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October 2, 2012: the importance of "eh"

Colleagues,

I suggest printing this note, and at some point over the weekend, sit by your fire-place with a glass or mug of your comfort juice and walk through these notes,  mentally rehearsing.

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David Cherwien writes a note to the choir every Thursday after the previous Tuesday's rehearsal. This diary documents the choir's work together in preparations for each performance. 

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After listening to the recording of the rehearsal, I was both encouraged, and a bit nerve-wracked. Encouraged because it is really coming together. The new large works are taking shape as a whole (after working on "sections" for the learning process), and we can spend more time on details and expressive elements that we do together as ensemble. Nervous, because those ragged detail spots are quite abundant. 

A lot of time was spent on vowels. As irritating as that may be for you as singers, it really is important - perhaps more than you can perceive from what you hear where you stand. Different vowels have different overtones - which can accentuate different shades of a pitch! When one person (or much worse, two or more) hints toward "ah" for an "eh" vowel, I not only hear "ah" dominate (even if way outnumbered), I also hear different pitches - "ah" will be lower. It can sound like holding an "f" and an "f#" at the same time on a piano (well,  maybe not that extreme). This was extremely audible when we practiced "How They So Softly Rest" - the S/A's had a much richer "eh" for the word "rest" than the T/B's.  It was hinting toward "rahst." Tenors at measure 6, your "eh" is not yet there instinctively - I know Bob (tenor section leader) has worked on that with you, and that you know what to do - but you MUST think about that EVERY time since instinct won't do it. That piece is FULL of "eh" vowels that are not unified: "rest", "dead", "dwell," "where", "and" (that one was really all over the map in measures 33-34 - lots of "ahnd" dominating), "them" - all "eh".    

Another vowel related issue that un-unites us is diphthong vowels like "my" - when sung like "mah-eee" because "eee" is so bright it dominates, accentuates, and sometimes is just butt-ugly. In the piece, "The Call" - for example, sopranos sing the word "my" three times in measure 55 and clearly I heard "mah-eee" - what we hear is "eee" and the word "my" over the truly important words: Way, Truth, Life. And it sounds like we're chewing breakfast. We have to concentrate on these to really pull together. That's what gives us the silky unified sound that is so beautiful. Not a fingernail on a blackboard f and F#, but a cool-blue or dark-chocolate unified pitch.

We need to pull together much more tightly. Altos provided a great example of how that makes such a huge difference: last week the second part of "Mighty River" (measure 86) wasn't clean - this week, it was totally cleaned up and it sparkled - especially when we enunciated clearly. To clean things up and pull together at this point in the continuum, it is critically important to zero in on the smallest of points of accuracy as individuals - being right on with the tiniest of notes, then listen to your partners in crime to be sure you're together. Tenors, you need to make sure you deeply know every tiny pitch in the opening of "The Call." You can hear the approximations for each sixteenth note of measure 8. Approximations, be gone!  Smudgery, be gone! Other spots like that include altos (measure 21 - the 16th notes), the bass ("b-natural" of measure 25 then the "a" of measure 27). In fact, measures 25-27 were quite smudgy every time. Tenors, your "a" of measure 26 was never completely clean, floaty and relaxed. That takes practice. Tenors, the "lick" of measure 66 - time to clean up every single pitch. There are other spots I'll put in below - but every section has them. Do you know where they are?  

On-sets are another issue we did NOT really solve in rehearsal. The most critical on-sets to practice: "How They So Softly Rest" - measures 1, 10, 30, 53. CLEAN. NO SMUDGERY! If you are unable to remove the initial smudge, I will begin eliminating voices from entrances to protect us. Another set of critical entrances is in "Yea Though I Wander" -- measures 1-6, measures 18-19, measures 48-50. Practice these with the possibility of having to be one of 8 singers - the only one on your part, and it has to be right together with the others, and any smudge would be immediately exposed. Air -- singing on the breath, open and relaxed throat, prepared breath -- all will help.

Details, details, details. The least of ye notes, step to the fore

David Cherwien