Daily Archives: December 18, 2013

Idler Ensemble Singing Week 5

For anyone that missed 17 Dec session, I’m copying the hand out below. We went through Gaudete, Sway and Carol of the Bells and decided where to put the dynamics in. There will be a run through on Friday before so you’ll have a change to hear where they are.

We also talked about nominating a favourite carol for a general sing-song after our specific songs. I’ll put up a video tomorrow as requested for It Came Upon The Midnight Clear, and I’ve also put in a video below for a lady who has some quite nice diction and articulation warm ups (which we also talked about.)

Idler Academy Ensemble Singing Week 5

The hard work of learning the notes has been done. Now it’s time to enjoy the feeling of singing with other people, and jointly communicating a mood and a meaning to the audience.

There’s going to be a difference in the way you sing Sway and the way you sing Gaudete. The first is a rhythmic appeal to dance, and will sound great with a relaxed but rhythmically confident delivery. The lyrics are about creating intimacy and connection with someone, and this invitation needs to come across in the way you sing. Gaudete on the other hand taps straight into all the cultural associations we have with Latin, church music, and a more reverent atmosphere; although it is celebratory, even cosmic, in mood and so retains a joyous quality.


Carol of the bells is bright and lively and the repeated motif lends itself to a crystal-clear sparkling delivery-imagine the sound of bells bouncing off frosty ground. When you’re concentrating on the notes and holding your parts with the other parts, the meaning of the words tends to fade, but when it comes to performing, it’s important to revisit the words and hold their meaning in your mind when you’re singing. Decide what meaning the song is intended to convey.


In addition to revisiting the lyrics with this in mind, and holding the meaning in the forefront of your mind while you are singing, there are some technical points that will greatly enhance your performance:


  1. Dynamics.  Today we will go through the pieces and decide where the music suggests crescendos and diminuendos. Contrast creates drama and interest in a performance and shapes a piece of music. For singers, it’s useful to distinguish between volume and ‘loudness’. If you try to sing loudly or go for a big sound that’s forced, it can result in over-singing which isn’t good for your voice and might sound rather harsh.

The dynamics of a piece would also include the places where the narrative intensity as indicated in the lyrics or the arrangement, builds and releases. If we sing at the same level all the way through, the audience will have trouble identifying with the song.

  1. Phrasing.  We’ve talked about where to put breaths in already, and for these pieces the phrasing is fairly intuitive. A phrase, in music, is the smallest musical unit which conveys a musical thought. You wouldn’t want to take a breath half way through a phrase. So the main motif in Carol of the Bells is a phrase, even thought it’s short. Even though you are probably already instinctively phrasing in the right way, it’s worth actively bringing your attention to bear on what you are doing, if only to notice your natural musical instinct!
  1. Articulation/pronunciation.  When you are singing in an ensemble, to get the lyrics across it’s vital to pronounce the words very clearly. There are some words that are a bit more awkward than others, and going through the music to pull them out for separate attention is well worth doing. For example, if a group of people sing a word that ends in ‘s’ and everyone finishes at a different time, it sounds a bit untidy and detracts from the beautiful sounds you are otherwise making. Confidence with notes also needs to be backed up with confidence articulating the words-even more so if they are in Latin.

Once you’ve given your consideration to these things, the most important thing is to enjoy yourself!

Practice sessions are the time to think about these elements and experiment with them, and performance is time to let go, enjoy the music and throw yourself into it. A mood of enjoyment will communicate itself very infectiously to your audience, who will thank you for brightening their day.

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Here’s a video on It Came Upon The Midnight Clear

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