Forget singing in the shower, or whilst driving the car. If it’s performance opportunities you want then join a choir. Whether you are in a choir at church in Wokingham, local musical theatre group in Bracknell or even a community choir in Bramley then the following hints and tips (call them guidelines if you want) should help to get the most out of the experience:
WARM UP – Most singers arrive at the evening rehearsal tired and exhausted after a long day’s work (whatever that may be), so it’s important to begin with a good physical warm up. Calisthenics “wake up” the body, through stretching, bending, jumping and so on. Additionally, “yawning” and relaxed humming will get the voice warmed up gently. I emphasise the word gently here!
POSTURE – Bad posture limits breathing capacity and puts stress on the voice muscles. Most choirs rehearse, for some of the time, sitting down, with music in hand. Interestingly, I have been hearing about some choirs who now only have chairs for breaks in the rehearsals preferring to spend the majority of the time standing up. Whilst I can subscribe to that view, |I still prefer to get some common sense into the mix on this subject and allow my choir members to have their own seats in vocal part formation.
The problem is of course that sitting becomes more like “slumping”. You know the vision I am talking about – Don’t you? Sitting back in the chair, crossing the legs, music on your lap so you bend the stomach muscles looking down etc. I am occasionally heard to cry “sit up straight then, uncross the legs”. Great ideas but many ignore the advice. The point is that sitting up straight may seem to require effort, but a well-balanced sitting position is less tiring over the course of a rehearsal.
If it helps, the best position is a straight back, feet flat on the floor – shoulders relaxed. Hold the music so you can see it easily without bending. Remember, you have to be able to see the music and the conductor so don’t slap your music file directly in front of your eyes. When you stand to sing keep your back straight – shoulders relaxed, feet slight apart and never locked rigid. After all you are singing not on ‘guard duty’.
RELAX FOR HEAVENS SAKE – Apart from ‘quiet’ but more on that later, ‘relax’ is the most common word uttered by me at any singhealthy rehearsal. It really is about being relaxed and comfortable. Can you imagine how it would be in concert with the high levels of nervous energy that exist if you weren’t relaxed. I genuinely have heard of cases where nervous choir members have passed out through adopting too rigid a stance mid-way through a performance. It’s a tad disconcerting for those around them. Even worse for the conductor if he/she is not fast enough to catch the falling singer, or a bit if a butterfingers.
So conductors take choir members apparel to different levels by banning high heels or tight clothing. At singhealthy we have not gone that far, but we do insist that the Polo Shirts are comfortable and always encourage flat shoes overt high heels (especially in the Tenor and Bass ranks)
BREATHE – Yes you really should. This may seem obvious, but many choral singers simply do not allow themselves an adequate breath, and instead, “gasp” for air in order to stay with the conductor’s beat. Admittedly, breath management can be challenging in group singing. Good choral directors are aware of this, and endeavour to indicate breathing with their conduction gestures. Ultimately, however, it is the singer’s own responsibility to maintain efficient breath support.
SING THE RIGHT PART – This is a problem area for singers as well as conductors. It might be that new members are incorrectly placed to sing a part in order to accommodate the needs of the choir. It happens a lot with Tenors and members with more of a Baritone range may be coerced into singing the tenor part, which can strain the voice.
You can try singing falsetto to reach the high notes and see if thjat helps. Point is you should speak to your conductor and ask for help if you are concerned about your ability to reach the notes. Better still sign-up to some vocal technique training. Again, your conductor will help with this. Remember: There is no Gain in Strain.
DON’T OVER-SING – Singing loudly in order to be heard, or to hear yourself over other singers generally puts stresses on the voice. At all the singhealthy choirs we do ask that ‘egos are left at the door’ Demonstrating your vocal dexterity, especially in a loud way, is not the best way to get someone’s attention in a choir — it doesn’t contribute the overall choir sound and, I’m afraid, it is usually resented by fellow singers!
If you need to check the accuracy of your pitch, simply put a hand over one ear. I would advise that you always sing on the “sizzle,” not the “sausage”!
PREPARE – Try to learn your part before coming to the rehearsal. If you are insecure about your part, it is unlikely that you will sing well. At singhealthy we now produce rehearsal tracks on CD for each vocal section and you should make good use of these. Being hesitant slows down learning and gets in the way of good vocal technique
AVOID TALKING – Please, please, please, please take this advice. Not only is chatting disruptive to others (particularly the conductor!), but it tires the voice.
So there you have just a few ideas. There will be more in this series of articles, but let me leave you with one thought. Singing in a choir is the ultimate in team playing. You come to share with, rely on and have fun with the other choir members. It should be fun, but also an evolving experience. Never copy or try and emulate another singer. You are unique and your voice is unique to YOU. You are valuable to the choir because you bring that uniqueness to the choir and agree to share it with the whole group. That’s quite a gift and a good conductor will want to cherish and enhance the gift you bring. I hope you have many happy singing hours ahead……