Ten Reasons To Sing In A Choir
Do What You Love To Do
You can do what you love to do – sing! – along with others who share the same interest. As you devote your time with this group of people, week after week, you become part of a "family" who understands and shares the same goals.
Be Part of Something Bigger Than Yourself
There's a place in a choir for everyone with some musical talent. If you love to sing but don't necessarily have a soloist's voice, this is your chance. A choir is a group that becomes greater than the sum of its "parts". The singers together with the conductor have the opportunity to really make music and create something artistic – together.
Develop Your Ear
Choir singing develops your listening skills like nothing else can. If at first the other parts confuse you and you need to shut your ears to be able to sing your part, in time you will learn to hear – and enjoy – the many different lines and sing your own part simultaneously.
DEVELOP YOUR VOICE
Your voice improves with choir singing. It becomes stronger, more stable, more controlled, its range stretching (lower and higher) than ever before.
Learn About Music
By making music in a choir, the secret of "WHAT IS MUSIC?" and how it really works is slowly revealed. How are songs structured? What kinds of rhythms create a certain "groove"? What is musical texture? Melody vs. accompaniment?
Let Your Emotions Out
Songs express the widest range of human emotions. Choir singing is the best outlet for all the feelings you have inside: sad, happy, spiritual, comic, dramatic…
Learn How To Read Music
You can (finally) learn to read music, or at least follow along with the notes, with relatively little effort. By following your own part in the musical scores you receive, you begin to see graphically what's going on and how the arrangement was written. By following this "map" of the music, those lines and dots begin to make sense.
Improve Your Self Confidence
The techniques of breathing, posture, focus, facial expression and stage presence learned in choir can be applied in other areas of your life, improving your overall self confidence.
Singing Keeps You Young
Learning new songs, concentrating on your own voice part in the music and memorizing lyrics are challenging to your brain and have been known to be effective in slowing down the aging process.
It Feels Good
After a long, hard day, you have something wonderful to look forward to. You leave choir rehearsal not tired but energized. Working towards and achieving a great performance is a wonderful feeling. Audience applause shared with your choir-mates is the best, natural "high" there is.
Breathing to your KIDNEYS?
Many are victims of the bad habit of shallow breathing - grabbing for air up in the high chest area (and sometimes – horrors! – even bunching up the shoulders!)
Start thinking - and breathing - with your "kidneys" - and by that, I mean your lower back. Open up your middle area and imagine the air being allowed in, widening your waist, expanding your lower back. And now here's the clincher: As you sing, KEEP YOUR MIDDLE WIDE! Don't collapse like a balloon that's had the air released from it, but rather push against your sides. You will be amazed at the length, strength and accuracy of pitch you can produce!
"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery"
We are all familiar with this old adage, but did you ever think we can also use it to improve our singing skills?
How about this exercise? Choose a few good "models" – singers whose techniques you know are impeccable, whose sound you love, whose voices move you. Go to the mirror and sing along with a recording of theirs, trying to imitate them as closely as possible. Note what happens to your breathing, your body support, the shape of your mouth, your vibrato, phrasing, dynamics … Like trying on clothing in a dressing room, check carefully what looks/sounds good "on you". By imitating their skills, you may be able to open up new and exciting possibilities for yourself. If you incorporate the good stuff, it will no longer be an imitation, but rather a new, improved you!
The key to proper singing posture: "REWS"
A common challenge for singers – before they even open their mouths – is how to stand. On the one hand, we want a posture that's straight, confident and conducive to supported singing, yet relaxed and audience-friendly on the other. So here's my key. Think "REWS"! Which is, of course, an acronym for
1. Feel like you have grown roots from the balls of your feet two floors down. These roots travel with you even as you walk or dance across the stage. Energy flowing downward.
2. Imagine an elevator going up the middle of your body. No one on the outside can see when it's working nor what floor it's on. Take that elevator and all the organs to which it is attached, and bring it up just a bit to the second floor. Energy flowing upward.
3. The entire upper body posture can be regulated by one simple image: think that you are standing under a pleasant waterfall, and the water is cascading down over your shoulder blades. This will take tension out of the neck and shoulders, and as a bonus, put your arms in place. Energy flowing downward.
4. Smile. Self explanatory!
The biggest enemy of good singing – a tight jaw!
Part of your singing warm-up regimen should be a thorough "jaw massage" to tenderize all those tight muscles surrounding your jaw. Our goal: a real "rubber mouth" that can be moved every-which-way just by touching it.
Find a relaxed, pleasantly rounded "oh" position. Experiment till you find the best sound you can make – resonant and clear – and check that the jaw does not tighten up.
This now becomes your "default" position: All other vowels sounds should come from that same "oh", changing your mouth and jaw as little as possible (while making sure your diction comes from clear, crisp consonants).
The Naked Truth
If it's so obvious, why don't we do it all the time?
When working on improving our craft, we need to hear exactly what we're doing – with no "crutches" or decorations. In choir work, the voice parts need to be sure they stand firm - acapella - without accompaniment. Have the soprano sing a "duet" with the baritone all the way through the song to hear how the two interact with no other voices or instruments. Then try the tenor and alto. All possible permutations. You'll catch all the mistakes, intonation problems, rhythmic glitches and gain an entirely new perspective. Only then should the accompaniment be added.
For maintenance – go back to this system as often as possible for a quick spring cleaning.
(Jean's re-discovered this system when, at the Canta Al Mar Festival in Spain last month, we had no rehearsal rooms with pianos. All our pre-competition rehearsals had to be done acapella. It was brutal at times, but it worked like a charm!)
If you're in the recording studio, you can save precious time and money by being bold: Listen back to your vocal track(s) while pressing the MUTE button on the playback. Again, it may be tough to hear every little mistake, but there's no faster or better way to get results!
Singing Flat? Think Pole Vault!
Have you ever heard a recording of yourself and winced when you realized that you are singing flat? You're not quite out of tune, but for some reason, the notes don't ring sweetly.
A good voice teacher can definitely help you, but why not try this exercise first?
Imagine that you are a pole vaulter and each note is a bar that must cleared. If you simply reach the height of the bar (the note), both you and it will come flying down! You must imagine yourself flying gracefully OVER the bar (OVER the note) as closely as possible, without actually touching it. You'll see that the bar remains intact … and you'll hear your singing get better!
"MAJOOLATION" (and thanks to Sue-Ellen Yeffet for the great title) is the art of singing with an Israeli MAJOOL date in your mouth! And why would one do this?
Because putting that fruit softly between your front teeth and lightly wrapping your lips around it produces the very best mouth shape for singing! Round, drawing the sound forward (thus preventing the sound from falling backwards toward the throat – a typical singing pitfall, no pun intended), and optimally open (not too wide, not too narrow).
Start by singing exercises on the vowel "OH" (see photo) then move on to all the other vowels (including "EE" – that one's very interesting) while keeping the date in place and making minimal modifications for the new vowel. Take the date out and put it back in throughout the exercise. Then try to sing a song while IMAGINING the fruit is in your mouth. You won't believe the results – smoother singing, more control, and for choirs, a far more unified sound! Promise!
Caress Your Notes
Everything in life is better when done with love. This is true for singing as well. Remember – every note is precious and must be treated with respect, warmth and love. So … CARESS each note – as if you were caressing the head of a beloved child. This creates a natural arc in the note, beginning somewhere in the middle and gracefully rounding over the top, actually keeping the note in tune and preventing it from going flat!
This principle is applicable to all styles of music: classical and rock, from lyrical ballads to kick-ass numbers.
SInging Is Acting!
The moment you stand in front of an audience to sing a song (even an audience of one!), you become an actor. You are not there to sing notes! You are there to relay an idea through the music, a feeling, a message, and your voice is just part of the medium. Use everything you have to do the job – your eyes, your head, your body, arms, legs… and most of all – your heart!
Be in the moment. To paraphrase a principle straight out of acting school: "Sing it as if you've just thought of it this moment for the very first time!"