Hikes, bikes, swims, paddles, dog days at the beach, weeding, mowing, watching the fawn grow (poor fawn found while mowing, almost lost, but now at home in the marshy pond area and our meadow, mommy dear around we hope!); summers here! But here in the moment when voice is most tuned, we (me) stop rehearsing. Yes, some of you choir "whores" sing anywhere, anytime, but I, me, I pledged my vo8ce to the Bagaduce 16 years ago and I stay true. It ain't much of a voice, but under the direction of our intrepid Music Director, my voice is about 10X what it was in 2005. And I am as old as dirt. So, the message here, the hook if you will, is start singing and keep singing. You have no idea where it might go!
A great time was had by all at the Chorale After Party on a beautiful May evening at the wonderfully accommodating Blue Hill Farm Inn. This legendary event on the Blue Hill social calendar was attended by more than 90 singers, family members and friends who turned out to celebrate the season, and, more importantly, Bronwyn Kortge’s fifteen year tenure as Music Director of the Bagaduce Chorale.
After cocktails, appetizers and a delicious main course, festivities got underway with some opening remarks by Chorale President bigmouth Moi, who was, for the most part, coherent, with only a few mystifying digressions and, incredibly, just one off-color joke. Master of Ceremonies Gerry “Takin’ the High Road” Freeman yanked Moi from the floor and proceeded with the evening’s festivities.
First up was the newly established “Bagaduce Chorale Volunteer of the Year Award” to recognize the Chorale member whose service to the Chorale goes above and beyond. The first annual recipient was Dede Johnson who has, year after year, done the layout and graphic design work for the program books. Dede has put up with tons of pesky emails, innumerable last minute changes, missed deadlines (and frequently having to rush to get layouts done over Thanksgiving weekends). Gerry presented Dede with a Certificate of Appreciation custom designed by Dawn & Gerry (A hilarious spoof of “good” graphic design, replete with typos, a chaos of mixed fonts, and signed by our BORED PRESIDENT). In addition Gerry presented Dede with Ola Gjeilo’s Northern Lights CD sung by the incomparable Phoenix Chorale.
Next up was the presentation of “the gifts” and for some reason Gerry choose “home” as the theme tying the presents together. Douglas received a charming log cabin incense burner along with a $100 gift certificate to Arborvine.
Bronwyn also received a log cabin incense burner along with a charming illustrated children’s book called “HOMES” by an Oregon artist packed with drawings of homes in all their varied permutations. And then Gerry presented Bronwyn with a pair of lovely earrings designed by an Oregon artist that feature Oregon red sunstones. In case you haven’t put 2 + 2 together, Bronwyn was born and raised in Oregon, so Oregon would be her, ta da, “home” state. Plus, she also has a thing for rocks and stones that seems to have been passed down to her from her rock hound-father (we all have our crosses to bear, some are just heavier to carry around).
Next up, former president and longtime Chorale member Rich Howe offered his thoughts on Bronwyn’s first year and a touching recounting of the first time he saw Bronwyn (on the stage at The Grand during a G&S production). And this was followed by the eagerly anticipated Talent Show.
First up was Sarah on guitar doing a Brandi Carlisle (I think) song about being in the eye of a hurricane. This was followed by an utterly charming performance of The Daisy Song by Thea & Dell, two precociously talented gradeschoolers who were guests of our harmonica player, Ken Weeks. This was performed complete with hand gestures and pitch-perfect two-part harmonies. It was forty seconds long, exactly, forty perfect seconds!
Gerry than wowed the audience with his jeopardy like questions for new definitions of musical terms like rallentando and molte ritard (this seemed to be about the President of the Chorale somehow, but was way beyond his understanding).
Megan then played a delightfully simple flute piece, which, evolved into an incredibly complex series of variations that made us all realize (as if we didn’t already know this!) what a remarkably talented and natural musician she is. Wow, wish she had flunked something at GSA this year so that she could stick around for another year, but alas, college calls.
Dalyne than followed with a luminous poem titled “Merge”. If your humble reporter ever gets caught up on things, this poem will be posted on the webpage or facebook or something. This was followed by someone pretending to be both a poet and a singer, although the consensus of the audience seemed to be that he was merely an egomaniac who likes to hear himself talk and sing. He offered three very small, very simple, and very lightweight poems ostensibly celebrating our intrepid Music Director (with hard-to-fathom commentary in between (as stated above, he sure does like to hear himself talk)). And this “reading” was followed by a vocal tribute to Bronwyn (he was presumptuous enough to claim to be “singing this on behalf of all Bagaducians past and present”! The nerve!). Using (or so he claimed, with his barroom style of singing it was difficult to decipher a tune at times) an Irving Berlin tune “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” which became “Bronwyn we adore thee” he managed to get thru the song twice, because, what can I say, this guy just doesn’t know when to shut up.
All in all, a remarkable night after a remarkable program of songs that thrilled the audience and sent us all out into the night, burning so much more brightly, as we wound, wended and wandered our various ways home.
Still burning brightly, I remain your humble scribe
Dale Warland on what needs to happen before a choral group can make great music:
“Until all the essential details are in place, you cannot really begin making music. When I say “markings,” I don’t just mean only where you breathe but also exact pronunciation, dynamic changes, all the phrasing, the divisi assignments, et cetera…I try to instill what I would term basic or fundamental expectations. These are essential to start with before you can even think of making great music.”
Gee, Dale, notice you don’t even mention that other “essential detail”, better known as the notes. Seems like your assumption is that the notes are mastered outside of rehearsal and then all the “essential details” are added on top of them, and then, and only then can you expect to start “making music.” Which raises the question, if you come to rehearsal and you don’t even know your notes, how on earth do you expect to make music?
Ingemar Stenmark, possibly the greatest and most fluid ski racer of all time, could run a slalom or giant slalom course like nobody's business. People studied his technique, frame by frame, trying to figure out what he was doing that made him so much faster than everyone else. There were a couple of theories. One that he used wedges in his boots to boost the transition from downhill edge to inside edge at the top of the turn. Another was that he skied in what was referred to as the “A-Frame stance” and if you watched him ski you could see where that idea came from.
But I have my own theory about why he skied faster and more precisely thru slalom gates than anyone else. He did use the A-frame stance to roll from downhill to inside edge, effectively starting a new turn while still riding the downhill edge from the old turn. And he did use wedges in his boots, but so did a lot of other skiers back then. No, what I believe made him so fast was that he was better than everyone else at memorizing the course. Every ski racer tries to do this, to visualize every gate, every roll in the slope, every steep pitch, every side slope, so that when they kick out of the starting gate they are thinking one and two and three turns ahead. This is what allows you to set up for a gate instead of just trying to get around it.
Imagine if you a just a fraction late for a gate, the next gate you are a little bit later, and by the third gate you are off the course. Imagine Ingemar, he sets up above the first gate and knows just when he has to roll of that turn and into the next to get a highline on the next gate. Multiply this over 60 or 70 gates and you get lots of fractions of seconds disappearing and you end up high man on the podium.
Now imagine the Bagaduce Chorale is singing “Music Down in My Soul”. Imagine the printed music score is like a slalom course, each bar like a slalom gate, each run of gates (flush, open, closed) like a line or phrase in the piece, each roll, dropoff, side slope, is like the dynamic markings. So to be the world’s fastest slalom skier or the world’s most excellent choral group, you need to know the gates/music intuitively so that you can anticipate and prepare for the next and the next and the next run of gates/musical phrases.
Monday night’s rehearsal was the best of times and the worst of times. We were able to “run” most of the music (sort of like making most of the gates but not quite all of them and what that gets you is a disappointing DNF). But, while running the music is fun, very few of us were anywhere near “making music.” Any competent skier can run gates, just as any competent singer can sing notes. But to run gates like Ingemar, or to sing The Road Home like the Dale Warland Singers requires a long, hard road of preparation to build the base on which music making can occur.
Dickens always seems timely, …”it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope…” it was the time of hard practice, it was the time of great artistic rewards….we hope!
“Our business is recreation and resurrection – when we sing, we bring the dead to life” Robert Shaw, founder of the Collegiate Chorale (“a melting pot that sings” RLS).
Last night there was a piece on BBC America about the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Vienna Philharmonic. We were watching with some interest as they showed clips of legendary conductors and glittering audiences (did you know there is a six year wait for subscription seats, guess classical music is alive and well in Vienna). Towards the end of the piece they were talking to a retired clarinet player about what made the Philharmonic unique. He talked about the unusual social/democratic structure that makes the players as powerful as the conductor. He talked about how his father and his grandfather both played in the Philharmonic before him. And then he said something seemingly banal that nonetheless really resonated.
In the background the orchestra was playing the Skater’s Waltz, the strings pulling and stroking to create the sensation of the skaters’ blades pushing off and carving and arcing across the ice. And the retired clarinet player said every musician in the Philharmonic was striving for “the moment in music that allows our heart to speak.”
In that phrase, he captured the essence of what making music is all about and why we do it. We strive to learn the notes, to master the timings, to listen for the interweavings of voice parts, to incorporate the dynamics, to shape our vocal instrument to make beautiful sounds, all to conjure what the composer heard in her head and heart during the moments of creation. But what is truly magical about this process, what “allows our heart to speak”, is the fact that the performance of music can become more than the sum of its parts, that all the individual elements of the composition go thru some strange unknowable alchemy to create an emotional channel between singers and audience.
Thinking of some of the pieces in the spring concert, Homeward Bound, There Will Be Rest, Deep River, well, actually, just about all of them, the “heart” is pretty easy to spot in most of the lyrics. But that doesn’t mean that just by mastering the building blocks of the songs that we can open our “heart” to the audience. Just as the composer brought something to the creative process besides the tools of composition, we as singers must bring something from within ourselves, from our hearts, to help free the music from the bondage of staves, bar lines, notes, and markings. We must reach deep into our dark and dusty memory vaults to unlock our own emotional connection to the music. And when you think about it, the process from creation/composing to learning/performing is rather like first birthing the music, watching it die, and then standing awestruck (hopefully not because it begins to seem like an episode of “The Walking Dead”) as it is gloriously reborn in performance.
“To create a smooth legato line, sing vowels only until the vowels align with the beat. Then add the consonants back in "on top" of the vowel line” (Robert Shaw, no not that Robert Shaw, the other one, the “Towering Figure” of choral music sound) .
.Suppose building a musical phrase is not unlike building a house. Suppose there are discrete pieces; foundation stones, lumber, steel, windows, hardware, that, in careful combination, can create a homey cottage, a stunning light filled contemporary, or a garishly baroque overindulgence, like say, oh maybe, Mar a Lago. Well, Shop Teacher/Music Director Kortge has been schooling us on the fundamental building blocks used to construct the perfect musical phrase and a dim bulb lit up in this writer’s brain when she asked us to do a simple exercise that “could change your vocal technique forever and ever.”
Try, said MD Kortge, to sing a phrase leaving out all the consonants, all those hard-edged plosives and fricatives, those pesky phrase “disrupters” that can so totally take the “line” out of a musical phrase. Par example: the song “The Road Not Taken” by Randall Thompson, lyric by Robert Frost. Imagine the opening line “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood” with all those “disrupters” removed. What is left? “oo awoods eevehgd ihn ah ehllawoow oouhd”, all the vowel sounds (or something like this). So imagine the notes, the beats, in the line are the foundation of this phrase, some short, some long, all moving forward to the end of the phrase. The vowel sounds are the framework that builds upwards from the foundation, carefully “aligned” with the beats of the “foundation.” Now imagine the dynamics of the line are the siding,windows and doors of the phrase. And finally, imagine the hardware, the doorknobs and all the little doodads are the consonants, plosives, fricatives, sibilants and such, some hard-edged, some gentler, more subtly suggested.
Now here is the key thing; in order for the phrase to have “structural integrity” (not falling flat, not offending the listener’s ear) the vowel sounds need to be sung on the beat and the consonants need to be sounded just a wee little smidgen before the beat. And herein, eureka: another revelation (a slightly brighter bulb this time in writer’s cobwebby head). To wit, the only way to keep a phrase/line moving forward with the energy required to make it a thing of beauty is to understand that those dastardly “disrupters” need to come slightly before the beat. Otherwise as a phrase is sung, the singer will be falling behind the line, which results in rushed, less beautiful vowel sounds, and this leads to a bloating song “circle”. And the bigger the song/circle becomes the less it comes to represent the thing of beauty the composer first heard in her head. Or to put it another way, suddenly your dream home is way over budget, foundation and framing are misaligned, and, before your very eyes, it begins to wobble and weeble in the wind and here and there, little doodad consonants begin to break free from the line, carried away on the huffing wind of the not-quite-with-it chorus.
Or the Physics of a Thrown Baseball & the Forward Motion of Music
A conversation between a baseball geek and a geeky choral director (any resemblance to any actual choral directors, living or dead, is purely coincidental)
Choral Director (CD): Nice pocket protector, I like the color! And that retro shirt, it reminds me of one my father wore back in the sixties! So I’ve been wondering for like forever about the forward motion of music; it’s drive, it’s momentum, and the things that get in the way of that drive, that energy. One of the biggest energy killers is late, lingering, lazy cutoffs which lead to even later echoey entrances.
Baseball Geek (BG): Are you familiar with the cutoff man in baseball? No? Ok, say a line drive gets hit to the left field wall and there’s a runner on first. The shortstop will turn to the outfield so he can relay the throw from left field to home to get the runner from first who is trying to score. This cutoff has to be clean and fast in order to work.
CD: But don’t two short throws take longer than one long throw?
BG: Actually no. In order for the left fielder to throw from the wall to home he has to throw at a much steeper angle in order for the ball to reach the plate. If he makes a shorter throw to the shortstop the angle is much less steep, therefore the ball travels a shorter distance. The angle from the shortstop to the catcher is even more flat, therefore a much shorter distance as well. So even assuming the velocity of all the throws is the same, the throws that travel the flatter arc will get to the plate faster. Even accounting for the added step of the cutoff man catching, turning and throwing, it will still be slightly faster than one long throw.
CD: Right, I’ll trust you on the physics calculations. But I’m trying to figure how one long throw and two short throws have much to do with getting 80-odd singers (odd in the nicest sense of the word of course) to make clean cutoffs and clean entrances.
BG: So imagine the piece of music those 80 wonderfully odd singers ar trying to sing is a circle. It has a beginning point and the progression of the measures travels from the starting point round in a circle and back to the same starting point.
CD: Interesting, so you’re saying oh, I don’t know, “Music Down in My Soul” by Moses Hogan, ends where it started? Come on!
BG: Work with me here, just because I use a pencil protector doesn’t mean I can’t speak figuratively.
CD: OK, the “Music Down in My Soul” is a circle, proceed.
BG: So imagine that each line of the piece has a different arc, some are long and legato say and arc away from the circle in big taffy-like loops before reconnecting with the circle, and some lines are short and punchy, maybe just a couple notes that zip from entrance to cutoff, like that zinger-of-a-throw from the shortstop to the catcher. So all these lines make up the circle and each line has it’s own entrance and cutoff.
CD: I see, I see, yes, so if any one line is late on the entrance, or even worse, late on the cutoff, it extends the arc of the line outward and makes every other line arc out further, which….
BG: Increases the circumference of the circle….
CD: Which means, even though the piece still forms a circle it isn’t the same circle the composer imagined, it’s bigger and slower, and the character, the energy of the piece is changed as the circle grows bigger and flabbier.
BG: Well a circle is a circle, I don’t know about flabbier. But getting bigger is the same as if the cutoff man threw to home plate with the same arc as the outfielder would use to throw to home in one throw.
CD: You know, I think we are onto something here, because music is all about the lines, the throws in baseball, some are big and loopy going high and far and then back down, and some are short and direct and fast. But every line in every piece has an entrance and a cutoff.
BG: Right and the sum of those lines, plus the blank space in between, what you call rests and that sort of thing, makes up the totality of the circle, the totality of the piece.
CD: Well, yes, that plus dynamics.
BG: Dynamics, like in physics?
CD: Right, sort of, musical dynamics, like the physical/spiritual properties of the musical line, their temperature, their density, the energy they generate.
BG: (very excited, pulls pencils in and out of his pocket protector as he talks) Musical notes are like molecules, they have different charges and interact with other notes in relation to their charge.
CD: (very, very excited, conducting imaginary music while talking) Wow! Yippe Skippe! Music is a vast pulsating field of energy and composers pull the notes, lines and dynamics out of that energy, giving them a specific order going round a circle of a certain circumference. And musicians have to try and put all that music in that circle of a certain size.
BG: “A circle of a certain circumference”, I like that, figuratively speaking. What should we talk about next time?
CD: How about time and movement, straight time, cut time, syncopation, downbeats…..
BG: Time is relative….
CD: Oh yes, it sure is….
Or, "White Men Can't Jump", But Can They Sing Spirituals?
The River Jordan, the Ohio, the river to freedom; the rhythmic pull and pulsing power of the Spiritual forms the bedrock of our spring program. “The Road Home”, “Bound for the Promised Land”, “Deep River”, “Homeward Bound”, “Music Down in My Soul”, all spirituals. “Adiemus” summons a deeply guttural, if sharp-toned spiritual energy with the call and response of the two choruses. “There Will Be Rest”, with beautiful lyrics tracing a journey toward the peace and stillness of some symbolic home, heavenly or otherwise, even this choral classic has the yearning full feel of a spiritual.
So how do 70 or 80-odd white folks truly sing spirituals? My college choir director put at least one spiritual in every program. He was big old whitey-white Lutheran from St. Olaf’s and he would tell us, “It’s not who you are when you sing it, it’s how you feel when you sing it.” We did two long tours well below the Mason Dixon line which gave the spirituals we sang an added dimension that they didn’t seem to have when we sang them, say in Boston. We felt them alright, but maybe as privileged white college students we hadn’t lived enough to truly feel them.
Almost all the songs we are singing in this program have multiple layers of meaning. Spirituals, by definition, are loaded with messages, both direct and indirect. The “work songs” and “quiet songs” of the American South often metaphorically mirrored the longed for journey to freedom. That “Deep River” could be the Ohio that marked the passage from slave state to free state on the underground railroad. That “campground” might be both the safe gathering place for slaves after church and the dreamed of heaven of freedom.
So to “feel” these Spirituals we must internalize those shifts in the rhythm that pull the emphasis off the beat, glory in those “blue” notes on the thirds, fifths and sevenths that give these songs such rich tonal textures, let our imaginations plunge into the deeper layers of meaning in the lyrics, and feel in the very depths of our souls the life-force power of hope in a dark time.
And maybe, just maybe, if we do all that, we might launch these songs onto a higher ground and maybe have our audience join us for a fine old-timey picnic on the grassy lawns of that heavenly campground where freedom is found.
"It's a little known fact that singing in a chorus goes back to the very roots of the homo sapien experience. There are drawings on the walls in the caves of Lacaux that show stick figures in a singing group looking toward what appears to be a director or conductor who is waving a thigh bone in their general direction." Cliff Clavin @ Cheers, circa 1980....
So, Ok, not true, wasn't on the show, however, I am going play Cliff Clavin and give you the skinny on each piece we are singing. So here goes:
Hodie: First thing? Lose the "H", second use singlish on Alleluya and don't yodel that "ya" like a yokel. Third thing? Be light on your voice, be energetic, euphoric even, we are like the heralds announcing to the court that the great Bagaduce has arrived and is about to shock and awe us with it's musical splendour.
Regina: So we should all have the lyrics memorized on this one, we've got one phrase at the beginning and then it's all aleluja's all the time from then on in. So most important: see HODIE above on singing Al le lu ya. If you are unsure how it should sound, listen to recording and imprint it. Other than that, the secret to singing this piece? Be light, fast, bouyant, effervescent, be like Mozart himself, sing as though you are supressing a gigantic giggle. Have fun.
Pilgrim's Hymn: The antithesis of Regina, interestingly, the music is published by Subito Music, and the transition from Regina to Pilgrim is a pretty good example of Subito, from a gigantic giggle to a heartfelt and heartfull prayer. Plus it's acappela, nothing between us and the audience. Most important thing? All eyes on deck--watch Bronwyn. She wants to move this, she wants to pull it here, move it forward faster there, and you won't really find it in the music so watch her as though you are an infant watching your mother's face for cues, you want your mother's love right? And remember on page 5 how she wants us to end "spirit" and come in on "Even" at the same level, MP or she may even be cueing us to less than MP at that point (why we need to watch) so just remember the second verse starts just as quietly as the first verse ended.
O Magnum: Listen Louder Than You Sing. This piece is all about the dissonance and about how the lead line moves in and about amongst all the parts. Listen for when another part is moving and give them the spotlight, even if it just for 3 or 4 notes. For this piece to be as powerful as it can potentially be, a regular atom bomb of acapella singing if executed with excellence, two things must happen. First we need to stay on pitch, particularly the basses. Second, our tone and our vocal lines need to be consistent from beginning to end, any uncovered tones or singlish failures will stick out of our blend like a chunk of carrot left in your veggie smoothie. (Ask Bronwyn about the Waring Blender and the Dale Warland Singers).
Christmas Star: (From the movie Home Alone 2 which was even worse than Home Alone I) Imagine you are a child, maybe twelve or so, imagine it is Christmas, imagine your family has disappeared and you are left to guard the home front all alone for the holidays. Imagine you get lost, imagine you sing this song to the stars as you try to find your way back to your home. OK, I have no idea what actually happens in the second movie, but this works for summoning the mood of this song. Sing it as though you are both a twelve year old, but also an adult who knows how that for all grand ideas about the holidays, they can often be lonely and somewhat sad and the reality of "home" sometimes seems elusive at best. In short, sing this song with a pure, if full heart, and of course use that old Hollywood singlish, like the actors used to use back when talkies first began (they always sounded sort of vaguely British or prep-school toney, think Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, but I digress).
Angel Breathing: I wrote about this in yesterday's blog, so just a brief mention here. The music drives like a galloping stallion, make sure you are in control of the stallion and not the other way around. Also, be like the horse whisperer (or the dog whisperer if you prefer), angry shouting at an animal produces diminishing returns, angry shouting at an audience probably is not something we want to play around with.
Tundra: Your mouth is all rubbery, your jaw slack, your lips loose, practically flapping in the endless wind that blows across the bleak expanse of an upland nordic plateau where patches of gritty snow cling to bare craggy rocks. Ennunciation not an issue here folks, rather your job is to make sure the audience defintely knows when your voice parts note moved. Use the "surge" technique on either side of the step up or down to highlight your movement. Keep your tone covered at all times, otherwise frostbite is possible if you leave your tone sticking out of our blend.
Ave Maris: I've written a good deal on this already. But I would like to ask, what are the most important musical notation in this score? I would argu they are the rests. If you look throughout the piece, but particularly in the first and last thirds of the piece, MacDowell uses rests like crazy and to incredible effect. Whether it is when the Sopranos sing the first note of a phrase and all other sections have a rest and then follow (this dance happens a lot and it is so beautiful, I joyously listen to the sopranos first gesture, and then, like a puppet on their string, I follow a beat later. I would urge you to listen to the music with the score and watch for the rests. A lot of the power of this piece will be derived from clean cutoffs and observing the rest that follows. If we have folks la di dahing along and straying over the cutoff and bleeding into the rest, it could kill the magic. And this piece is super magical. Voice and stings echoing, dancing, pulling. I hope Bronwyn can get the playahs to really pull some incredible power out of their big moments and i hope we can match those moments when our time comes. Anyway, respect the rest!
Nearer MGTT: The more of this you have in your head the better of you will be. There actually only a few lyric lines and lots of repeats so it ain't out of the realm of possibility. Here ennunciation is important, be sharp and precise. And don't forget the little eighth note hop from 7/8 measure to 7/8 measure "DE RI Ge nos Do Mi Ne ad, that will keep us moving forward and give the piece the drive it needs.
Baba Yetu: First, summon your inner "big man and big woman". Ok, next use your mouth and lips with gusto (I urge you to watch one of the you tubes out there in fact here is a link to a Peter Hollens version that my son sent me https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17svtURunUk ) Check out how the mouths move, we really want to dig into these words, give them their full power. You gotta lose your "nicesortoftimidwhitemainepersonna" and really dig deep to summon the full power of this piece. Also when we are the backup to the solo, watch Bronwyn's cues for volume, let her have full control of the volume knob so she can turn us down or crank us up. Above all, on this piece in particular, let your heart swell up with the joy of the music, let the audience feel your joy, make them want to stand up and dance in the aisles.....
Well, time to head back to the place where everyone knows my name (the office).
(due to a strike by the Union of Proofreaders, this post has not been proofread, any mistakes are only partially intentional, and any relation to individuals, living or dead, is highly probable. So sue me!)
The House of Commons is famous for many things, but perhaps it's greatest claim to fame is the "civil" nature of parlimentarian debates. I put quotes around "civil" for good reason, watching the MPs debate is wildly entertaining, often loud, frequently pierced with that "mote juste" which we all wish we could produce on command.
What does this have to do with singing you ask? Not much, but the MP has a lot to do with singing. Which brings me to the next non sequitor.
Back before the turn of the millenium, I went with my better half to a music festival in Northampton MA. It was named, appropriately enough, "The Loud Music Festival". Let me begin by saying, I can state empirically that it was indeed loud, very loud. At one point when bands were setting up, I went over and chatted with the guy on the soundboard. I asked him, "so how are you mixing this?" He laughed and said "I'm not, everyone told me just crank their feed as loud as you can."
Well, the result, as you might expect, was a wall of sound in which it was hard to distinguish guitar from drums, vocals from keyboards, it was in sum, a big angry mass of noise, punctuated only very occassionally by a "mote juste" of phrasing, vocalization, or guitar riff. After a couple hours, we left to a brilliant spring afternoon that seemed painfully beautiful and so quiet, even though we were walking down Main St in Northampton.
So, my point, you ask. Consider "Angel Breathing Out.". Right now,our dynamic range is about equivalent to the House of Commons or the Loud Music Festival, loud, louder and really loud. And the funny thing about loud? It seems to have an angry edge even if you don't mean it.
Considers the markings of the music, they neither toil....yes, they are passive, but they beg to be observed. From the opening to measure 17....mp, then mf to measure 25, then back to mp to 37 then we get into a whole mf/f/ff/mf section that runs to the subito at measure 72, where, in a tender resolution to the conflict of the piece, we end, where we began, at mp.
There a couple notable things about this piece. First the somewhat haunting and cryptic lyric, that cuminates in the line "aware my soul is lifting". Second, the driving intensity of the beat, like stallions pulling us unceasingly forward. Third, the intensity of both the music and lyric: this piece is about the rupture of our earthly bond, on the wind and in our souls, we are carried into the realm of angels.
And finally, the song demands that we sing it with the intensity of a soul fraught with anguish and longing. An intensity that is expressed both in MP and in FF, but an itensity that has no edge of anger, no hardness to it, just an expectant, if anxious energy.
Hail Britannia, Rock on, explore the deep Grand chasm Canyon of vocal dynamics, and remember wise old saying "listen louder than you sing Grasshopper"