Choir Singing

I imagine that this is old news to a lot of folks.  I was reflecting the other day on how I could become a better singer.  The truth is that by now, after singing in choirs for over fifty years, I know everything that I need to know about how to be the world’s greatest choir singer.  The problem is remembering all the instruction, advice, experience, and study when I actually have my mouth open with sound coming out.

I do forget various aspects of choral singing occasionally as I practice and perform.  It is as if I am a juggler who does pretty well, but drops a ball occasionally.

The best voice teacher I ever had worked very patiently with me explaining where my tongue should be placed when singing, and I do understand.  And when I am singing in her presence, I generally forget, and once in a while, receive a sad sideways glance.

Another tactic which I need to use is to read ahead in the score of where we are singing, so that  I am already prepared for approaching tricky words, or complicated rhythms, dynamics, or scariest of all, surprise rests that are waiting for me.  I even write “HURRY” or “THINK” a few measures in advance of certain difficult sections.  I usually am successful, but on occasion, for a beat or two, I sing as if I am not a tenor.

Controlled breathing is so important that singers are usually introduced to this surprisingly difficult concept right from the beginning.  Where did my lung capacity go, and why do I also now need to think about my back and knees just as much?  The juggling simile is in effect here, also.

Singing in a great choir makes lapsed moments easier, because my friends around me, being tenors, are singing perfectly.  This gives me a chance to catch my breath, return to my own standards of performance, and gather my wits about me.

So the next time you get to listen to Opus 24 in concert, know that as you see happy faces, that at least one of us has dozens of thoughts zigzagging around in his brain.  And this is why we practice as much as we do.

Bill Horton
Decatur Choral Society

Decatur Choral Society Scholarships

Since one of the Decatur Choral Society’s missions is to promote choral music in our area, we offer scholarships each year for high school students. All Macon County public and private school music teachers receive audition information in the late winter. These scholarships are currently for private voice lessons with instructors at Millikin University’s School of Music Prep Department.

The recipients of this opportunity must participate in a competitive audition for which they have submitted an application, written a brief autobiography, prepare and perform a solo for the audition, and respond to a panel of judges who have listened to their audition.

This is quite an intimidating experience for most young singers. It is also difficult for the adjudicators to choose those who will receive lessons. This spring they listened to fifteen applicants. The four recipients are high school students at Maroa-Forsyth and Eisenhower High Schools, and Decatur Christian School. The judges were Kelsie and Andrew Gallegos, Andrea Pope, and Christine Smith.

Scholarship recipients are either assigned a teacher, or continue with a teacher with whom they may already taken lessons at Millikin. Generally, the students will receive training in the beginning skills of singing. These include foundational techniques such as posture, breathing, and healthy phonation. They are exposed to methods to make the connection between breath and sound, clear and consistence resonance, and relieving unnecessary vocal tensions. Basic music theory is also covered, such as major and minor scales, triads, and sight reading. Song literature with basic musicianship including dynamics and phrasing is studied. Often, students have continued with their lessons after the scholarship ends.

For most choral singers, these skills were also our introduction to singing, and the foundation of our eventual love of choral music.

Opus 24 often has our scholarship winners perform a piece at our fall concert, which this year will be on November 25th, 2014. The nature of the program will determine if we are able to invite them to sing. It is always wonderful to see the leap of skill development from audition to performance. What must go through these teenagers’ minds as they perform in front of over 500 people, many for the first time?

If you have a young singer who will be in high school during the 2015-2016 school year, have them keep alert for our announcement about the scholarships.

Bill Horton
Decatur Choral Society

DCS Earworms

Aren’t they annoying, though? It’s OK to think of a song or a jingle or a melody a few times, but after hundreds of times I get pretty tired of them.

Sometimes they just slowly fade away. Occasionally I can get them out of my brain by consciously thinking another song several times, but that has its own dangers. I remember a few years ago having an earworm replay “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier” for several weeks. I liked the song when I was a kid, but not enough to reprise it as an adult over and over again.

I’ll bet that most of us have to tolerate these persistent music memories. I have a friend who told my church choir director that even though she missed rehearsal, she would do a good job on Sunday’s anthem because she had rehearsed it in her brain for the past week.

That happens to me a lot since I sing in two choirs and listen to a lot of recordings at home. I know that we should try to live our lives with a song in our hearts, but it would be nice to be able to turn one off in our minds.

I hope that after you hear the music in our next Opus 24 concert, you will have some of our choral pieces become pleasant earworms for you. It is as if Opus is getting free advertising in your head. I’d like to know a little bit about your earworms, so share your stories with me if you would like. Just don’t get them started in MY head.

Bill Horton
Decatur Choral Society