Choral Development Workshop - part 2

from David Reece (B1)

I have attempted to note below my technical recollections of Neil Ferris' fantastic vocal workshop with grateful assistance from choir members Fiona Edmondson and Richard Browne, and hope it provides a record of the educational value of the workshop for the benefit of choir members, or at least the majority of us who attended....

Just start singing........Splat!

Sing freely without any gripping in the throat. Do NOT tense up. This will make a much freer and sweeter sound and more resonant.

Men: engage lower abdominals approx one hand width below belly button to engage your breath flow and produce a well rounded body of sound. Don't sing from the larynx - it is a thinner sound and you will get tired and strained quickly. Women: your core area is even lower!

As you sing up and down the arpeggio in voice exercises "Throw the frisbee" (and following the arc of it on the way back down the arpeggio) - with sopranos managing to make top Db in the warm-up!

Generally breathe outwards not inwards. Blow out air like starting a pull cord lawn mower "chug a chug a chug a chug"! At every breath mark expel remaining breath and top up with breath (let the air come in, don't gasp), or "splat" i.e. start over again taking in a quick breath and blowing out air. This releasing top-up must be done like grease lightning so as not to make the next note late! Imagine you are stepping onto an already-moving treadmill or conveyor belt of airflow.

Do not tail off a note in your preparation for the next note (it may then sound flat). The phrase must be the product of a single consistent blowing out of air.

Practise this by holding the tune but wordless with exaggerated inflated podgy cheeks - you are breathing out a constant flow of air. Now introduce the consonants whilst keeping that same flow of air.

Large intervals on the same word - maintain consistent vowel sound throughout and it will sound freer and sweeter with less effort.

Through long notes keep the breath constantly flowing outwards otherwise the tail end of the note can sound flat, or detached from the next note.

At commas literally 'top up' and breath out the next phrase and sustain it till the end or next top up.

Brahms Requiem: Wie lieblich - For wie and lieb you must have same vowel placement = good support = keeping in tune.

Diphthong vowel sounds are important because getting them right means the line will not sound flat - e.g. deine = daaine. Also exaggerating a diphthong can assist in producing a desired crescendo eg meine page 32 in the Mendelssohn.

The exclamations Hi! Ha! Ho! hitting the hard consonant 'H' can set up a phrase perfectly with a freedom from gripping.

In long diminuendos on one note "messa di voce" the consistent blowing out of your breath will produce the desired diminuendo eg page 38 Elgar.

Support is nothing but steadily expelling the breath and keeping it flowing. Don't consciously fix the body in a "support" position. Don't worry about or prepare high notes, just put the breath through them and let them happen. Failure to keep up the breath pressure to the end of the phrase is one of the principal causes of flatness.

Debussy: pronounce Calme as Galme - ie a bit of a "G" at the start rather than sounding "K".