic,
specifically if you are a choral director and have debated this with a
voice teacher (or vice-versa)?

Thank you!

Edie Yeager
Knoxville, TN
bearthoven(a)aol.com









on May 29, 2008 4:42am
At 1:38 PM -0700 5/28/08, Edie Yeager wrote:
>Dear Colleagues;
>
>I am very interested to know eveyone's professional opinion/experience
>with the difference between vocal technique that a solo classical singer
>(professional OR amateur) might employ versus a choral-vocal technique.
>Do you feel that they are and should be virtually the same? Drastically
>different? Somewhere in between? Any and all replies, with specifics
>please on HOW you approach vocal technique within your own choral group
>are greatly appreciated.
>Also, have you had conversations with other collegues about this topic,
>specifically if you are a choral director and have debated this with a
>voice teacher (or vice-versa)?
>
>Thank you!

CAN OF WORMS, Edie! You're very brave to ask!!

I have always maintained that choral singing and solo singing require
very different skill-sets, and that some may have one set, others the
other, and a few both. Clearly good ensemble singing requires the
ability to balance and blend, and to control vibrato, especially if
it's wobbly, although not necessarily to suppress it. And clearly
good solo singing requires using everything an individual voice is
capable of producing.

My thinking has been modified over the past several years in
discussions with my son, a professional countertenor. His ensemble
skills have always been excellent, and he toured with Chanticleer as
a soprano for four years. But when he left that group he started
developing his own voice as a solo singer and, with the help of
excellent voice teachers and coaches, he has been very successful.

Since I've been teaching on the college level for over 30 years, I've
known a good many voice teachers. Some believe that there is only
one way to sing and that everyone, in any style whatsoever, should
sing in that way. In my opinion they develop students who lack
flexibility, but may sound wonderful in a limited repertoire. Others
believe that once good, healthy vocal production has been developed
and the singer has learned what the danger signs are and how to avoid
vocal damage, that good technique can be used in any style, including
musical theater, jazz and even rock singing.

College voice majors, in particular, are works in progress. Their
voice teachers are helping them discover their potential voices and
are usually on guard against any singing that will set that
development back. That leaves the college choral director in a bit
of a quandary: whether to accept the voices as the voice teachers
want them to be, and perhaps lose the fine points of balance, blend,
and vowel matching, or whether to ask for vocal techniques that
might, indeed, not be what the voice teacher would like to see and
hear.

In fairness, however, I must say that my present ensemble
(specializing in Early Music) has mostly instrumentalists singing.
They do not sound trained, and I often wish they did, but they DO
sound like just regular people singing, and I do like that a lot. My
previous ensembles have been a very demanding show ensemble and a
smaller studio singers ensemble, again both off the beaten track of
conventional choral ensembles and demanding very different skill sets.

John


--
John R. Howell, Assoc. Prof. of Music
Virginia Tech Department of Music
College of Liberal Arts & Human Sciences
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034
(mailto:John.Howell(a)vt.edu)
http://www.music.vt.edu/faculty/howell/howell.html




on May 29, 2008 4:42am
I think there are many difference between a classical solo singer and a choral singer. Here are a few:
 
1) vowels.
 
When you are a classical solo singer, you need to be concerned about the language you are singing. The vowels you employ should be good representations of the language's vowels. But if you have a particularly open sound inside your mouth, that is OK - good in many cases.
 
A choral singer needs to match both the language and the group. Personally, many times I've had to change my vowel shapes to match other singers who don't have the same training in really opening the inside of your mouth and getting your soft palette out of the way.
 
2) vibrato.
 
A classical solo singer should have some personal color to their voice - something that makes them especially interesting to listen to.
 
A choral singer should not have personal color to their voice. Their vibrato should not stick out.
 
3) direction
 
A classical solo singer functions more independently than a choral singer. The solo singer can embellish, draw out phrases, speed up others and the accompanist(s) will follow. The classical solo singer is the lead.
 
The choral singer must follow the direction of the conductor. They may not decide a phrase would be more interesting at a slightly different pace or volume. They are a follower.
 
4) body - spacial awareness
 
A classical solo singer should be confident, interesting to watch. They should take charge of their space. They may gesture and be very showy.
 
A choral singer should blend in. They should not take up the space they are in unless they are in a chorus of people doing exactly the same thing. Even in a showy choir, the choral singer is limited by the least expressive singer.
 
That's all I can think of.
 
Rachael Barlow
Director All Together Now Family Chorus
Littleton, MA
rachael_barlow_groton(a)yahoo.com   







on May 29, 2008 4:43am
I'm a little unclear what you're getting at -- is there a particular issue you're having with a singer?

As a vocalist who's done both types of singing, I find that, while the fundamentals of vocal technique are the same, the mindset is different. As a soloist, my job is to tell the story using my personal artistic vision. As a member of an ensemble, my job is to serve the needs of the group.

In the former situation, I have the most creative latitude. I can choose my timbre, delivery, volume, etc to fit whatever artistic goal I want to achieve. In the latter situation, I need to blend with others in order to create a *group* sound. That means matching or having complementary timbre, for instance, on a piece where I might sing it differently as a soloist.

While at a prestigious music school, I found it extremely frustrating to sing in a chorus with so many divas. While they were competent soloists, they were *competitive* choral members. Some would even ignore the director's cut-offs, for instance, in order to hear their own voice better. Egos galore!

In the group I'm in now, if I want a particular sound on a piece, I bring in recorded samples for everyone to hear. We then play with producing that same type of sound using good vocal fundamentals. Then, as we develop the piece, we have people sing in trios or quartets to critique development. It's very useful and greatly increases individual ownership of the sound. I will often work directly with individual singers if they're not quite getting the sound, and then immediately pair them w/someone who is & give them positive feedback, and then keep adding other singers so that first person can get a better sense of how group sound is built voice-by-voice.

The development of group sound is often helped by having everyone listen to playback immediately after recording a piece -- and having *them* give feedback on it. Often people will own up to their own grandstanding when in a company of peers.

Hope that helps!
Cairril
info(a)KaiaSing.com

Cairril
kaia(a)kaiasing.com




on May 29, 2008 4:43am
Aloha from Maui-

In my experience, starting when I was a student under Lorna Cooke deVaron at New England Conservatory, it became quite evident that although one should employ the same vocal production techniques in both (such as breathing properly and removing all muscle tension from the throat), the goal is definately different.

In the tradition I was taught, choral singing is in itself a unique skill, creating a strong, solid tone while eliminating unique timbres and qualities that would cause a voice to stand out. The ability to add power and depth to a choral sound without leaving any trace of your presence is the goal. This would be the opposite of the training used to create your own signature sound when singing solo. This was the cornerstone of the Choral Program Mrs. DeVaron founded at New England Conservatory so many years ago, and has co-existed with the solo vocal staff, including Helen Hodam and Mark Pearson without conflict.

With my own choirs I have always taken time during warm-up periods to work on blending sound, asking each singer to try and fold their sound seamlessly into the sound of the people around them.

Gary Shin-Leavitt
Maui, Hawaii
amadeus32(a)hotmail.com




on May 29, 2008 1:59pm
At 6:11 AM -0700 5/29/08, Cairril wrote:
>
>In the group I'm in now, if I want a particular sound on a piece, I
>bring in recorded samples for everyone to hear. We then play with
>producing that same type of sound using good vocal fundamentals.
>Then, as we develop the piece, we have people sing in trios or
>quartets to critique development. It's very useful and greatly
>increases individual ownership of the sound.

Thanks for bringing up a corollary thread that might just be an important one.

We are discussing solo singing and large ensemble singing almost as
if those are the only two choices, but they are not. Located
somewhere in between is the elusive world of vocal chamber music, if
that world actually does exist. And my question is, does it exist?

Instrumentalists are expected to participate in chamber music, at
least when the opportunities are available. I was playing in a
string quartet by junior high school, if not earlier, as well as
studying solos in private lessons and playing in school orchestras.
In fact we were earning pocket money playing "soup music" as a
quartet in high school, if not in junior high. At this university we
have faculty-coached string, woodwind, brass, and percussion chamber
ensembles.

But it seems as if there is virtually no similar activity that is
expected of singers. If you are in school chorus or church choir you
learn how to be an ensemble singer. If you are taking voice lessons
you learn how to be a soloist. But where is the vocal chamber music.
Even at our local high school the "Madrigals" (which is the top
auditioned group and performs real madrigals in costume) is 18 or 20
people, which may qualify as a "chamber choir" but is certainly not
true vocal chamber music. When singers first join my Early Music
Ensemble they have to learn to take individual responsibility for
their parts without having 10 or 20 other people singing the same
part. Some adjust quickly. A few never adjust at all.

Cairril cites singing in trios or quartets as a teaching tool, and it
can be a very valuable one, but do ANY of the distinguished
conductors on this list encourage singers to form chamber groups on a
regular basis with only one on a part (perhaps a MAXIMUM of two in a
school situation, where students do get sick and injured, and at the
college level have peer problems, and roommate problems and boy- and
girlfriend problems that mess them up emotionally). For about 10
years, in fact, I had an 8-voice group called The Studio Singers, but
our repertoire was definitely non-classical. (Well, a little Brahms
Lullaby in a medley I arranged including Lullaby of Broadway and
Lullaby of Birdland! And a 12-part arrangement of Debussy's "Claire
de lune.")

Is there even appropriate repertoire that is suitable for vocal
chamber music? The one place where there definitely is, is in
barbershop singing, both men's and women's. The quartet IS the role
model, although more and more attention is being given to choruses,
some of which are well over 100 strong.

I see a real need--and an unmet one--in the vocal training of
students and their learning to take full responsibility for being an
independent but integral part of a small, flexible chamber group.
But am I being influenced by my instrumental background? Or by the
fact that in pop and jazz music the trio or quartet IS the close
harmony ensemble and there are no large choral ensembles at all? I'm
really not sure.

Comments welcome. Personal experiences even more so.

>The development of group sound is often helped by having everyone
>listen to playback immediately after recording a piece -- and having
>*them* give feedback on it. Often people will own up to their own
>grandstanding when in a company of peers.

There is nothing more humbling than hearing yourself as others hear
you. And nothing more motivating! And most of my studio experience
has been with singers who are ALREADY highly motivated to succeed and
have the talent to do so. With college students I find that it takes
about 45 minutes in the studio and a couple of playbacks for everyone
to find their focus, and then things can get productive.

John


--
John R. Howell, Assoc. Prof. of Music
Virginia Tech Department of Music
College of Liberal Arts & Human Sciences
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034
(mailto:John.Howell(a)vt.edu)
http://www.music.vt.edu/faculty/howell/howell.html




on May 29, 2008 2:00pm
As a soloist AND a choral singer, it seems to me that an excellent soloist can usually be an excellent choral singer, but it doesn't work the other way around -- an excellent choral singer will not necessarily be an excellent soloist.

Most of my beliefs have been covered already, but to flesh them out a little, I would add that a soloist (particularly an opera singer) has developed the capacity to sing with tremendous volume and projection -- these qualities would definitely 'stick out' in a choir WITH SINGERS LACKING THESE SAME ABILITIES. However, were all the singers powerful soloists, the individual wouldn't necessarily stick out.

But, going back to my main point, an opera singer CAN match volume with the rest of any choir -- they'll just be singing a lot of mezzo fortes when the rest of the singers are putting out fortissimos!

And that's assuming that ALL singers in the group are matching vowels. (A trained soloist can produce the same vowel as an inexperienced singer, but one hopes that the director is having them all match the same PURE vowels.) BTW, when I say 'match vowels,' I include timbre in that process -- a well-trained soloist can adjust timbre without hurting the voice, or impeding their training, as long as they are conscious of what they're doing.

Regarding a singer's expressive potential (facially and physically), I disagree with my friend Rachael. For me, there is nothing more off-putting than a choir full of singers who have disengaged their own expressive connection to the text/music. While such a group and director might believe that the goal is to create a cohesive and 'non-distracting' entity, what they have really done is to neuter the soul of the music AND the musicians, creating a whole bunch of blah. For me, seeing 60 singers who are standing still, their faces inexpressive, their thoughts, hearts, and spirits homogenized 'for the sake of the group' is like taking the experience of watching a disengaged and passionless soloist, but then MULTIPLYING THE EXPERIENCE BY SIXTY! What a waste of human and musical connection ... and -- regardless of the positive intentions of the director and singers -- what a waste of the audience members' time.

What I believe is at the heart of the above belief is really a 'paradigm by default.' Many directors and singers simply don't know how to authentically connect, with passion internalized and physicalized -- they haven't been trained in these techniques. Because of this lack of training and awareness, the choral performance paradigm has defaulted to 'a bunch of singers standing still, their faces and bodies expressing NOT MUCH, lest anyone 'stick out.'' Now, obviously I generalize -- and thankfully not every choir, director, or singer embraces this -- but as a paradigm I believe it still holds true.

To my way of thinking, a choir should NOT be limited to the expressiveness of its least expressive member. Instead, EVERY member should be empowered to express as well as the most AUTHENTICALLY expressive soloist. Now, that doesn't mean that everyone is gesturing at will, but it does mean that within a loosened up notion of 'choral space,' each singer is free to express themselves physically and facially, resulting in a clear, specific, poignant, subtle, and powerful expression of their musical connection.

Of course, they have to have something to express, but that is part of the training process that has been lacking. If they DO have something to express, their bodies and faces will naturally express it, UNLESS the director tells them not to, in which case a naturally expressive singer will be gelded into a non-expressive one. Ouch.

Significantly, when each singer physically and facially expresses their connection, the audience has a MUCH MORE POWERFUL AND POIGNANT EXPERIENCE at the concert. When the singers just stand still and stiff, their faces expressing a passive neutrality, the audience's spirits are impacted likewise.

I experienced such a concert recently, and just wished like the dickens that I hadn't shown up. But I sure did appreciate the three singers (out of about 150) who had something to say ... and had the courage to say it. At least their faces were expressive, even though they were still too scared to let their bodies do anything but remain passive and 'invisible.' (And yes, that's the other big factor, especially in groups with directors who don't provide a safe and loving environment. In such groups, especially, singers are actually afraid of any sort of vulnerable connection or expression, so they stay 'safe.' Ugh.)

CHORAL CONCERT adj. + n. 1. a passionate celebration of shared humanity.

All my best,

Tom


Tom Carter
www.choralcharisma.com
tpcarter(a)earthlink.net




on May 29, 2008 2:00pm
Many years ago, as a high school choir director, I came across a
freshman young lady who, although not a member of my choir, auditioned
for the annual school musical. Through some friends of hers that were
singing in choir, I knew of her and knew that she played flute in the
band. Impressed with her audition for the musical, I convinced her to
join my choir as a sophomore, where I began teaching her basic vocal
technique (breathing, tone placement, support, and, as a female with
relatively little vocal experience, how to use head voice instead of
"belting" everything, in addition to singing in various languages). By
the time this student had reached her senior year, she was accepted as
a member of the New York All-State choir, and had been admitted to
Crane School of Music for the following September as a voice major.
With the basics she learned during high school, which gave her a
foundation upon which to build her voice in college, she went on to win
the Young Artist Competition at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC in 1994,
was the recipient of the Richard Tucker award in 1999, and has sung
around the world on some of the major stages, this past season having
sung Fricka in Die Walkuere at the MET. That student is mezzo-soprano
Stephanie Blythe.



Martin Banner
mbanner(a)hvc.rr.com




on May 29, 2008 2:00pm
Cairril wrote:

>While at a prestigious music school, I found it extremely frustrating to
sing in a chorus with so many divas.
>While they were competent soloists, they were *competitive* choral members.
Some would even ignore the
>director's cut-offs, for instance, in order to hear their own voice better.



Sounds like some people in some church choirs......

Mark Gourley
First Presbyterian Church
Fayetteville, NC
MarkGourley(a)FirstPrez.com




on May 29, 2008 5:12pm
At 2:04 PM -0700 5/29/08, Tom wrote:
>As a soloist AND a choral singer, it seems to me that an excellent
>soloist can usually be an excellent choral singer, but it doesn't
>work the other way around -- an excellent choral singer will not
>necessarily be an excellent soloist.

Hi, Tom. I just wanted to mention that since I'm in a teacher's "off
season," I finally got around to ordering the book, and finished
Chapter 1 yesterday. I have questions, but since they might well be
answered in upcoming chapters I won't bring them up now.

>CHORAL CONCERT adj. + n. 1. a passionate celebration of shared humanity.
>
>All my best,
>
>Tom
>
>
>Tom Carter
>www.choralcharisma.com
>tpcarter(a)earthlink.net

I love it!!!

John

P.S. My accomplishment on our Spring Concert was to see two singers
who have been very laid back and self-effacing actually take on solo
verses. One did quite well and has a potentially lovely voice when
she stops hiding it. The other was molto piano and had a pained look
on her face, but she did it and survived. I think it's something
positive to build on.

And I keep remembering that while Handel had professional singers to
work with, Bach did not, and his soloists stepped right out of his
chorus. He had NO opera singers, as Handel did, and we know what his
singers were capable of because we have the music he wrote for them.


--
John R. Howell, Assoc. Prof. of Music
Virginia Tech Department of Music
College of Liberal Arts & Human Sciences
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034
(mailto:John.Howell(a)vt.edu)
http://www.music.vt.edu/faculty/howell/howell.html




on May 29, 2008 5:14pm
Good point, John. Solo and choral singing are not the only games in town. I have not seen chamber music for vocalists outside of barbershop quartets. And I while I direct a chorus, I sing in it as well, do solo work and sing in a quartet. You are correct - it is different. However, even the quartet has a lead and that is not unlike solo singing - your voice needs color and interest. (but not much vibrato). And while you are also limited by the expressiveness of your group it is only 4 people and you can work together to increase emotion.
By the way, we also left out background vocals, which are different than choral singing, solo work, and quartet work. As BGV, you are again, supposed to have less color to your voice,you are also supposed to blend but you may be working by yourself or with only 1-2 other voices. Your blending ends up being with instruments as well as voices, which is a different animal altogether. And your showmanship is not limited as much by your co-workers as by the lead vocalist.'s degree of emotional/spiritual investment.
Rachael Barlow
Choral Director
All Together Now Family Chorus
Littleton, MA
rachael_barlow_groton(a)yahoo.com







on May 29, 2008 6:21pm
Cairril wrote:
>While at a prestigious music school, I found it extremely frustrating
>to sing in a chorus with so many divas.
>While they were competent soloists, they were *competitive* choral members.
Some would even ignore the
>director's cut-offs, for instance, in order to hear their own voice better.
(*snip*)
Sounds like some people in some church choirs......
Mark Gourley
(*snip*)

Which reminds me of an experience I had in the large chorus when I was an
undergrad in the early 1980s. I was a Trombone major at the time, singing in
the bass section, located near a few self-absorbed "Primo Don's" (the male
version of 'Prima Donna'). These vocalists would most often sit in
rehearsals and not sing -- to save their voice for this that other rehearsal
or practice that required their full attention.
These folks would sit or stand in rehearsal, wrapped up in sweaters and
scarves, and go thru the motions of participation -- they would discuss
recordings they heard, classes they were taking, problems with this or that
other vocalist, etc., etc... worthless chitter-chatter all while supposedly
"saving" their precious voices.

So a few of us brass players, fed up with listening to this babyish banter,
would mimic their antics: "So, Ron, are you singing today?"
"No, I have a brass quintet rehearsal tomorrow at 3 and just have to save my
voice for that!"

Very soon thereafter, the banter stopped, and these fools decided to start
singing. Of course they did so in true operatic soloist fashion, breaking
all the rules and guidelines discussed in prior messages...

Ron Isaacson
isaacson4(a)verizon.net




on May 29, 2008 6:22pm
Thus far, I would align myself most closely with Tom's evaluation.  I think that solo singers can be wonderful choral singers, if they are willing to approach the task of becoming a part of an ensemble in a supportive way and not necessarily in a leadership way.  I have a chamber choir sized church choir, and our choral sound has a lot to do with the balanced integration of each of the voices present.  I am not so interested in a "blended" sound as a cooperating sound, where everyone participates with the best of what they have to give the effort.

And in terms of what is in between solo singing and participation in a large choir, there are plenty of options that require something between a full out soloistic style of singing and the most blended of choral sounds.  I went to the kaiasing.com website and listened to a few sample of what was posted there, some really full out sound of individual voices singing together, much the same way that "Sweet Honey in the Rock" sings together.  You hear and come to know all the voices, and what they achieve together is amazing, but it doesn't lack for that soloistic quality.  Some other in betweens are Renaissance consort singers, such as the Tallis Scholars or Cardinall's Musick, which sometimes perform with one on a part, and sometimes more than one on a part.  Groups like Anonymous Four embrace that mixture of soloistic sound and voices in such great cooperation with one another that they sound as one voice.  There is such wonderful art to be had in those great groups and others not nearly as well known, who can put together their voices in a great variety of ways, adjusting to the demands of the work and the interpretation of the director.

I try to encourage my choir members, young and old, to sing solos and one to a part types of ensemble works to strengthen them for their choral singing.  I try to train my choirs with the kind of vocal techniques that would stand them well in either solo singing or choral singing.  I think it has a lot to do with the kind of choral sound you might be after.  There are times when I have to encourage my choirs to sing more as one body, and other times when I ask them to bring a more soloistic color to the works we are singing.  

I have never been comfortable with the notion that people have to either sing as soloists or choristers.

I think this is quite a fascinating discussion!

Nan Beth Walton
Seattle, WA
Nbwalton(a)aol.com  




on May 30, 2008 4:47am
> We are discussing solo singing and large ensemble singing almost as
> if those are the only two choices, but they are not. Located
> somewhere in between is the elusive world of vocal chamber music, if
> that world actually does exist. And my question is, does it exist?

Yes, it does exist. I sing in an 8-voice SATB vocal ensemble, which sings in anything from 4 to 8 parts, mostly in what is popularly known as "classical" style. (Our last concert included Bach, Brahms, Reger and Mendelssohn together with music by (mostly Australian) contemporary composers. One was very hot off the press: less than four weeks before the concert,
>
> Instrumentalists are expected to participate in chamber music, at
> least when the opportunities are available.
snip
>
> But it seems as if there is virtually no similar activity that is
> expected of singers. If you are in school chorus or church choir you
> learn how to be an ensemble singer. If you are taking voice lessons
> you learn how to be a soloist.


> Is there even appropriate repertoire that is suitable for vocal
> chamber music?

Yes. There is plenty of choral music, particularly that which suits chamber choirs, which can be performed to good effect, apart from music which is conceived with one voice per part. Check out repertoire of The Song Company, (Sydney, Australia) for example.

>
> I see a real need--and an unmet one--in the vocal training of
> students and their learning to take full responsibility for being an
> independent but integral part of a small, flexible chamber group.
> But am I being influenced by my instrumental background?

You may well be. I don't know myself what it is like to learn to sing without having a prior background in flute and piano. I was a good sight-singer, without really knowing it, before I took singing lessons, I enjoyed music theory and had experience playing duets, trios, etc.. It could well be that it is _easier_ for those with an instrumental background to engage in vocal chamber music. Of the five trained singers in the group to which I belong, four are also instrumentalists - 3 flautists, 1 viola player- while the other was trained as a chorister in an English cathedral. A sixth person is also a trained musician (instrumental performer and composer) and the other two have extensive experience in choral music and enough piano to help themselves to learn their parts.

The 'need' you identify could be viewed also as an opportunity missed, not just for many singers, BTW, but for other musicians too -- pianists for example. Making music on the chamber music scale - one person per part -- is my greatest joy, but it doesn't appeal to everyone. Competence is not all that is required, in my view. Personality, experience and confidence also affect people's musical performance choices.

Regards

Helen Duggan
qed(a)netconnect.com.au




on May 30, 2008 9:02am
At 10:18 PM -0400 5/29/08, Ron Isaacson wrote:
>
>Which reminds me of an experience I had in the large chorus when I was an
>undergrad in the early 1980s. I was a Trombone major at the time, singing in
>the bass section, located near a few self-absorbed "Primo Don's" (the male
>version of 'Prima Donna').

Umm, if you'd like to get your terminology right (and yes, I know
that wasn't the purpose of your very funny but all-too-true post),
the proper term would be "primo uomo." In 18th century Metastasian
Italian opera seria, which used small casts, the first and second
lead women were called "Prima donna" and "Seconda donna." The first
and second lead men (who were probably also sopranos, of course!)
were the "Primo uomo" and "Secondo uomo." It was only through the
actions and temperamental outbursts of some specific "Prima donnas"
that the modern meaning of the term evolved.

Bet you missed that day in music history class!!

Of course it's always up to the conductor to control the kind of
activity you described. The woman who conducted our early music
ensemble also conducted operas, so of course aspiring opera singers
auditioned for her ensemble not because they were in love with early
music but because they wanted any advantage they could get in being
selected for opera roles. But she was so compelling and consummate a
musician that they stayed because it was such a privilege to sing for
her.

But it's certainly a problem when all singers have an ensemble
requirement and don't want to be there, when the conductor is NOT
that compelling a person. We all figured that she was channeling
Monteverdi, and she could bring out the sexiest meanings in those
madrigals like no one I've ever heard before or since. Downright
pornographic, that poetry, and Monteverdi knew exactly how to set it
effectively!!!

John


--
John R. Howell, Assoc. Prof. of Music
Virginia Tech Department of Music
College of Liberal Arts & Human Sciences
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034
(mailto:John.Howell(a)vt.edu)
http://www.music.vt.edu/faculty/howell/howell.html




on May 30, 2008 9:02am
Just as with any instrument, the technique should be the same, but they style should be varied according to the application. Good technique is great in any setting, but very few voice teachers or choral directors focus on technique; instead, most focus on style. Style includes articulations, vowels coloration, vibrato usage, legato adjustment, dynamics, and pitch (I know, it seems strange, but it's true).

Technique, on the other hand, implies how you use the instrument itself - basically, how you produce your sound. If we focused on that a lot more, the style issues would resolve themselves. Unfortunately, most of the voice teachers and choral directors I've met almost entirely ignore technique and focus exclusively on style.

I think of it in terms of instruments (as I was raised an instrumentalist): a trumpet player is expected to play well in solo and ensemble settings, because the fundamental technique is identical for both. Musicality and style are what separate the ideas. This SHOULD be true of singing, though, it is often not.

Thanks,

Andrew Huff
Choral Director
Seaman High School
Topeka, KS

Andrew Huff
ahuff(a)usd345.com




on May 30, 2008 1:03pm
All,

I am at a small university whose singers are of varied abilities across the board, and I teach voice to singers of varying abilities. As others have replied to this posting, it's great to have singers who have strong solo voices. Seating those voices accordingly around other singers who will acoustically assimilate that voice into a bigger-sounding (but fairly well-balanced) section is something that I have found to be very helpful. I would also re-emphasize the other responses' mention of stylistic considerations in the literature. Briefly explaining one's goals in regard to timbre, volume, and phrasing also helps allowing the singer to adjust their tone independently without our direct intervention of haphazard terminology some choral directors might use to evoke images of desired tone quality.

In my student experiences, this has been a substantial point of debate among faculty who think their students' voices will whither away by singing in all those choirs they have to register for. The fact is that many of those singers will be getting church jobs or other singing gigs where their voices will be put to use in a choral setting. Let's just hope that all those other conductors are as smart as these Choraltalk posters, and they seat and coach their choirs in a sensitive manner!

Good luck to all,

D

Daniel Farris
Music faculty, Southwestern Oklahoma State University
DMA candidate, University of North Texas
daniel.farris(a)swosu.edu
farris(a)music.org





on May 30, 2008 1:04pm
I so appreciate your input on this. As one might have gue
Dear Tom;
 
I so appreciate your input on this. As one might have guessed, I have personal experience with this - both being told to disengage a bit because I'm too engaged - and having a chorus of children on one level of expressiveness while 1-2 children are really super-engaged.
 
So my chorus of (a)65 people has 4 year olds up to 55 year olds in it. The other directors and I have tried to get people to be expressive but there are a few people who are naturally more dynamic than the rest. One boy also loves being in Shakespeare plays and he has the facial expression and body presense one might expect. To top it off, his voice is very good. But frankly, it makes the other kids stare at him for him to do what he naturally does while the other children do what they naturally do. (By the way, this also makes me think that the kids might tease him for his expressiveness.)
 
Ideally, I would prefer a chorus of people singing like him. Do I just use him as an example for the chorus and know that until the chorus meets him, he will stick out? The alternative, which is what I assumed was correct, was to explain to him that his level of expressiveness is perfect but that the rest of the chorus hasn't reached that level yet and could he hold back a little bit and focus on blending until the rest of the chorus catches on?
 
Thank you so much.
 
Rachael Barlow
Director All Together Now Family chorus
Littleton, MA
rachael_barlow_groton(a)yahoo.com
 
Tom Carter said:
...
Regarding a singer's expressive potential (facially and physically), I disagree with my friend Rachael. ...

To my way of thinking, a choir should NOT be limited to the expressiveness of its least expressive member.
...







on May 30, 2008 1:05pm
On 5/30/08 12:00 PM, "Andrew Huff" wrote:

. Good technique is great in any setting, but very few voice teachers or choral directors focus on technique; instead, most focus on style.

Technique, on the other hand, implies how you use the instrument itself - basically, how you produce your sound. If we focused on that a lot more, the style issues would resolve themselves. Unfortunately, most of the voice teachers and choral directors I've met almost entirely ignore technique and focus exclusively on style.


Thanks,

Andrew Huff

Unlike Andrew, my feeling is that most voice teachers concentrate exclusively on technique and tend to ignore stylistic matters.... And I don't believe that style issues automatically resolve themselves, no matter how good the technique.

Richard Bloesch
richard-bloesch(a)uiowa.edu





on May 30, 2008 4:53pm
Rachael,

Good to share thoughts, as always.

I think you hit upon an important concept when you wrote that both the
expressive boy and the other kids are doing what they "naturally do." I
daresay that without specific guidance and training, MOST singers will
naturally be less than dynamically expressive.

I often tell choirs that if a film crew followed each singer for 24
hours, then gave the footage to professional editors who created a 30
minute short, EACH singer would put forth an 'Academy Award performance'
because in our daily lives we are incredibly and authentically
expressive! However, just telling someone to "sing with as much
expression as you just had during break" won't do the trick, since most
of us are unaware of what we as humans do that MAKES us expressive. In
short, most singers won't know how to sing with expression unless they
are taught.

So, I strongly suggest that you teach ALL your singers how to be
expressive -- as expressive as your young Shakespearean! (Although there
is a possibility that he might be over-doing it a tad, as some
precocious 'overacters' are wont to do. As Shakespeare says through
Hamlet in his advice to the players, "Suit the action to the word, the
word to the action, with this special observance, that you o'erstep not
the modesty of nature: for any thing so o'erdone is from the purpose of
playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold
as 'twere the mirror up to nature..." :-)

As far as I know, there is only one book written expressly for choral
musicians, helping them be authentically and dynamically expressive. But
should you not want to go that route, there are other books written for
opera singers, Broadway performers, and others -- whichever route you
take, you CAN teach your singers to be expressive.

Cheers!

Tom

Tom Carter
www.choralcharisma.com
tpcarter(a)earthlink.net




on May 30, 2008 4:55pm
At 11:50 AM -0700 5/30/08, Rachael Barlow wrote:
> So my chorus of (a)65 people has 4 year olds up to 55 year olds in
>it. The other directors and I have tried to get people to be
>expressive but there are a few people who are naturally more dynamic
>than the rest. One boy also loves being in Shakespeare plays and he
>has the facial expression and body presense one might expect. To top
>it off, his voice is very good. But frankly, it makes the other kids
>stare at him for him to do what he naturally does while the other
>children do what they naturally do. (By the way, this also makes me
>think that the kids might tease him for his expressiveness.)
>Ideally, I would prefer a chorus of people singing like him. Do I
>just use him as an example for the chorus and know that until the
>chorus meets him, he will stick out?

I know that's a question that can be honestly debated, but I heard it
answered in the best possible way in a workshop given by a highly
experienced Sweet Adelines coach. She herself had been accused of
being overly expressive and sticking out. But the answer she gave
her group was simple: she wanted everyone else to achieve the same
level of expressiveness. Which may be why her chorus was a
championship one!

Don't bring your chorus members down to the lowest common
denominator. Bring them up to the highest standards.

(I know, a LOT easier said than done!)

John


--
John R. Howell, Assoc. Prof. of Music
Virginia Tech Department of Music
College of Liberal Arts & Human Sciences
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034
(mailto:John.Howell(a)vt.edu)
http://www.music.vt.edu/faculty/howell/howell.html




on May 31, 2008 4:44am
Let me clarify technique vs. style. Technique is the production of the sound. It should be without unnecessary tension, through the full range of the instrument. Students with good technique will find that it works with any style. Those stylistic concerns, then, are added on top of the technique, but not IN PLACE of it, which is often the case. (Most choral directors use silly things like "raising the soft palate" as a technique, when it definitely is NOT.) Most voice teachers, on the other hand, spend a lot of time working organically ("sing it like this"), instead of teaching the students how the instruments work. There is much less technique going on in voice lessons then you'd like to believe.

Therefore, by freeing the student from bad technique, they are free to focus on the stylistic wishes of a conductor, or the interpretation of a piece. This is what I was referencing when I stated they'd "take care of themselves." Good technique gives us the ability to be musical, without having to balance that and the sound we produce.

Andrew Huff
ahuff(a)usd345.com




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