.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.