October 9, 2012: Focus
Focus. That is the "secret word" in this week's note to the choir from David Cherwien. He writes rehearsal notes on Thursdays after the prior Tuesday's rehearsal. We are quickly coming up to our opening concerts of the season which will start in Chicago-Madison-Milwaukee and conclude with two All Saints concerts in early November. We have include David's very specific approach to encouraging that special focus that the NLC tries to achieve every time they sing together.
Focus. Remember the old projector days? Put the slide in, focus the picture - as it gets clearer its brilliance comes out, the details become transparent, colors more vibrant. In music not only does the same apply, when we're all "on" and clear, it sounds more simple, it weighs less, and frankly it's much easier to listen to. When we're out of focus, it's like playing the piano while holding the pedal down. What creates “out of focus?”
Rhythm that isn't precise - especially when it's counter to the rest of the choir, or over-slurred melismas and runs, pitches that are approximate - especially inner "small" notes like the second note of a four-note 16th-note run
Text – “o’s,” where the shape of the mouth doesn't change enough.
Consonants that are lack-luster and not precisely together with the other 66 singers and
Dynamics – mostly when everything is two or three notches louder than it should be.
What is fun about the old projectors is continuing to focus when we think it's focused, then we adjust the knob a bit more to discover it could get even clearer!!
Two of our pieces are there - just a little out of focus. Miles better than our first couple of runs together, but we need to tweak the focus knob even more.
Mighty River, Mighty Fire (by Imant Raminsh) is full of counter rhythms. Triplets eighth notes against two. Words that are actually a bit tricky to do in song because of our American English "r." Examples: "Spirit" - use a "d" instead, "Fire" - stay on "ah" skip the "r," "River" start with "d" and end with schwa), our American English diphthongs ("Mighty" stay on "ah" and skip or ever-so-lightly-and-late go to the "eee" and again "Fire" not "fah-yer" but just "fah"). We need greater focus on articulating the triplets and eighths precisely - the snare drum idea actually worked - I could hear a difference when we had Shaun do that, but we need that in our heads. The main beats stay exactly precise (1 - 2 - 3) whether they are divided into two or three. The consonants need to be crisp and very forward (not with jaw movement), lip vowels need opening changes (without jaw or change in embouchure) - "oh" and "ooo" need to see lip changes - words like "flow over me" - should see lips change, but the flow of tone and placement of the tongue and jaw stays consistent - open and not tight.
The other piece is Every Time I Feel the Spirit (arr. Allen Koepke) - it just sounds like it weighs too much, and that button-y, bouyant, accent-with-tone-behind it lilt isn't there yet. We got there with I got a home in-a that Rock last year - we need to get there with this piece. Every rest you should feel - especially the accented syncopation it creates - but in a bouyant way!! (like measure 2, "mov") We need better word and/or syllable stresses, too - "SPEE - diht" "mov" and "heart" in measures 103.
How They So Softly Rest (by Healey Willan) Lip vowels need lips to change a bit more: "oh" and "oo" should be more committed. ("So softly," "Slowly", etc and “softly” - a dark "aw" like "Sawftly"). And of course the illusive and ever-important “EH!!!!!!” eh-specially the word "dwelling" - T/B's mark something in your score so that eh-verytime you sing measure 6, your brain remembers to discipline that vowel!!! (S/A - same in measure 15). The higher register in these spots tends to pull some toward an "ah".
Kyrie (from Missa Brevis by Vytautas Miskinis) Nice work. Altos – measure 62: c-natural. No surprise for you, Love it so that it is a nice surprise for the audience! Soprano 1 - Add shape to the melody you develop in measures 68-75. It's a beautiful floaty-descant, but needs phrase shape. To and from "le" in "e-le-i-son." Bass 2 – concentrate like mad in measures 56-61. You're very exposed. No pot-holes, no-slips, no approximations with pitch or vowel. Nine voices sounding as one.
Yea, Though I Wander (by Schumann, arr. P.J. Christiansen) Think bowling ball launch with entrances from now on. It was fabulous!
Talveti Laulud (by Cyrillus Kreek) Psalm 104. Basses – practice starting with a clean pitch and in tune. Be on top of the pitch, not the sliver below it. Bright, yet soft. Own the corporate expression in measures 31-46. It's lovely when you all step onto that magic carpet ride.
Psalm 141. T/B – keep measure 21 supported with a sense of direction all the way to measure 26. The more crisp from measures 27-30, but don't let the half note down in measure 29 – support it. Sounds like you're caught off guard by the half note when we get there.
Mighty River, Mighty Fire (by Imant Raminsh) The above, and: measures 14, 42, 46, check clarity. Uncertain pitches and vowels creates uncertain rhythm. Altos: bravo in the fire section. Measures 115-125: more focus. See above. Half-steps aren't centered enough. Text needs to be articulated more. Rhythm even more articulated.
All My Trials (by Norman Luboff) Bob will be conducting this. I'll be in organ console heaven.
Ev’ryTime I Feel the Spirit (arr. By Allen Koepke) We need you to put on dance slippers and take the clod-hopper boots off. Simple. You can do it!!!! Look at measures 77-81 again. Sounds like it takes you by surprise still.
The Call (by Joan Szymko) The piano side of forte-piano in measure 38 can be even more extreme. It will heighten the crescendo. Always lean into the word "such" perhaps more weight in the "s" and "ch" of that word without taking more time or loosing the pitch and/or sense of direction.
See you all next Tuesday!