Vocal

VOCAL

“Sing to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.”
Below, you will find resources to help you
lead the vocal aspects of congregational worship music.

Resources for Choral Conductors

Essentials for Effective Rehearsals

by Aaron M. Rice

Philosophy
  • Learn notes and rhythms?
  • Engage in musical phrases?
  • Provide a time of edification and musical growth?
  • Prepare for Sunday?
  • Make something excellent?

A conductor can make the most beautiful patterns that brim with musicality, but if there is no choir, music is not heard. The conductor’s instrument is the choir and all of the individuals that make up that ensemble. The famed violinist Joshua Bell knows every detail about the sound and composition of his 1713 Gibson ex Huberman Stradivarius violin. In the same way, for the choral ensemble to function at its prime, the conductor must know the instrument (choir and each member) well.

  • For the Minster of Music this comes a bit more naturally.
  • Know what is going on in the lives of your choir members.
  • Make time and take time to chat with them before and after rehearsal. Experiencing the choir’s joys and sorrows with them prepares the way for expressive singing.
  • Pray with them and for them.

The church choir is a very specialized choral ensemble. This is a community of disciples that are all on the journey of sanctification with a weekly responsibility to serve the church through music. In order for this group to be efficient in achieving all of the goals both weekly and over an extended period, the ensemble must have a focused culture.

  • Discipleship (does not necessarily mean that an extended devotional session be held)
  • Worship leadership
    • A external study of worship philosophy could be done
    • Simple questions could be asked about each anthem (Is this work praise, prayer, or proclamation?)
  • Balance of focus and humor/relaxation in rehearsal
  • Teachability is founded on trust (conductor must know where the choir is going and how they will get there. Sometimes the “how they get there” will mean doing things in rehearsal that are very foreign to everyday life. The choir must be teachable and ready to do what it takes to attain the end product.)
  • A culture of achievement and efficiency should be cultivated. – What is excellent for this ensemble?
  • Create a desire to mark the score for quick learning. In the early days, you will have to teach them how to mark the score. If you keep members for years, this will be a helpful skill that will make them better musicians for life.
  • The whole is greater than the sum parts. “When we take up the task of being the Shorter Chorale, we collectively say there is a mutual and high regard for the music we are performing and a mutual and high regard for all the people with whom it is being performed.” – taken from the Shorter Chorale syllabus and informed by the writings of Robert Shaw.
Practice
  • Choose varied anthems (smooth, rhythmic, jubilant, virtuosic, and simple. Also choose anthems that serve varied purposes [praise, prayer, or proclamation])
  • Know your varied selections (score study)
    • One of the main goals of score study is error prediction. Know where they will likely falter so that you can effectively plan your rehearsal.
    • Know all of the phrases, breathing, diction decisions, high points and low points, emotion ideas, and gestural directions.
  • Be mindful of the upcoming requirements – special productions, major disruptions to your normal schedule.
  • Rehearsal guide (as a young conductor or one who needs focus, this should be written)
  • Make sure all materials are available prior to rehearsal (actual music, accompaniment [piano or track], pencils)
  • Start and end on time
    • Treat your choir members like professionals.
    • Be methodical in your rehearsal pacing. Accomplish the necessities.
  • Use 7 words or less as often as possible
    • Don’t talk too much.
    • Rehearsal is rarely the time for stories.
    • Don’t let the choir talk too much. This is part of a culture building.
  • The choir will follow what you model. Model what you want in the area of behavior and vocal tone.
  • Be consistent with what you expect in behavior.
  • Learning pitches and rhythms
    • If your ensemble is willing, consider using neutral syllables for teaching, this creates vowel uniformity and allows the mind to concentrate solely on the notes, rhythms, and anything else you may want to include. Consider “nooh” “noh” “neeh.”
    • Slowing the tempo initially will aid in acquisition of the notes and rhythms.
  • One cannot correct errors if the errors are not identified.
    • “Let’s go back and give it another try!”
      • Always know why you are stopping and what can be done to make the next pass better. Never “let’s give it another try;” be specific in what they need to fix.
      • Truly listen to the choir as they sing. Is everyone getting every note and rhythm? How is the tone? Are the phrases correct? Is the emotional connection there? If you are having trouble hearing all of this, listen for one particular thing.
      • Isolate each error and fix it. Use the whole-part-whole method. Peel each layer back until you find the problem and then add each part back until it is perfect.
  • Correcting rhythm
    • Rhythm is key. When difficult rhythmic passages arise, often in contemporary music, slowing the tempo will often produce significant improvement.
    • Chanting the rhythm apart from the notes and rhythms aids syllabic connection
  • Correcting Pitches
    • Be sure that you have score studied to know where difficult intervals are and troubling passages await.
    • Listen to the choir carefully to hear the sections that you know will be problems and those places of which you were unaware.
  • Developing Tone
    • No matter the style, tone is key.
    • Use warm-ups to develop strong tonal expectations.
    • Be sure that tone is bright and buoyant.
    • Both pressed and under-supported tone can lead to intonation challenges.
  • Securing true intonation
    • Ideal tone
    • Vowel alignment
    • The ideal key (not F or C)
    • Small half steps going down and large ones going up
    • Plenty of breath energy
    • Ideal environment (comfortable temp, humidity, and adequate reverberation
  • Empower the choir
    • Use a process of self-evaluation for the choir to encourage them to listen and constantly evaluate how the whole and the individual is performing each moment in rehearsal.

Pacing of any rehearsal is crucial to maintain commitment to the rehearsal and to the longevity of the ministry.

  • The rehearsal must move as quickly as possible without being rushed or frantic.
  • Make sure you are efficient (talk less, sing more).
  • When the going gets tough, don’t beat a dead horse.
  • Have them stand and sit and various points in the rehearsal.
  • Use varying seat configurations.
  • Make sure to order the pieces in such a way that there is not an extended section on a very difficult couple of pieces. Be mindful of range and musical demands.
Featured: “Preparing and Marking the Score” by Chuck Lewis
Featured: “Choral Conducting Bibliography” by Ian Yeung

Further Reading

Choral Resources

by Ian Yeung

IMSLP https://imslp.org/wiki/Main_Page

Choral counterpart of IMSLP https://www.cpdl.org/wiki/

MUSICA: a substantial choral database (subscription) https://www.musicanet.org/en/

VARIATIONS (old Indiana University Music Library): literature downloads http://www.dlib.indiana.edu/variations/scores/

International Federation for Choral Music https://ifcm.net/index.php

American Choral Directors Association ACDA https://acda.org/

ChoralNet: ACDA child site for choral communities and discussions https://choralnet.org/

Classical Net: publications, archives, ensembles, etc. http://www.classical.net/

Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music DIAMM: vast archive of medieval music manuscripts https://www.diamm.ac.uk/

Bach Cantata Website: research and links https://www.bach-cantatas.com/

CyberBass: part practice tracks of major choral works: http://www.cyberbass.com/

Brown, Howard Mayer, Stanley Sadie. Performance Practice: Music After 1600

Garrestson, Robert. Choral Music—History, Style, and Performance Practice.

Geisler, Ursula. Choral Research: A Global bibliographyhttps://lup.lub.lu.se/search/ws/files/5939251/3615357.pdf

Green, Jonathan, David Oertel. Choral-Orchestral Repertoire—A Conductor’s Guide.

Jeffers, Ron. Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoire.

    • Vol. 1 Sacred Latin Texts / Vol. 2 German Texts
    • Vol. 3 French and Italian Texts / Vol. 4 Hebrew Texts

Laster, James. Catalogue of Choral Music Arranged in Biblical Order. (Also explore other choral publications by The Scarecrow Press)

Sharp, Tim. Sacred choral Music Repertoire: Insights for Conductors.

Shrock, Dennis. Choral Repertoire.

Shrock. Performance Practices in the Baroque Era.

Strimple, Nick. Choral Music in the Twentieth Century.

Bibliography

Rabin, Marvin, Prescilla Smith. Guide to Orchestral Bowings Through Musical Styles. (For choral conductors who want to deal with orchestral language) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LiPjMPQ0LY&t=124s

Leonard Slatkin’s Conducting School (Youtube) https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2_S0hFw3zDl47TtV7iYbu-XhiuSrkgaW

Vocal Pedagogy

Featured: “Texts for Vocal Pedagogy” by Ben Caston
What's in a Tone? Creating Foundational Choral Tone for Worship

by Aaron M. Rice

Have you ever had these thoughts—

  • We get through our anthem each week, but we just don’t sound as good as we could.
  • You know, we sound the exact same way that we have for 10 years or even when I first arrived.
  • We need a tone that is pleasant and points others to Christ rather than distracting.
Philosophy
  • Resonant
  • Free
  • Dark/Bright
  • Supported
  • Energetic
  • Focused
  • True intonation
  • Balance
  • Blend

No matter the size, a choir is made up of individual voices which come from individual people. Each person is coming from his or her everyday routine. Choir is not their life; in reality, it is only a very small part of their life, even though much of our profession and life is wrapped up in choral music ministry. How does life effect choral tone?

  • Stress: it’s the body’s reaction to any change that requires an action or response (often this is a perceived danger). This can bring undue tension (worst enemy of the singer), poor intonation, and lethargy.
  • Physically or vocally taxing occupation: this can produce poor intonation, under supported singing, wondering thoughts, and lethargic tone.
  • Emotional instability: isolation (poor blend and balance), lack of focus, and lifeless tone.

If the conductor is aware of what is going on in the life of the singer, he can find ways to stem the tide of many issues or find ways to energize the ensemble.

Practice

Building the ideal choral tone for the Pastoral Artist is about the long haul. If done correctly, it is honed and nuanced month by month and year after year. In order for this group to be efficient in achieving all of the goals both weekly and over an extended period, the ensemble must have a focused culture. The ensemble must be completely open to learning (often times through nonsense exercises) your philosophy of choral tone. Teachability is founded on trust. The conductor must know where the choir is going and how they will get there. Sometimes the “how they get there” will mean doing things that are very foreign to everyday life, so the choir must be teachable and ready to do what it takes to attain the end product.

Start at the beginning. WARM-UPS!

  • This is an essential time to prepare the mind, voice, and ears of your choir.
    • Mind – Remember that our singers are coming from all walks of life and are giving you that precious 60-90 minutes. Their minds have to move from where they were when they walked in to one of the highest musical moments of their week. Prepare the mind for emotional engagement, critical thinking, and physical energy.
    • Voice – No matter what they’ve been doing all day, we must ready their voice for unified healthy singing. Prepare the range, prepare the tone, prepare dynamic contrast. This should all be a healthy process.
    • Ears – The goal of choral singing is to sound as one, and our ears are the best tool to help us do this. Prepare the ears to help the voice sing in tune. Prepare the ears to listen around, assess, and adjust for balance and blend.
    • This is when we establish the sound and the tonal benchmark for the ensemble and the rehearsal.
  • Warm-ups are the prime time to build vowel uniformity and thereby choral tone.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask them to adjust several times if it is not where it needs to be.
  • Choral tone is built on the spacious vowel.
    • Use the warm up to teach the difference between shallow and spread vowels and those that are elongated and desired, come back to these differences often in rehearsal.
    • Work to open the mouth (open vowels particularly “ah” and “oh”), round the lips (closed vowels particularly “ee” and “oo”), and relax the tongue to unify the vowels across the choir.
    • No matter the choral style, the ensemble needs uniformed vowels for a focused tone. Uniformed vowels come from an aligned vocal tract among all singers in the ensemble.
    • Most commonly, the opening of the mouth is the incongruent aspect. It is key to think of the vocal tract as a continuous tunnel. The same space creates the same sound.
    • Not only is the height of the opening important, the horizontal opening is key to unified choral tone. Frequently directors overlook the focus that is achieved by bringing the corners of the mouth in, forming a slight pucker.
  • Vowel color really matters.
    • Bright vibrant singing is key (not talking about strident or excessive nasality).
    • Avoid the extremes of light breathy and dark heavy singing. Neither are healthy or pleasant. Sopranos and tenors above the staff tend to be strident and altos and basses below B flat tend to be too dark and woofy.

Proper vowel weight is key.

  • Use body movement to help singers remember to spin the tone with more efficient air.
  • To correct under-supported singing, the general rule is to start by singing louder (not more pressed). Singing louder requires greater subglottic pressure.
  • Further, you may want to try to have them pretend to pick up the piano or heavy object or even do wall sits.
  • If the tone has become too pressed, walking around the room while singing or lip trilling can be helpful.
  • Solidifying the support can significantly helping true intonation.
  • Blend is the amalgamation of one voice with others to create a unified sound.
    • Creating the right blend can be a “shushing game.” Ideally it will not be.
    • A healthy blend should empower large or distinctive voices to feel free and encouraged. (Remember all voice types are welcome and represent the full Body of Christ).
    • Seating arrangements help empower the singer.
    • Sometimes side conversations with offenders are necessary. Make sure you’ve built a strong relationship.
  • Balance is the equality of sectional sounds to create a sonic texture.
    • Balance is an easier game to play.
    • Philosophy – pyramid (Basses are louder than trebles) or inverted pyramid (trebles are louder than bases), or square (all voices truly equal).
    • Your philosophy on the bright/dark scale will affect how you balance each section.
  • Though there are many considerations when dealing with the Killer Bs, we understand that a volunteer ensemble may create some challenges that should be met with creativity and poise.
  • Choral tone is taught by legato singing on the vowel.
  • Things to look for-
    • Extended phrases
    • Often times moderate to moderately slow tempi.
  • Warning! Things that slow choral tone growth.
    • Choppy phrases
      • Often times I will drop the rests and carry through some lines in modern arrangements to make them more appropriate for building tone.
    • Extensive rhythmic/metric variety
    • Music that lacks forward motion (sometimes this can be overcome during rehearsal)
  • Weather
  • Facilities/Location
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