Training resources -sacred music, choirs, the whole shabang!
  • Hi all!

    I would like to find out what kind of training the average chorister, choir member and organist needs as well as the kind of information you would require to improve your music programs or persuade your priests in an average parish.

    I am in the process of creating free manuals and recordings and would like to know some of the materials or services that you would find useful for me to develop.

    Please keep the ideas coming!
  • donr
    Posts: 942
    @Priestboi, If you are creating free manuals and recordings send them my way.

    All I can do is tell you my situation and hope that it helps you to help me.

    I have an all volunteer choir and I am a volunteer Music Director.
    My hopes and dreams are to have Sacred Music in the church with a real paid Director someday. But in the meantime our little church has what it has (me).
    I am not a degreed musician but have taken music lessons privately from instructors and on the internet (currently taking organ lessons from Frogman Music internet videos).

    So to answer your question:
    I would like to see videos on proper breathe technique, diction, stance, Latin pronunciation, actually an language pronunciation that one would use for Mass (German, Italian, Polish, French, etc). Listen to recordings on Youtube only gets you so far.

    It is important to me to get the choir trained properly so that when they have an experienced or properly trained director, he/she doesn't have to start from scratch.

    A video series that would help directors like me would be much welcomed and appreciated.
    Thanked by 2Priestboi canadash
  • That is exactly what Im looking for!

    I have some ideas already, but it is important for me to forget what I think is correct and and necessary and hear what others are looking for and what they need.

    Thank you for responding! I appreciate it very much!
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,438
    Sounds like a very worthwhile project. We have used Sight Reading Factory to help choir members who can't read music. A program like that is very helpful.
    Thanked by 2Jani Priestboi
  • ->Breathing is of crucial importance. It is foundational to healthy singing.
    ->Diction is a must, and goes hand in hand with tonal production. This includes use of the soft palate, forward placement of lips, jaw and cheeks to produce the best and most understandable vowels. It also includes precise use of tongue and lips in the performance of consonants. Both of the above necessarily involve careful and precise teamwork so that everyone's vowels and consonants match in quality and occur at the very same time.
    ->A tutorial on basic note values and metrical relationships, and a rudimentary grasp of musical intervals would be very helpful.
    ->Explanations of the five- and four-line staves would be helpful, as would how to use the G clef, F clef, and movable c and f clefs.
    ->An explanation of the most basic neumes would be helpful.
    ->Teaching a choir at least very simple square-noted plainchant as well as later musics should be presented as a normal given, not as an extra, exotic and optional add-on.
    ->Posture, erect but relaxed, not rigid nor stiff, needs to be understood.
    ->Simple sight-reading exercises and vocalises should be included, as should be solfege.
    ->An elementary grasp of the characteristics of monophony, polyphony, and chordal textures would be helpful because each of these governs how the individual chorister relates to his confreres and the other vocal parts.
    ->How to listen, consciously 'singing with one's ears' is very important. Listening to self, to others, and to 'the room' is invaluable in good singing, whether solo or choral. This is essential for the greatest prize of all: a blend that makes one voice of twenty.
    ->Correct holding of music before the face- that is, how not to obstruct the voice with improperly held music, and the added benefit of the importance of eye-contact with the choirmaster. (Simply put: how not to bury one's face in the music and become self referential.)
    ->It cannot be stressed too greatly that 'getting one's notes' is but the beginning of making music. This, in and of itself is of little musical worth, a mere skeleton, bare scaffolding. The understanding, appreciation, and learning of nuance and musical poetry in line and phrase is something that needs to be stressed from the very beginning and constantly reinforced.
    ->Teach singing by singing. Singing what you want to hear is of far greater tutorial worth than plunking out parts on the piano or organ, Too, and of great importance, this teaches nuance over pitch. (I have even heard people teach plainchant by playing the notes out on the organ. The result, predictably, was neither music nor chant.) So you have little or no vocal training yourself? Go out on a limb. Challenge yourself to sing with at least a modicum of nuance. This will communicate far more than a pitch from an instrument.
    ->I haven't even touched on choir spirituality and devotion to the object and purpose of our singing. These, of course, being the moralising inspiration for why we go to so much trouble, take such pains. The awareness of these factors are embroidered throughout teachings about all the above.
    ->Also, I haven't touched on choral dialect. I have always favoured and will always teach a rather basically Britishesque pronunciation as being more euphonic than typical American accents. More recently, though, I have come to think that the important thing is that every single chorister knows and understands the same accentual style favoured by the particular choirmaster. If one doesn't wish to 'sound English', then make one's sound to be a very artful and consistent Americanism. Artfulness, a flawless blend, nuance, textual communication, and a sense of musical poetry are the Parnassus of choral singing.
    -> A final note: don't disparage unison singing. It might be valuable to have one's choir to sing only in unison until they have done so with an admirable blend. There is no greater teacher of group diction, group rhythm, and group nuance than unison singing, chant or otherwise. There is, in fact, an appreciable amount of unison literature that is serious music and is not to be sneezed at. Check your Oxford, Concordia, et al., catalogues.
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 987
    I've created workshops and such, and it can be such a great learning environment for everyone. But putting something out on video scares the heck out of me, primarily because of what I observe around publication of scores on this forum.

    Everybody has an opinion, especially when it comes to artistic interpretation.

    So if I recommend to a workshop group that they should sing an R in English with a light British touch, or as a single flipped R in Latin, I rarely get complaints. If I do, it's easy to respond that "it's most important for us to all do it the same way, and this is the way I choose to lead the group."

    If I make that recommendation in a video, I worry that everyone will hop on with comments about fifteen different ways of doing it. Since I have no degree in such matters - I've just learned from the best CMAA has to offer - I just have to cower behind the supposed expertise of the commenters.

    Maybe I have a fragile ego, but I think that's a primary reason why 90%+ of people on any forum never say anything. They don't want to be the object of shredding which can take place when people get into heated online discussions.

    I'm quite grateful that people haven't taken this attitude to the Colloquium Recording Archive, but suspect that it's because most people have never bothered to investigate the resource. Most comments I get are extraordinarily kind, and I don't permit comments on the pages themselves.
  • Really great suggestion JulieCol and M.Jack Osborn, thank you! I will have a look at the sight reading program and also think through the points you have provided.

    @Carl D, yes, interpretation is something very individualistic, and at the end of the day (and people will hate me for this) there is no "right" way-there are only more informed or less informed performences. If you try and do something in a HIP (historically informed way) then there should be no problem.

    Being from an ex-British colony, pronunciation is as close to British use as possible for songs that come from that time or place, for south African music I feel that a more "natural" (natural for south Africans) accent should be used and for american work or others as close to that sound as possible. I think it just sounds better to emulate a region if it is region speciffic. You would not use British/South African/Indian-English or Chinese-English for Sacred Harp or spirituals, instead you would use these various or "colour palettes" in context.

    When it comes to Latin, it is difficult. I do not like the way Italians pronounce the words, yet they may be closer than we are! I like the rhythm Italians use, so I use that, and I prefer a "natural" English pronunciation - Too British sounds silly and over the top, while too American (yes, I went there) sounds flat and almost stringy (like taffy-we call it toffee). Somewhere in the middle would be nice.

    In a nutshell - be who you (pl. i.e. choir) are in context. Sound, blend etc. don't need to change necessarily, but the right amount of adaption in the right place could be magical!

    I come from the Norwegian school of conducting, so I may have a different set of values when it comes to interpretation and performance. But at the end of the day we all try to strive towards the same goals :D

    Some Videos of my conducting teachers conducting

    Just for fun - The African of South African
  • Many thanks, Priestboi, for these examples of music from your country.
    I think that your ideas about regional dialects is quite reasonable.
    There are times when faithfulness to speech patterns make sense.
    There are also times when we should want to eliminate any trace of Texas or Appalachia. et al., from our performances.
  • Q M. Jackson Osborn - I agree wholeheartedly!

    I think that in Latin vowel neutrality is key. Ah (father), eh (Ben) sometimes "ay" depending on the Italian use-im quite divided on this one, i (machine) , oh (boar-American English brightens this vowel too much) ALSO never "oh" as in "grove" - it just sounds silly and is popular in England) oo (moot/boot). All voewls should remain high and forward, with the tongue relaxed IMO.

    Schola Cantorum (Norway) does a very good job on vowel neutrality and working with foreign languages- pronunciation may slip once or twice, but not always very noticeable. Something to look into!
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,055
    'Vowel neutrality' strikes me as an unfortunate expression. If absence of diphthong is meant, then "vowel purity" conveys that. If instead open quality is meant "open italianate vowels" is understandable. I'm confused by the "boar" "grove" example, which is a pretty fine distinction in Californian as I speak it, though the first is maybe a little bit less closed. In Latin Italians tend to carry over their language's distinction between é, è, ó & ò and I also pronounce the last vowels of Domino and bene more closed than the first. But Italian é is of course much less closed than French.
  • @Richard, thanks for adding to the conversation!

    Unfortunately I am not well acquainted with the many American "dialects". I think that vowel purity is definitely a better way of putting it. If there is meant to be a diphthong then it ought to be there. The boar/grove example is from what I perceive an average American sound would be for "oh", perhaps the "oh" in "pose" vs. "north/born" would be a better example?

    In South Africa, the vowels we use in the Latin sound as if they have been coloured slightly by the way we say them in Afrikaans in the video above, "Ubi Caritas".

    I really do not like the way the French and Scandinavians pronounce Latin at all, but it could be argued that this is an organic and natural occurrence and should be retained there.

    Any thoughts?
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,055
    I'll have to listen to the Afrikaans vowels later. Your examples north/born like boar complicate the issue with r's, so I'm not sure if I guessed right that you like a more open vowel than "pose/grove" or whether it's the w diphthong that that strikes you as 'silly'.
  • Priestboi -
    You say that you lean to, or were trained in, a Norwegian choral style.
    Could you discuss briefly the characteristic of such, as distinguished from
    an English one, or an distinctively American one?
    My experience with Lutheran (and therefore presumably Teutonic heritaged) style is that this is a very direct, more consciously metrical, almost primitivistic and lacking in the gracious nuance, subtle dynamic, and fluidity that is characteristic of an English collegiate or cathedral choir, in which the metrical element is subtly subsidiary to, often subsumed in, word rhythm. Your comments? (Or, anyone else's?)
    Thanked by 1Priestboi
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,333
    My experience with Lutheran (and therefore presumably Teutonic heritaged) style is that this is a very direct, more consciously metrical, almost primitivistic and lacking in the gracious nuance, subtle dynamic, and fluidity that is characteristic of an English collegiate or cathedral choir. Your comments? (Or, anyone else's?)

    Well, I'm anyone else...

    I have noticed this also. I've always attributed it to a theological preference towards congregationalism and against (perceived) elitism. But maybe it's more culturally ingrained (that is Germain/Teutonic) rather than theological.
  • @ M. Jackson Osborn and @ Adam Wood - I have also noticed the same thing.

    The underlying questions we ask are the following:

    1.What is the meaning of the text for the purpose of word colouring?

    2.Where does the rhythm of the text go and where does the harmonic progression and melody go? (i.e. move towards your cadences if there are any and the use of melodies for "word painting")

    3.Then we ask what is the historical context, language use/dialect/pronunciation (we usually ask a native speaker to help with foreign languages) and

    4. What are the techniques of the era that are involved etc.

    We then look at whether a pattern or a tactus suites the piece. If a pattern, we choose the best pattern. There are three main patterns for simple meters and then a variation for compounds of every description.

    The patterns are very different from the books that I have seen that come from USA and UK. The closest would be found on this child music education site: - a moving focal pattern, but in the same horizontal plane (I will have to create a drawing).

    We feel that the most important concept in the conducting of the pattern is breathe and flow, the hand merely becomes the extension of the breathe. This said, all patterns find their power in gravity and the resultant momentum coming out of the falling action of the arm, wrist and hand, hence why the conducting pattern is usually much lower and subtler than the German/English and certain US methods.

    We then simplify the pattern and "do" only as much as is necessary to convey our intention and avoid creating "speed bumps" as with a regular pattern. The result is what you see in the videos.

    Total relaxation and simplicity is key to keep the choir's sound free from tightness/striving/forced qualities and also to prevent vocal injury in the chorister and muscle injury in the conductor. Conducting should be effortless-if you feel sore or even uncomfortable at any point, your body is telling you to find a better position.

    I confess that after learning all the patterns and the tactus, 90% is tactus with moments of patterns. All of these are tools and not means to an end. Getting bogged down with patterns can be problematic. Though flow is important, you will notice that perfect precision is also present.

    For a good view, check out this videos: Modified tactus-as simple as it gets with a beautiful flow.

    More videos here:

    I will ask my teacher to create some videos in the future from the frontal view, as my technique is not quite there yet-or maybe I will put on a brave face and make a video in the near future.

    I hope this makes sense. I know that my teacher is busy writing a book on the Norwegian style and will ask him the details-I'm rather keen to have all his knowledge and pearls of wisdom in my library!

  • If any of you have questions about Sight Reading Factory, please PM me. (My husband is the founder.) I can help with suggestions on how to use in a group setting or how to send assignments to your choir members. A few minutes of your rehearsal dedicated to sight reading/singing pays off big later on! I may be able to twist his arm into a CMAA discount if anyone is interested.
    Thanked by 2canadash Priestboi