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Visual imagery in the choral rehearsal



Many people requested that I post a compilation of the ideas received from listers
regarding visual imagery in a choral rehearsal.

Lu Ann Holden
lholden(a)leeuniversity.edu

Original message:
Dear Colleagues,
Visual imagery is an effective means of conveying musical concepts to young singers.
I often describe a particular scenario to help achieve a desired musical response
from singers. Some examples are "sipping cool air through an imaginary straw" for
breathing or "pretend you are lightly tossing a beach ball from one hand to the
other with the beat of the music" to help achieve a light buoyant sound.

I would like some fresh ideas of visual imagery in any area related to singing:
posture, breathing, tone-resonance-lifting the soft palate, dynamics, diction,
intonation, etc. I am looking forward to receiving some wonderful and effective
ideas.

Compilation of responses:
Tone quality, and to get a certain tone from girls: think of the Zamboni machine on
the ice skating rink, smooth out the sound so it is like ice.

Ice skating references also work very well with girls, I often have them pretend to
do a routine with the arms only. The best move for long phrases is the one where the
skater throws open her arms and leans back.

Soft palate: imagine the big end of a pear in your mouth.

Precision of notes: pretend to play a piccolo, flute, clarinet, whatever

Phrasing: pretend to be an orchestra, pull the bow versus pizzicato

there are lots more, but I am running short on time. If you need something specific,
let me know.
.................................................................................
Are you familiary with teachings of Frauke Haasemann, of Westminster Choir College?
She taught there until 1992 when she passes away. Dr. James Jordan took over her
concepts and wrote a book, video , etc. using her teachings.
......................................................
A few of my middle- and high-school students' favorites:
1. yawning in chapel (aka yawning in church/yawning in assembly; we're a Christian
school, and the choirs are both the performing groups and the chapel music
leadership, so this one is a hoot): yawning with a smile on one's face or
the "innocent who-me" look and one's lips lightly closed, i.e. inhaling through the
nose; develops the lifted palate, the active face, and the idea of space expansion
inside the head rather than an over-extended mouth either vertically or
horizontally; plus warms/moisturizes the air. I sometimes catch them actually doing
this in chapel or when an administrator is speaking, and then they play it to the
hilt.

2. tossing a ball over one's shoulder on the top note of arpeggios--a light ball or
a heavy ball, depending on the sound one wants. Just enough physical involvement to
intensely pressurize the air. We have some fine athletes in my Concert Choir, so in
fall we toss footballs at the tight end, in winter we tap volleyballs at the girl
volleyballers, we pass basketballs... sometimes we even 'fence'.

3. doing the above as "fencing" for the elegance, lightness, tallness of posture,
flexibility of knees, and general barrier-breaking/risk-taking silliness of it. Also
fencing at certain consonants for clarity while rehearsing. The epees are imaginary,
of course!

4. I ask my middle-schoolers to assign me a motion for things they're forgetting
(since I emphasize that my job is to help them remember stuff and coach; I'm of the
personal opinion that if I could be invisible from the audience's point of view 95%
of the time that would suit me just fine!).
Some of their favorites this semester have been a cleaver for the sound "k" and a
tennis serve for beginning a phrase with energy. I tone down the motions for
performances, but the looks on their faces are still the engaged and delighted looks
since they know perfectly well what I look like when I'm going full tilt on their
assigned motion.

5. Forte and louder is a spotlight at the Super Bowl; piano and softer are laser
beams: same amount of energy, but one is super-condensed.

6. Imagine singing like a whale. The whale's larynx is just below the blowhole on
the top of their head, so focus the air stream straight up and let the sound
fountain out the top of your head.

7. I take my choirs around campus and let them try out singing in different
acoustical environments and observe how they change how they sing, how it feels, and
what good things can they take away from each space. We have a neo-Gothic English-
collegiate-style chapel with a 3-second delay in which we sing every week versus a
long, skinny choir room with a nine-foot ceiling adn boomy acoustics (better than
none last year!). We also sing a Pops Concert with the bands in the gym and some
events on the lawn, carols in the halls and outside, et cetera, so we also do
investigate in advance what it sounds like to sing in different places (Why is the
physics lab better than the choir room even though they're almost the exact same
dimensions? If we warm up in the stairwell, will the Latin teacher kill us, or can
we sing softly enough but still resonantly?) So later we play with the idea of
singing in different size spaces and for different audiences, without moving from
the choir room.

8. Not for technique, but for group confidence and the ability to concentrate on the
music and watch the director no matter what: divide the group in half and assign one
half to sing to the other. Assign the non-singers a group personality that the
singers have to overcome with their artistry and drama and maturity. This is great
for building self-confidence. My fifth and sixth grade choir sits facing the eighth
grade boys in chapel, and at the beginning of the year we practice with one half of
the choir being the obnoxious boys while the others sang, so they learned to
concentrate on me and ignore the '"hecklers." Or the non-singers were
their 'grannies and granddads', wanting to hear them sing but a bit hard of hearing
and good at lip-reading. I didn't do this with my 9-12 graders, and when they heard
I was doing it with the younger ones, they wanted to do it, too.
.......................................................................
Inhale on keh keh all the way exhale on keh keh...is for my very helpful,breathing
through the nose and feel it through the top of the head,also sing with 1 hand
behind the ear so that you hear your voice from the outside and than hold your hand
to the front of your ear and notice that your sound as you sing trough the
headphone.
...........................................................................
Have you read Frauke Haasemann's book, Group Vocal Techniques? It's chock-full of
ideas like this. You can find it from the "Essential books for choral conductors"
link on the ChoralNet home page. There's also a video.
.............................................................................
One of the best resources for discovering and using visual imagery that I know of is
Douglas Lawrence's video "101 Things to Say to your Choir to Improve their sound
100%" which is published by Thomas House Publications.
............................................................................
This article contains many of the examples that you describe:
Stollak & Alexander. (May 1998). The use of analogy in the rehearsal. Music
Educators Journal, 17-21.
............................................................................
Have you watched Rodney Eichenberger's "What They See Is What You Get" video? He
incorporates kinesthetic motivation in the video and in other of his work.
............................................................................
Here is one I use with my choir to create space. Imagine you have a piece of hot
potato in your mouth. In order not to have any other part of your mouth burnt you
raise the soft palate and get the roof of your mouth as far from the potato as
possible and breathe cold air in through rounded lips. Breathe out and keep that
space with lips rounded.
.............................................................................
I, too, have been a proponent of such to communicate principles of vocal technique
to children without having to talk diaphragm. One of the most effective for me was
to tell children I brought a pair of "space boots" for each of them, to get the
positioning of feet, and that I wanted them in "blast off position." That became a
very effective way of getting children in a position ready to sing with appropriate
posture. "Tank up" was another that helped with breathing.

Regularly, I used imagery from children's lives to enhance expression. For example,
when a text line might be repeated with a building musical line, I would relate to
their mother asking them to "get in there and clean up that room," Her first request
might be calm, but each successive repetition becomes more intense. I've used having
the children repeat after me, "We are talking SINGING LANGUAGE," with everything I
say with exaggerated diction being repeated by the children, loosening them in
expression with lines like, "We are soooooooo expressive."
...............................................................
I use stretching the rubber band to illustrate extending the the phrase.


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