I had such an interesting and stimulating day with the Royal School of Church Music workshop yesterday. The full course was held in the Priors Hall which is in the incredibly beautiful Durham Cathedral Mews. I was a little unsure as to what exactly they wanted from me, but after a few brief moments of introduction I realised the participants were simply hungry for practical ways of helping their various choirs and singing groups on a technical level. I immediately drew upon my teaching of the nuns whom I visit, and fell naturally into that comfortable place where I try very hard to impart simple, clear and definite advice for non technical singers, who need 'something to actually do', rather than to 'think about'. I think that often very erudite and knowledgable singing buffs talk technique using complicated jargon and complex concepts which may sometimes confuse rather than promote good technique, and perhaps over my many years of working with children and teens I have managed to work out the simplest ways of passing on my own hard won knowledge.
I tried to give it to them straight ! I must say they respond beautifully and seemed to take onboard the straightforward idea that four clean and positive vowel shapes make for a unified and warm choral sound. If all the singers are trying for the same shape the sound becomes focused, and a good deal stronger. I had the joy of young Joseph who was my demo man - he rose to this challenge like a small professional, never wavering in his exemplary mouth shapes, and showing the rather astonished audience how beautifully ringing a youthful sound can be. I could not have done without him, and he was 150% reliable - he will need a fee the next time !
In an hour it has to be the vocal bullet points, and only those. Too much information is useless, too little equally so, and over the years I have realised that........
A) Vowel shapes - then asking the participants to write on a text which vowels they think will fit !
B) scales from the top of the octave - ie always in the Head Voice.
C) Breathing by filling the tummy balloon - ie Abdominal wall support.
D) Standing well - ie Shoulder in line with hip.
............is the best I can give in the time allowed.
Making the directors, organists, worship leaders and composers participate in all of these things and feel their muscles working is vital, and yesterday's groups responded like true soldiers and really went for it ! I have a few small memory tricks to use, and then some immensely tricky tongue twisters to add bounce and fun at the end of the session.
I am 'picture' woman, and visualising something which you can then put into action is the best way I know, and seems to work. I think the gathering left feeling as they had something tangible to take away, enough to really help yet not so much that it was an overload of knowledge !
Miranda sat at the piano and helped enormously with the practical sessions and with Joseph showing them the mouth shapes so beautifully, I couldn't really lose !
We did it all over again for a second group ! I think I almost know the script now !
What glorious venues I have the privilege of inhabiting !
ps - I was even asked if I had written a book which folk could buy, by a lady who was insistent that such a short tome published on Kindle, and downloadable was needed. She seemed nonplussed that I had not done so ??? On getting back to Miranda's house, her husband, academic historian and fine choir director ( and baritone!) looked at me and said 'Well it was always coming, you know that!'
Do I ?