The Good, The Bad, and The Good.
Updated: May 30, 2019
In rehearsal today with my men’s choir, we were working on on a lovely arrangement of Loch Lomond. This is a well-known standard, which is both good and bad.
The guys were singing the melody this morning with too much familiarity – what I call “hockey-game-itis”, because it’s a song often sung haphazardly in large groups, at the top of ones lungs. Sloppy rhythms, oversinging, questionable tuning (largely because of oversinging), lots of inappropriate swiping, you name it, it was there.
So we took it apart, starting with some “pendulum swingers”, where we practice something radically differently from the way we have been doing it, with the idea that the pendulum will come back to centre – in this case, get rid of the text for a few minutes and have them sing on a matched, quiet ooo, as if it was a lullaby rather than a drinking song. This got them back to listening around the ensemble, and did great things for the synchronization and oversinging; but when we put the text back in, they were still singing too much to the words and not enough to the musical phrase.
To deal with that, we put aside the consonants for a moment, and sang it just on vowels – this is always a brain-twister, and so useful for getting melody back into the music. We did it twice this way, then put the consonants back in, and presto! It was much, much better. Beautiful, long, nuanced, musical lines. And because you must practice it more right than wrong, I asked them to sing it once more that way, to solidify the changes.
Now, normally, I would have stopped at that. But today I decided to try something I’ve been reading about, the “+ – +” practice: I asked them to do it again twice, once the old (bad) way, and then right away the new way. As they sang it, I watched their eyes light up, and I realised that this was a change from the our usual level of understanding.
See, it’s one thing for them to understand that whatever it is that they are doing now is making me happier than what they did before. Because they trust that what I’m asking for is an improvement, they will work hard to achieve the sound that I tell them is better, trying to commit the “feel” of the “right way” to memory. The problem is, that is based on my perception, rather than on theirs.
When they do a good-bad-good comparison, they get direct reinforcement not only of what they are trying to do, but also of what they are trying to avoid doing. Not only that, but they are hearing – and feeling – the difference directly for themselves, so they now know which is which, without my having to tell them. Which makes it that much more likely that they will sing it right when next we rehearse it, with the bonus that they now have this feeling to refer back to when next I ask them to sing something with “more line”.
Meaning that even though this takes an extra minute or two of rehearsal time, it will save me time later on. Definitely worth doing.