Thursday, March 30, 2017

General Observations on Singing

Some advice for choral singing from nearly two centuries ago, courtesy of The Sacred Harp. HT: Bass Tim Rhodes. I think you'll agree this is still quite valid today, even though we do not sing in Sacred Harp style.
Persons may be well acquainted with all the various characters in music; they may also be able to sing their part in true time, and yet their performance be far from pleasing; if it is devoid of necessary embellishments, their manner and bad expression may conspire to render it disagreeable. A few plain hints, and a few general and friendly observations, we hope, will tend to correct their errors in practising vocal music.
Care should be taken that all the parts (when singing together) begin upon the proper pitch. If the parts are not united by their corresponding degrees, the whole piece may be run into confusion and jargon before it ends.
It is by no means necessary, to constitute good singers, that they should sing very loud, and if the singers of any one are so loud that they cannot hear the other parts, because of their own noise, the parts are surely not rightly proportioned, and ought to be altered. How hard it is to make some believe soft singing is the most melodious; when, at the same time, loud singing is more like the hootings of the midnight bird than refined music. [1]
In applying the words, great care should be taken that they be properly pronounced, and not torn to pieces between the teeth, nor forced through the nose. [2]
The superiority of vocal to instrumental music is that while one only pleases the ear, the other informs the understanding.
Too long singing at a time injures the lungs. A cold or cough, all kind of spirituous liquors [3], violent exercise, too much bile on the stomach, long fasting, the veins overcharged with impure blood, &c., &c., are destructive to the voice of one who is much in the habit of singing. All excessive use of ardent spirits will speedily ruin the best voice.
There should not be any noise indulged in while singing (except the music), as it destroys the beauty of harmony, and renders the performance very difficult, and if it is designedly promoted, it is nothing less than a proof of disrespect in the singers to the exercise, to themselves who occasion it, and to the Author of our existence. [4]
All affectation [5] should be banished; for it is disgusting in the performance of sacred music, and contrary to that solemnity which should accompany an exercise so near akin to that which will, through all eternity, engage the attention of those who walk in climes of bliss.
If singers, when performing a piece of music, could be as much captivated with the words and sounds as the author of the music is when composing it, the foregoing directions would be almost useless. We should therefore endeavor to improve the talent given us, and try to sing with the spirit and with the understanding, making melody in our hearts to the Lord.
The Sacred Music Press takes pleasure in sharing these quaint admonitions, written 150 years ago, and this page may be reprinted. However all other material in [The Sacred Harp] is protected by copyright and it is both unseemly and quite illegal to reproduce it in any form whatsoever without written permission of the publisher. Blessed are they who respect the copyright laws and keep them, for they make publications such as this possible.
[1] I recall early in my choral singing career, a musically-minded friend of mine said, "I could really hear you!" It took me a while to realize that was not a compliment.
[2] Kathy only reminds us of this at every rehearsal warmup. 
[3] For Kathy's sake, I assume this does not include wine. 
[4] Also applicable when Jennifer, Nancy, or another organist is playing a prelude or postlude piece.
[5] Defined as "behavior, speech, or writing that is artificial and designed to impress." Kind of like this blog...?

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