First thing this morning, we were subjected to some of the really fun warm up exercises we do semi-regularly at St. George’s – for example, standing on one leg while singing a vocal warm up. This morning, I learned one of the reasons WHY we do that – it’s to remind our bodies of what it feels like when your breath comes in deeply and completely. We were also reminded that doing this with our choirs often will, over time, improve their breathing. Consider yourselves forewarned.
Other vocal fundamentals:
Wake up the head voice first – this lighter sound only uses the insides of your vocal chords, increases overtones and increases the ‘thickness’ (fullness) of the sound without being too heavy.
High pitches DON’T need much force.
Each voice has transition points – Sabine advises that when moving into your head voice (upper register), “leave some of your backpack at home, so that you can climb higher on the mountain.”
Breath comes in from top to bottom – and it’s VITAL that it as far into the bottom (pelvic floor) as possible for proper breathing to take place.
Today, I had my first critiqued conducting. Who knew – this conductor had a hitch in her conducting get-along…apparently I was raising one hip while conducting, without even being aware of it. Giselle stood behind me while I tried again and placed her hands firmly on my waist to ‘ground’ me – and there I stayed for the rest of the exercise.
Our beginner’s class is a really wonderful group – we come from a variety of background and experience levels, all brought together by our mutual love for music and a genuine desire to bring helpful tools and techniques back into our respective conducting homes. There’s lots of mutual support, idea sharing and questions grounded in the reality of the challenges faced by each conductor. There’s also lots of laughing – not AT each other, but WITH each other, as we face and embrace the mutual discomfort of being put on the spot in the front of the room while others observe and comment on how well we’re doing at an activity none of us feels adept at performing. It’s kind of like college speech class all over again – except the script for the presentation is the music and the ‘presenter’ isn’t allowed to speak, but must use facial expression and gesture to get the choir sing the script correctly. All right – it’s late and I’m tired – I guess it’s not really very much like college speech class after all.
Drs. Giselle Wyers and Jim Jordan have been wonderful teachers, giving each of us plenty of individual attention and specific instructions on how to improve our conducting techniques. We also learn from what is being taught to everyone else in the class. We were taught today how to ‘reach our center of power’ – an exercise that consisted primarily of squatting, knees bent slightly, bent forward at the waist, breathing in and huffing deeply and loudly like some kind of gorilla tribe staking out their territory. It was very primordial, and for some inexplicable reason, it felt REALLY good.
Gems heard in class today:
Singers read the conductor’s ‘center,’ not their gestures. The gestures are just additional information.
If you want to know where artists live, think of plants. Half the plant is reaching for the sun, gathering the elements needed to complete photosynthesis and to achieve growth. The other half is grounded and taking root – reaching deeper for the elements needed from the soil and water to continue to grow. Where those two parts of the plant meet is called the crossing point. Artists live in the crossing point.