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Choral Caffeine: Strengthening Choral Tone, Part 2

The matter of choral tone has probably been a topic of discussion in studios and rehearsal halls for longer than any of us cares to ponder.  So we continue from last week’s “Choral Caffeine” with another point of view; in this case from Leanne Freeman-Miller’s article “The Vocal Edge” (Kansas ACDA Choral Range), in which she discussed the pedagogical views of Richard Miller:
Singers should aim for simplicity in vocal pedagogy, concentrating on what the body does naturally instead of what we invent. Basic sounds should be natural, not distorted or manipulated.   Miller is opposed to the glottal onset and utilizes fricative consonants (h, sh, th, f…) in vocal warm-ups. He stresses that one must remain in the inspiratory position during singing, neither pushing out nor pulling in the abdominals. The ideal mouth position is flexible, with the vowel, range and loudness of tone determining the shape of the mouth. The larynx should be stable and slightly descended. In singing, one should constantly raise the “zygomatic arch” (upper cheekbones) to assist with resonance, vibrancy and pitch. The position of the tongue should be in contact with the lower front teeth. Vowels should never lose integrity. Over-modifying them should be avoid ed. The [i] vowel provides the most space in the pharynx, while the [u] provides the least.
(To access the full article, simply click the highlighted title. For additional articles on a dazzling array of choral topics, visit  ChorTeach.)
on September 3, 2012 12:24pm
I, still a learner at 82, have read both of these recent views concerning vocal "strength." Having attended Richard Miller's Institute of Vocal Performance Pedagogy, owning the books listed here, and having spoiken with him several times in reference to my doctoral dissertation, I offer a few "cents" for reader's consideration. I observe that most choral conductors, who are featured on YouTube and other videos and in live performances, by their gestures do not indicate that they know the phonation process. It is disappointing to hear a chorus whose vowels, after undue accent/emphasis, immediately wane into meaninglessness other than time, and then swing into a boring legato lacking any textual awareness - then it's all about the music. I respectfully differ somewhat with Miller on this point; he implied that the messa di voce can be executed by only the advanceed singer.* This is true for 10 second long note or phrase, but the rank beginner can be taught a two or three second messa di voce and find  expressive treasure thereby..
But, how many know how to teach it or conduct it? I just don't know. Thanks for these articles! I wish more cared to respond.
*Actually, Miller says that "the messa di voce is the ultimate test of a coordinated technique of singing." The Structure of Singing, p.175.
Edward Palmer