Stand up straight, hold your music high, face forward.
  • The protestant need to see the choir perform has badly influenced Catholic choirs, even those who are aware that choirs do not sing for the people.

    When in Nashville I observed the Men's Schola very capably directed by Justin Adams singing from their loft, singing beautifully. One of the many things that impressed me was that each singer had a music stand, adjusted high, to sing from. Why tell singers to stand up straight and hold a heavy book, thus forcing them into a position that might not be the best for singing? This is like teaching a runner to hold her arms absolutely still while running, putting a restriction on the natural movement of the arms while running. Singing is a physical activity, the freer the singer is, the better that they can sing.

    Gregorian Chant was once sung with singers not being encumbered with books.

    image

    There are so many choir lofts that have straight platforms and even pews that force the singers to all face forward. But singers sing best when they can hear each other. Rehearsing in a half circle is a much more natural way to bring the group together. The worst singing position has to be on a singing Christmas Tree, in which everyone faces away from the group!

    If your choir is performing for people, then it may be appropriate to face the people. But in the Liturgy we are not singing for the people.

    image

    Notice that in the first picture the monk is turning pages and looking up at the pages. In the second picture monks are holding books. All of them have tilted their heads down. Orchestral musicians do not appear to watch the conductor intently, but their seating and the podium height permit them to observe over the music in peripheral vision what the conductor is doing. If we can free singers from holding books, placing high music stands so that their eyes may observe the director directly over the music, then an ensemble has removed many of the factors that can hold them back from singing at their full potential.

    Of course, the singers in the second group are arranged in a circle so that they may hear each other - but imagine the appearance of them all looking up at the director and the music.
    Thanked by 1tomboysuze
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,431
    Really important considerations, Noel.

    I would love to have music stands for all my singers.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,605
    A V-shape can also be good, with singers facing nearly halfway inward rather than straight forward. But a lot depends on the acoustical context, as always.
  • I've never seen a V used, as the open-sided circle is used to create a sound in the middle...how does it work?
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,605
    It's just not curved, but pointed; it's an adaptation that can make sense in certain spatial contexts. The focal point (or line of points) is not within the V but outside it depending on how people are angled. Still, people can see and hear each other well, et cet.
  • Music stand that can be built for choirs by a eagle scout as his project!
    image

    Stools for shorter singers might be helpful!
    Thanked by 2elaine60 tomboysuze
  • This is a serious problem in our own schola at my parish, and a habit that seems nearly impossible to break. I can only speak to the polyphony in particular but I would say that this is the biggest issue we face - the single biggest impediment to good sound. It makes me want to curse printed music and individual books, given the way people begin to attach themselves to the book like Dumbo and his feather. It would be great if there were only one edition and we all had to crowd around, or, even better, for all the music to be memorized.

    I really don't understand this habit. If someone always spoke to the ground and never looked up, people would figure that the person had some sort of debilitating mental issue. But singers do this all the time and figure that it is just normal and right.
    Thanked by 1PurpleSquirrel
  • Angela Manning uses poster board chant scores - nothing in the hands, everyone's got to be looking at her or the music - what could be better?

    Dumbo had a feather? Oh. Right!

    In a project I am working on it ends with 7 or so chant hymns, each with only one verse under the square notes. Teacher's job is to teach them the melody using Nu and Nah (thanks, Kurt!) and finally the words of the verse only after they can sing the melody from memory. Then they can go to the opposite page and do the verses. Lock the sound of the modes into the voice.

    Chant is nothing but strung together bits of the same patterns, patterns that are related to the modes. This explains why the seemingly vague notation prior to shape notes seems odd to us, I think, since we approach it all wanting to sing it all at once. If there were early published methods, I'd bet that they concentrated on teaching each mode and common melodic patterns in that mode before moving onto another. Memorization.
    Thanked by 1PurpleSquirrel
  • If we can abandon being in the center of attention, scholas can and should sing from music in front of them.

    IF people find this obnoxious, they could shell out the $ for those prompter screens. And the director could have a foot control to adjust the speed of the notes flowing across the screen - scholas slow down, notes start speeding up, that'd get their attention!

    11 by 17 copies are pretty affordable - taped together, 22 by 34 can work!
  • This is interesting, Noel. Last year Kathy, Wendy and I witnessed a young schola member of MA's effort to create large schola placards. MA's schola sings from a loft. I remember a discussion among them weighing the merits. I also remember that the placard's size would eventually be either a visual or audio inhibition.
    On another level, rehearsal is where competence and success is achieved. That doesn't require devices or faux-replications of medieval manuscripts.
    That simply requires a director who pays attention to every aspect of his/her choristers' attentiveness, both in rehearsal and at liturgy.
    Thanked by 1tomboysuze
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 990
    In Orthodox churches where I worked, we had one book per part on a stand. The problem with a music stand for each singer (and we have these in my current ensemble's rehearsals) is that the singers are separated and don't listen to each other as well as I wish they might. And of course, as everyone gets older, there's the vexed problem of reading glasses, progressive lenses, and bifocals. If you use a single, adjustable stand to be shared by three middle-aged women, they have very little time to sing because they're constantly adjusting the height and bickering. (I assume men can bicker as well, but most of my experience is with women.)
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,067
    FWIW, though, acoustics have a huge influence on this. If you have an unresonant, very sound-directional nave (shoebox?) this [singing into the stand] will kill the sound. Even a small amount of acoustical tile will do the damage.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    A stand is bulky, and must be repositioned if the singer wishes to change spots or rehearse elsewhere. So if you have a choir room, buy twice as many stands or a cart to move 30 stands around.

    If only there were a stand that could be attached to the musician so it could move with him... something easily adjustable, and not bulky... perhaps something to pinch the music at the sides, to take up a minimum of space. And it could be maximally adjustable so the singer could put his music at an angle that allows him to see the conductor and the score, or even move it while singing! Surely such a contraption would never be free either... hmmm... yes, big problem here!
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    It's funny how much more a choir will listen to one another when the music is memorized. Holding a book or even looking at your own music stand tends to put one in one's own little world. This is inevitable, while the pace at which new music must be learned liturgically makes memorization impractical, I think it's the only true solution.
  • I don't understand the music stand as a cure-all for the posture of singers. A well taught and rehearsed singer will hold his music at a level below the face (and mouth!) so that he can look down at it with his eyes but sing with the face facing straight forward so that the egress of sound is not impeded. It is the posture of the head that is important, and a music stand is not an automatic corrective. The picture of the good monks pictured above should be captioned 'how NOT to hold your books, and how NOT to hold your head'. They are singing to the ground. Any well trained chorister knows not to do this - with or without a music stand.
    Thanked by 3dad29 Jahaza IanW
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    I like to put my music stand just under my chin, tilted down and away. Then I lean over slightly and sing down at the stand so that the sound bounces off of it and out toward the assembly. And if the choir director asks for more vibrato, I just reach up and jiggle the stand while I'm singing.
    Thanked by 1tomboysuze
  • "A well taught and rehearsed singer" is a rarity, especially in the Roman Catholic Church. The picture IS captioned that way in the paragraph below the pic.
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749
    What MJO said.

    And if choir members haven't been trained that way before, you'll be doing them a favour.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,605
    Btw, I want to acknowledge the absolute brilliance of Adam's last comment.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    Thank you. It's nice to be noticed.
  • MJO - if we all banned singers who are not your "well trained chorister" from the loft, your loft may not change but ours would be empty. Remember, the RC church discouraged choirs so the cadre of old timers is often GONE, we are now dealing with singers who, in high school, learned to wave their hands and dance instead of sing, and also face the truth that the majority of Catholic trained singers are working in Protestant churches would sing far better music. the last choir I had started out with 16 members, the youngest 37, they actively worked to discourage new singers, especially young singers, so the choir was built to 46 over their strenuous actions and objections, they succeeded in alienating a young soprano who is now in her second year at Juilliard.

    Trained singers? We'd be happy if they were just trained to get along!
  • The above is an offering of helpful advice for teaching improved singing. There was nothing said about banning people. And, correct singing posture needs constant reinforcement everywhere - not just amongst our RC choirs. I have seen singers with PhDs wriggling, gyrating and contorting themselves about in the most amusing fashion. This will compromise seriously the sound of even the finest of voices.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    If your singers are untrained, train them.
  • We all, every time we stand in front of a schola, are training them. Otherwise they would not come to rehearsals.

    Freeing them from having to hold music is a plus. Even for trained, top of the line singers. The monks pictured, though singing with heads down, are a renowned schola in Ambrosian Chant.
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749
    Freedom from the dots does indeed make a good performance, Noel, and that's true wherever the dots are presented in relation to the singer's eye. Granted, though, that it's not feasible for most of us to memorise the changing parts of the music every week, it's good to think about the least distracting way of presenting the score. If the group is conducted, then the method described by MJO above is, in my experience, the option that best facilitates communication and singing out in one direction, with the least physical effort. It also encourages the read-ahead skill required for good sight-reading. And like sight-reading, it's less difficult than people think if they are encouraged to attempt it regularly.
  • It's interesting when things begin to deteriorate into a fray.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    As evidenced by my previous post, I'm not really sure what this thread is about.
    But-
    I am in favor of everyone having a music stand.
    Barring a music stand, I'm in favor of matching black three ring binders, held high.
    I'm in favor of choristers looking at the conductor.
    I'm in favor of conductors behaving in a manner worth looking at.
    I'm in favor of old men in white robes singing Ambrosian chant.
    I don't know whether music stands would help the old men in white robes sing their Ambrosian chant any better, but if I ever am asked to guest conduct that ensemble, I will be sure to test this and report my findings back here.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    "...conductors behaving in a manner worth looking at."

    Cuts out most.
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    "...conductors behaving in a manner worth looking at."

    I second the value of this one.
  • Yikes, guys....sounds like "conductors" have to declare whether they've stopped beating their spouses!
    Or each one you've met "behaved" like Bugs Bunny's great imitation of Leopold Stokowski.

    One of the statements that resonated to me was the potent combination of the choir having the work memorized, and their attention upon a director who uses chironomy or conducting properly. What's properly? Always showing the crest of the wave ahead of the wave, subtlely and clearly indicating size, density, duration, proportion, emphasis, ebb and flow , as I said, both ahead of the phrase (the whole wave cycle) and assuredly wihin each moment and event of the phrase.
    No two directors will ever manifest the same physical approaches to this task. How Poterak prepares an arsis with his forearm and hand might equally be done just as well by Mahrt with a specific visage apparent in his eyes and face. But the objective for all remains that the director has to not only have a well articulated "vision" of how the text is to be beautifully and effectively performed, but a well-honed and prepared technique to elicit that goal.
    I notice this virtually every week when we chant certain movements of the Ordinary. I often will purposely effect slight alterations of tempi, or syllabic emphasis or duration, and I have to adjust my "behavior" in all "postures" towards the schola, who has to be acutely watching these subtleties in order to "fulfill" them. That was not stated well on my part, but I think you get the concept.
  • Concept gotten and appreciated.
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    For me:

    "a director who uses chironomy or conducting properly" = "...conductors behaving in a manner worth looking at."
  • It used to be of great value to tape a rehearsal and listen to yourself. Makes a person stop talking and starting conducting more.

    But today we have VIDEOS! Very powerful.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    What exactly is the value of conducting? Once a person "knows how it goes," don't things fall into place? Considering most church singers learn by ear, does it make more sense to teach by rote? Like the monks.

    Edit: let me add that I'm talking about conducting chant, not other styles.
  • The monks sang from one large score.

    If you do not conduct chant, the group can end up singing at the level of the weakest singer. It's your choice.

    Even conductorless orchestras, like Orpheus, have people within then who keep the group together.
    Thanked by 1R J Stove
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    I agree, Noel, but it seems like there is a point of diminishing returns. I fear that choir directors aspire to the mystique of orchestral conductors, when really the choir director's role is more pedagogical than interpretive. Chant was transmitted orally for hundreds of years, after all (hence "like the monks"), and I don't see anything wrong with going about it that way, at least for the simpler chants.
    Thanked by 1Jahaza
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Now that I write this, I'm thinking that oral transmission and hand gestures aren't immiscible. But still, I am only concerned that conducting can be viewed as a mysterious act, when really it should be merely practical.
  • Practical is carrying out the trash.

    Musical may not be practical. But it is mysterious. It's a mystery how one person can conduct chant and make the singers sing beyond their abilities and another conductor can not only fail with the same group, but even dissemble them in one immiscible moment.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,431
    Without a conductor, istm that chant slows down overall and becomes steady, taking on a beat instead of an underlying pulse.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,934
    As far as conductors go, never let rubato escape ANY performance, for instead of conducting, you will become a metronome. Never perform the same piece the same way twice. This will keep your choir hanging in the balance between metric and magic... and that is where great music is born. Conducting is not so much about time, as it is about energy.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Noel, your comment isn't directly related to what I'm talking about. There is a BIG difference between trying to keep people together ("practical") and creating an idiosyncratic interpretation of a musical text ("mysterious"). Conducting chant, for me at least, is about doing the former. Sure there is a kind of mystery in a group of people singing sacred music together, but that really has nothing to do with the actual role of the conductor; it's endemic to the thing itself.

    Francis, what you are describing is precisely what I find so distasteful about conductors. It sounds more like a power trip than music. Every performance will always have slight variations in a note length here or a bit of phrasing there, but it is ultra-annoying to feel like you are moving at the whim of some vain conductor. How does anyone learn anything that way?

    Kathy, thank you for providing that succinct answer to my question. When you put it that way, it makes me think that the conductor is helpful for those at all skill levels and performs more of a practical function.

    What I am trying to think through is how much "information" the conductor adds to the equation in the transmission of information from page to mouth. Can I "know" a chant without ever coming into contact with a conductor? In Italian opera, I would say the answer is no, because there are too many variables involved. What's on the page may or may not be what actually sounds, and "knowing" these operatic conventions requires more than score study. In chant, on the other hand, I want to believe that the process of information transmission can happen in a multiplicity of ways and still end up with more or less the same result (listening, looking at the page, looking at a conductor, etc.).

    Other than the practical functions of keeping a group together and making minor decisions about absolute pitch duration, does a conductor "bring" anything that isn't already on the page? Or are the conductor's movements simply a direct translation, thus making "personality" or "creativity" a moot point?
  • If the interpretation is not about what one person intends, it slows down as Kathy says, and does not have a focus and becomes totally mechanical, like troops marching and singing - troops, unlike the sparrow, do not sing because they are happy, but because singing keeps their feet hitting the ground at the same time.

    If it does not become totally mechanical, then it deteriorates into a shoving match. The conductor is the only source of rhythm for chant. Those who do not believe or belittle the idea that chant has rhythm will argue. I am sure that even monks that sing the same things every day change the interpretation when the key guy is not singing with them - like barbershop, a chant conductor does not have to stand in front of the group, but can lead while singing ion an experienced small group.

    Larger chant groups DO require a conductor since the eye is quicker than the ear due to the difference in the speed of light and sound. And that's also why so many chant groups slow down rather than maintain a flow. Learning by ear works, but singing by ear slows things down for that reason.

    It really sounds like you have suffered conductor-abuse and reacting and I say that in charity, having suffered working under a British conductor who was vicious and a conductor in Florence who was simply, evil and whose entire life and work reflected it. In addition he looked just like Woody Allen so that didn't help.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,934
    Doug:

    I am not talking about differences that a conductor throws at a choir, I am talking about differences that the choir emotes. This has nothing to do with the conductor, but the conductor being sensitive enough to the movement of the ensemble to make this happen. This is also true of an organist being able to "gel" with congregation singing. It also has to do with a piano or organ accompanist 'following' the music and not vice versa. This technique is little studied and rarely practiced and embodies a nuance in creating "music in the moment" that detaches the entire musical world from a mechanical rendition of any performance.

    I touched on this a while back on this forum, but I am not sure I communicated it correctly. It is a very important aspect of directing music from a piano, a violin or a conductor's baton.

    Predictability is the death of the muse.
  • gsharpe34
    Posts: 47
    Hello - I am a big fan of the CMAA and have been to a small workshop in Northern Va, but haven't posted before (generally I hate this electronic gadgetry, but this CMAA forum seems to be really one useful resource where the discussion is worth enduring the inhuman technology).

    Anyway we have a VERY SMALL (me + 2 men) schola in southeastern Virginia, and for several years we've been singing from a single music stand with the 3 of us standing in a crescent shape around big (letter size) printouts of the ordinary and proper chants (either copied direct from PDFs of the liturgical books or photoshopped where there's an inconvenient page break). This is when the chant is unaccompanied. When accompanied they stand on either side of me at the organ bench, and we still sing (and I improvise accompaniment) from the same sheets.

    We are limited in "raw" talent, but this method is absolutely priceless. I could never go back to singing from a book, and even rarely when I sing with other groups, I (I am sure rather obnoxiously!) travel with a portable Hamilton combo stand and my big sheets.

    The libers are great as resources (i.e. like scholarly anthologies in any other humanities or scientific discipline) but ill suited to singing, and certainly they are very foreign to how the chant was executed historically.
  • Blaise
    Posts: 439
    If you notice in some Anglican churches they use stands which are built into the pews they sit in. These look professional while allowing the singer not to worry about holding a book.


  • I know that Angela Manning has created some large chant pages to teach from.

    Since Gregorian chant was created for the large page, shrinking it down to the modern page is like reducing a recipe - not impossible to do as long as you make adjustments. As choirs age it becomes harder to read - and the youngest members often have trouble telling one note from another as they may not have had to deal with matters that involve visual acuity needed to determine the finer points.

    Learning it as large characters first makes it a lot easier to sing from tiny printed editions, which is why we created all the books at www.basicchant.com. They started out as guides for my own use and then grew to serve my choir. All free, by the way, unless you wish to purchase printed copies.

    This is from the Coloring Book - teacher's book.

    image
  • 8.5 by 11 sheet above, may be blown up to 11 by 17 at Staples or even larger.
  • RobertRobert
    Posts: 343
    My schola has struggled with these bad habits, and we've found that the "big sheet on an easel" trick helps. What's even better, though, is memorization.

    I'm going to be brave and post a video of our very amateur choir singing Sunday's communion, which was simple and not too difficult to memorize, to show the benefits in terms of posture and eye contact that come from memorization. Also, you can see the portable easel we use in the corner of the video.

    http://youtu.be/BDGyf4SPARg
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    OK, so who's going to be the first to outfit their schola with Google Glass, so no hands involved at all? It'd be interesting!
  • Before going to Edinburgh with some friends to sing a week of services at St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, I knew we'd probably encounter the wonderful music desks so often seen in British cathedrals and collegiate chapels. And we did, both in the Song School where we rehearsed and in the cathedral. Quite freeing to be able to rest the hands on the stands and have a good line of sight to the choirmaster and fine posture with head up and lungs uncompressed. Wondered why we see this so seldom stateside. But then I wondered that about a lot of things.
  • One of Bertalot's books has a drawing in the back of making your own out of wood, however, I'd make them out of PVC pipe with a black dull metallic spray paint on them - much lighter, easier to move and using couplings, easy to vary the leg height.

    I have a traveling harpsichord stand made out of the stuff - makes life a lot easier and eliminates wear and tear on wooden legs.