Don’t be a Hummer!

Don’t be a Hummer, Be an Audiator

We have established the Webb-Mitchell Centre for Choral Studies in Zhuhai, China as a “No-Humming Zone”. Our Chinese character:

no-humming-zone

Rather than hum, we audiate. Audiation is a cognitive learning process by which the brain receives input , digests it, then defines it. In other words, one internalizes the pitch before one produces the pitch. Retention and production of the pitch must take place in the head before it can be accurately produced via the mouth.

There are other benefits to audiating:

+ Listening to an entire phrase with an engaged brain organizes sequences and patterns so they may be recalled with greater precision.

+ It decreases intonation issues. If you can hear it in your head, you can sing it correctly. As my colleague Dr. William Baker of the Choral Foundation always says: “Choirs that sing in tune, don’t hum the pitch!”

+ Focus is maintained. Humming along to the piano or while others are singing interrupts the audiation and production process of others. It also contributes to a noisy learning atmosphere encouraging others to hum along.

+ Sight-reading and tonal memory aptitude improves. Singing too quickly can bring about confusion with other patterns already stored in the brain. Hearing then thinking about the current intervals and rhythm will bring about more success with the initial attempt.

+ Avoids adding noise to the rehearsal room. Noisy rooms produce the Lombard Effect which has a negative impact on the singers via the instructors compensation for this situation. Any noise levels that are increased during instruction causes the instructor to increase phonetic fundamental frequencies, sound intensity, volume and overuse of articulators.  This can cause vocal fatigue and produce other negative results.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lombard_effect 

Increase your musical aptitude by becoming a disciplined audiator. The more you audiate the more others will audiate. And the more pleasant our world will be.

        Don't Hum The Pitch!

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Opportunity presented ~ Opportunity pursued ~                                                                  Challenge presented ~ Challenge accepted ~                                                                          Goals accomplished ~ New doors opened ~

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Jerry (English name) flanked by the Danny Boys successfully scored an 85 out of 100 on MP3 recordings submitted of repertoire for the performance at Chinese Conservatory, Beijing, China.

Zhuhai Classical Children’s Choir                                                                                                  The Webb-Mitchell Centre for Choral Studies, Zhuhai, China.                                                Andrew Webb-Mitchell, Founder and Director                                                                                Lynn Swanson, Assistant Director                                                                                                      Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing, China. 

GESTURES or WORDS?

Please see two videos attached.

Knowing that language is a true barrier in working with our Chinese choirs, I have been forced to be more concise with my instruction! I hope I make this change permanent. The shortest explanation to our singers can either create more confusion or fall silent on their young minds. Even though I have a translator, I must wait for the translator to deliver the instruction then hope the translation was accurate.

Dr. Daugherty, Ph.D. at the University of Kansas, constantly stressed delivering remarks in seven words or less. This might be a hard fast rule for advanced or professional choirs, but it is certainly an efficient manner in which to manage rehearsals for younger choirs.

For the novice singer to the most mature singer, the use of gestures and modeling has become my modus operandi. At this stage, few of our singers actually need more explanation. They simply need to hear and see how the phrase is sung.

In the two videos attached, the Purcell Choir, 9-11 year olds, is singing Sanctus from Cornell’s Unison Mass. We added a breath mark after the highest note in the last phrase of the piece. The natural response is to clip the note while also accenting it. The only remedy was to demonstrate using the fingers of one hand to gently brush the palm of the other. Viola! The voice automatically matched the kinesthetic gestures used by the hands.

The Byrd Choir, 7-8 year olds, has been using Brahms’ Die Nachtigall to learn many elements of musicianship. It has served us well learning to:

  • count sing “1-2-3” in English
  • sing repeating pitches, rhythms and arpeggios
  • sing staccato
  • sing German text

We used the fingers of one hand to tap lightly the other in order to understand staccato singing and to understand where to put the final consonant. In this case the end of each phrase ended with a crotchet or quarter note. All the other notes in the piece are quavers and semi-quavers.

So much more can be accomplished in less time, when we apply a gesture to better understand the goal of our music making. Articulation and phrasing become instantly clear and without ever giving any verbal instruction. Accept the challenge to see how few words you can use in order to achieve amazing results.

Lynn Swanson, MME

The Piano Sound Board The Human Voice Box

Normally, our children rehearse in a room equipped with a digital piano. Because of our combined rehearsals in preparation for the performance at Chinese Conservatory, we re-arranged our rehearsal space. This meant three of our youngest choirs were able to practice with the Kawai grand. Not only was this good for them musically, but it also provided an impromptu opportunity to showcase how a piano makes sound and in comparison to how our voice box makes sound.

Most of our youngsters have never seen the workings of a piano much less what is under the lid of a grand piano. . .

Since the strings of a grand piano run parallel to the floor, it’s easier to imagine how our vocal folds are situated in our neck. Watching the piano hammer strike and observing the release of the damper, our youngest choirs (Byrd and Purcell, ages 8-11) witnessed the vibration that begins and heard the sound that happens. We compared this to the air pressure that causes the vocal folds to abduct and adduct in order to initiate vibration and create sound. We also noted the striking of the hammer as being similar to the collision our vocal folds make when we speak and sing. We talked about the speed of the hammer hitting the strings and compared it to the gentle or glottal onsets of the vocal folds. This also allowed us to contrast the difference between legato and staccato articulation.

They could also see the similarities between their small vocal folds and the piano strings in the treble register. Of course, their folds are not near as long or big in diameter, but they could see the difference in the size of strings at the upper end and the lower end. This helped them understand proportionally a little more about the size of a child’s vocal folds and adult female and male vocal folds.

We compared the sound board to our natural resonators, the throat, the mouth and our nose. We talked about the speed of the hammer hitting the strings and compared it to the gentle or glottal onsets of the vocal folds. This also allowed us to reinforce the difference between legato and staccato. Even though we have used kinesthetic movements to experience these elements of singing, we have now made another connection with the visual aid of the grand piano.

In our Purcell Choir the children are 9 – 11 years old. For most of them, it is their first year to sing in our choir. When asked how many study the piano privately, 14 hands shot up. That’s 60% of our class! Pretty impressive China!

I believe that by the end of our rehearsal, we made a lasting impression by pointing out the workings of the piano in contrast and comparison to our own voice box.

Just look at that shining face in middle of the frame! This is the afternoon Byrd class. . .

Laughing in Music

2 videos attached.

It never occurred to me that the singing of Fa la la could be the translation of laughing in song.

In many of our rehearsals at the Webb-Mitchell Centre for Choral Studies, the singers have a difficult time moving while singing. The notion is that singers have a stance almost like that of a soldier. They plant their feet and they don’t move. Of course, no movement at all only sets up a perfect scenario for tension throughout the entire body. This in turn affects the breathing. This tension and shallow breathing will of course have an impact on intonation and phrasing.

We are working hard to add movement, even if very slight, with everything we do. Kinesthetic movement with the well- known canon Dona Nobis Pacem has become the standard way we end our rehearsals. It surely sends the ladies home completely relaxed and dreaming of the beautiful sounds they have experienced in our lovely acoustic space.

We have added many vocal exercises that move from a very bright ah to a very relaxed ah. We are working to keep the tongue down and throat open so that we may support our sound with air. We have actually gone to the other extreme in creating a very aspirate onset in the beginning of all of our phrases. It is important for our ladies to precede words beginning with a vowel with the voiceless h to remind them of the sensation of singing on the air. Aspirating the h mimics a sigh which naturally opens the throat.

While we are busy at work understanding the difference between resonators and articulators, we are also working on our musicianship. Since we have conquered learning rhythms by putting the sequences in our feet, we have moved the sensation to our voice and are applying count singing to our study.

In this video, you will see these brave, intelligent and hard-working Chinese women, transferring  rhythms from the feet to the voice by count singing on a repeating tone. Then, you will hear the lovely English tune Now Is The Month of Maying by Thomas Morley. First, we speak the English text in rhythm, then we sing it. With the singing Fa-la-la, our focus is to let the tip of the tongue do the flipping to create a light-hearted laugh with the singing of “Fa-la-la” being sure to not engage the jaw.

You will also hear the r used in the word merry. We later changed the American r to a flipped r because it was just causing too much trouble for our non-native speakers.

I highly recommend this piece as it is a great teaching piece that differentiates the articulators from the resonators. The imagery of the piece is depicted beautifully in the melodic line. The phrasing is two to four measures and the text is repetitive emphasizing the importance of contrasting dynamics. In the key of F Major, it also aids in learning to sing an ascending major scale on a neutral syllable. Of course, it’s even more fun explaining what is meant by the words lad and lass, words we don’t use much anymore.