Thursday, 19 August 2010
Mundane and Magic
When we were visiting the Abbey in Yorkshire, one of the sisters was very keen to invite me to give workshops for the Panel of Monastic Musicians at the end of September. The course is in Llandudno, so travelling so far will be a juggle to fit it in around my teaching, and not be worn to a frazzle. As I said in an earlier post many of my students are taking exams this term!
When I do this sort of Masterclassing I always go back to basics. There will be monks and nuns from all over the UK, but all of them engaged in the musical life of their order so I know they will be musical and very competent which is great.
I teach them in exactly the way I teach any pupils, scales from the top down - yes you read correctly - top down. This is because it is much easier to produce a good head voice tone which then drops naturally as it descends, and so we do not kept caught up in the upwards drive towards using the chest register too high, thus it is a much more relaxed way of singing.
I use the English vowels OO EE AW OW, as it is much more likely that the native tongue sounds can be made consistent before venturing into Italian, German and French vowels. So we spend 5 or 10 minutes at the beginning of each lesson singing downward scales - with me vamping cheeky little accompaniments - on the aforementioned 4 vowels.....then we alternate vowels....then we do it faster or slower according to need, and just as the pupil is passing out with exhaustion we move on to songs!
I always keep in the pupil's 'comfort zone' for the first 5 mins, to remind them of the tone quality and where they are resonating it (or not!), and then move to the nether regions of their personal range as we go along.
It sounds very boring when written down, but it is the most valuable time in the lesson for me, it tells me everything I need to know about that voice, today. Is it well, is it happy, is it progressing etc. and believe me, with teenaged voices especially, it is my personal gauge of where technique is at. I have one or two under 25's who I now have to turn in a diagonal direction so they are not directing their full blown vocal attack head on to my ears! Painful but altogether very pleasing in terms of vocal growth.
It is not just decibels however, it means that they sing from the centre of their voices, and the smallest voice can knock me over with focus and ring if it is a jolly good vowel. I think temporary tinnitus must come as a 'get one free' with this job. The ring in my ears has dwindled by the weekend, only to return by monday evening.
Teaching is such a mixture of mundane and magic. I love the mundane, and I love the magic, but I can tell you, the magic NEVER happens without it's alter ego, just like life!