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.

 

Teaching German text to Chinese Singers

Teaching German to Chinese Singers

In some ways, it’s easier for a choir to sing a foreign language than it is to sing in its native tongue. The reasons may or may not be obvious. Every language has socially distinct varieties that will differ from its standard language.

In the Zhuhai Classical Children’s Choir, the children sing in Latin, English, and Italian. They are now preparing two pieces in German. The first is Beethoven’s Merkenstein for alto and soprano voices. The second is Schubert’s Psalm 23 for four-part treble voices.

The two select choirs named Elgar and Britten are capable of reading English. For the most part, they have been singing Latin and English for a few years. They performed the choral score of Madame Butterfly in Italian of course, with orchestra and professional soloists this past June.

Now, we are teaching them German. Just a quick note, many of the English sounds made for our language are not a part of the Chinese language. Imagine the confusion, when after having read English for a number of years the “w” is suddenly pronounced as a “v”. Then, there is the even more explosive ending consonant necessary in the German language. “Und” must be pronounced with an exploding “t”.  The final syllable “en” becomes an “un”. Let’s not forget that singers must suddenly remember to make an “sch” sound for what is an “st” sound in English. The umlaut has not been as big of an issue as expected even though they do not encounter this production in English or Chinese. For the most part, the greater issue is the brain making the switch as to how a certain vowel or consonant differs from English to German.

They are relieved to know that the “th” sound only appears in English. I have found this sound to be by far the most difficult blend for Chinese children to produce. Of course, I believe it is a difficult blend for English speakers as well. Even in well-rehearsed English singing choirs, the “th” often comes across as a lazy sound because the tongue is allowed to remain behind the teeth.

I have included two excerpts from a tutorial session with three of the boys that sing in both select choirs.

They have only been learning this piece, notes, rhythm and now text for three rehearsals.