When a singer or singers cannot keep up with the rest of the group...
  • Esther
    Posts: 7
    Dear Friends:
    Approximately 7 months ago, I started a choir in our church. We have 11 members, most of whom have no formal music experience, but have good ears and good instincts. However, the only two baritones in the group have a very difficult time staying within their part. It doesn't seem to matter if I work with them alone on their part; when I put them together with the rest of the group, they invariably drift into the soprano/melody line again. At this point, it's holding up the rest of the choir because I keep having to stop and correct them. I'm seriously thinking of not having them back next season, since they are such a weak link and just adjusting the repertoire accordingly. Any advice? Comments? Thank you in advance, Everyone!
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,481
    Are they willing to work on their own? You could record their parts and they work on them at home...this has helped me.
    Thanked by 1Esther
  • Esther
    Posts: 7
    Hi, Thank you for responding!! I have tried your option; however, they do not practice and I end up wasting my time making the recording. You see my dilemma...
    Thanked by 1R J Stove
  • In a mixed choir men are almost invariably slower at picking up music than women, unless they are professional singers. It's strange. But remember, men are often not willing to ask directions or read instruction manuals so there may be some psychological thing undrlying all of this.
    Thanked by 2canadash Esther
  • Esther
    Posts: 7
    Thank you, Frogman Noel, for your input. I have mostly worked with professional/aspiring professional singers, so this is my first experience working with an almost completely amateur group. Yes, I have noticed that the men seem to be the "weakest link" in the group. So unfortunate, but true. Hmmm...still wondering how long to continue struggling with these two gentlemen and whether or not to have them back next season...
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I'm not sure I understand what the problem is... are they not keeping time? Are they singing the wrong notes?

    If it's time issues, I usually like count-singing (replacing the actual text with counting time 1-&-2-& etc) or staccato singing.
    Thanked by 1Esther
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,921
    From Esther's description, it sounds as if they tend to follow the melody line instead of staying on their part.

    Esther, does this happen only when they sing familiar hymns or also when the choir is working on new material (which wouldn't have a melody line familiar to the baritones)?
    Thanked by 1Esther
  • I have similar issues with the men in my choir. In these situations I use solfege to have them learn their parts. It ingrains the pitches in their minds better than rote learning does. Also, when approaching a new piece, we have the entire choir start by singing the bass line. We then move up to the tenor line while the basses maintain the bass line, etc. This way the basses hear how they are the foundation of the sound. Generally speaking moving to other parts is a sign of insecurity. They probably do not have very strong pitch concepts, which solfege pattern work will help them with significantly. Asking them to leave the choir will cause angst, instead perhaps you should either switch to two part music while you build their pitch concepts.
    Thanked by 1Esther
  • Have patience. Give them more time. If you can, give them more training and correction during practice. If possible, find someone who's singing a different part, even a woman, to sing baritone with them for a while.

    Lastly, depending on your choir goals, is it possible to tolerate indefinitely? I have belonged to a choir including baritones often singing soprano-8, and a bass habitually singing bass-8, their voices adding texture and interest to hymn-singing with the congregation, and sometimes asked to be silent during set pieces.
    Thanked by 1Esther
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Esther, have you tried this?
    The overarching issue is part independency. The problem is the baritone's insecurity defaulting to the melody, generally found in the soprano.
    Interim solution, conjoin the tenors/baritones/basses as one section: the men or Part I, if you will. Conjoin the sopranos (even if kicking and screaming ensues) with the altos into the other section as altos (or Part II)
    Any number of fine sources from the old St. Gregory Hymnal to a zillion octavos that have very beautiful and fine arrangements under the SA, 2 part, 2 equal voices, etc. designations can be found free or are in the catalogues of mass publishers and smaller ones as well.
    Have the men sing the melody line at the lower octave, and the women the alto in register.
    Canons such as the Byrd "Non nobis Domine," Monteverdi's "God of Mercy" or Tallis' Canon are wonderful, easy versions to start with. I've mention Richard Shephard's work at St. James Press is very good for this as well.
    Don't be in a hurry to get back to SATB or SAT/SAB. Develop among these baritones the idea that they can function successfully in a part once they've learned a new one, of course, they should intellectually accept they can adhere to parts that support the melody once it's reassigned to the sopranos or whomever. Try that for a start.
    Thanked by 2Andrew_Malton Esther
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,481
    Do you have the possibility of doing sectionals?

    Love the two part idea!

    You could also try working on the same thing with the men for weeks (like those Melo has suggested) whilst letting the women work on more music and music that is more difficult that is SA as well.
    Thanked by 1Esther
  • Esther
    Posts: 7
    Thank you to all of you, Gavin, Chonak, Jpike, Andrew Malton, melofluent and canadash!!!
    Every one of you really gave me some wonderful suggestions. Now I'm not tearing my hair out as much, lol. Gavin, the problem is the inability to sing independently within their own line. I am in agreement with melofluent; that it has to do with insecurity, so they default to the melody line when unsure. I think that perhaps conjoining other voices to assist them in staying oriented might be a solution, as well as doing two-part works. Jpike, I agree that removing them would be disheartening, and, of course, perceived as punitive. They are very nice fellows and I am a patient teacher; my concern was that perhaps I may be asking too much of them, which would then be unfair...
    Thanked by 2melofluent CHGiffen
  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 781
    I'm still curious about chonak's question.... does this happen on pieces that are *completely* unfamiliar? I would address it very differently if it only happens on pieces that they already know.
    Have the sopranos work on singing *quietly* (maybe even just humming for the majority of practice, especially on things they know.)
    Thanked by 1Esther
  • donr
    Posts: 969
    I think having a separate rehearsal with the men and then having them come together with the regular choir is a good idea.

    I really like marajoy's comment about having the other voices sing lower or hum.
    Thanked by 1Esther
  • Esther
    Posts: 7
    To marajoy: Hi! Sadly, this happens on unfamiliar pieces, as well, and not just songs they already know. I may try your suggestion to have the sopranos sing "quietly" or hum. It's worth a try... Thank you for the idea.
    To donr: Thank you for your suggestion, it's a good one. However, my already tight schedule and my members' schedules simply do not allow for another rehearsal during the week. I have no choice but to make do with the time I already have.
  • TCJ
    Posts: 836
    I'm a baritone who strays at times, though I blame most of that on having to play the organ at the same time. For practice, I find that setting a distinctive sound to the pedal and using that for the bass (only if the others are confident in their parts already!) so I can hear much more clearly really helps me learn the part, even when other people are singing. I also pick out as many points as I can in the music in which the bass part comes together to match with the melody and I use those to find my place again if I go into the wrong part.

    I can't really say anything for working with OTHER baritones because the only other one I've worked with always nailed his part even without practice. I'd go through all the parts, get to his, ask him if he wanted me to play it and the response was the same each time: "Nope. I got it already." He did, too.
    Thanked by 1Esther
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,678
    I would go the route of doing 2 part music and a hard-recruitment-drive to get more men. Go to the men's club, KofC, etc... chat them up, be friendly and get to know them. Don't make it about recruitment - make it about being a good staff member. Then when their guards are down...
    Thanked by 1Esther
  • TCJ
    Posts: 836
    "...Then when their guards are down..."


    ...Hit them over the head and drag them by their feet into the choir loft.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,481
    Do you have funds for beer? Seems to be a real selling point in the bass/tenor/bari sections!
    Thanked by 1Esther
  • R J StoveR J Stove
    Posts: 302
    TCJ says:

    "For practice, I find that setting a distinctive sound to the pedal and using that for the bass (only if the others are confident in their parts already!) so I can hear much more clearly really helps me learn the part."

    Hoooo yes. A very good method, which I've been known to try myself. But one comes across the occasional bass - invariably elderly, in my experience - who, no matter what, will double the soprano line down an octave, without the smallest consciousness that he is doing so (even, or rather especially, if the solecism is pointed out to him). I suppose it's a case of "choose your battles." This particular bass had been singing in choirs since the 1960s, no doubt doubling the soprano line for at least a third of that period, so he wasn't going to cease merely upon my say-so.
    Thanked by 1Esther
  • Esther
    Posts: 7
    To TCJ and RJ Stove: Good idea! I think I'll give it a try and play their line at a kind of "low organ hum" during rehearsals might be a real help.
    Of course, if all else fails, I could always try the idea suggested by matthewj and canadash and break out a six pack, LOL!
    Thanked by 1R J Stove
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,677
    Esther, I am not saying this applies in your case. Choir directors do have to be realistic. I have a volunteer choir, many of them elderly, and I know they don't sing individually as well as they did when younger. They will never sound like the great choirs which have paid singers. However, they are good folks who try hard. I can live with that.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,678
    Esther - getting more men will help. Surround them with stronger male singers. Odds are that they exist in your parish - you just need to find them.
    Thanked by 1Esther
  • How many choir members are are most the choir members women? One problem could be they are picking up melody because it is what they are hearing. I always have to work at not picking up the loudest voice when I try to sing parts. Try having them stand by you are allittle away from the group so they can hear themselves. BUT please DON"T GIVE UP.
    Thanked by 1Esther
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,921
    You might hire a baritone to serve as cantor for the choir Mass and add him to the group to provide good example.
    Thanked by 1Esther
  • Esther
    Posts: 7
    To CharlesW: Thank you, Charles, your point is very well taken. I need to be more practical, even as I am minding the quality of our work. I appreciate the reality check; I need to keep in mind whom I am working with. It is very much a mixed group and I have to remain aware of this.
    To elaine60: Yes, this is one of the things that is happening. No, I will not give up. These are truly willing people with a heart to worship and do the very best they can. Thank you for the encouragement. ;)
    To chonak: It's a very good idea. Perhaps down the line, if our budget can handle it. I agree someone like that would be a good example and a "shot in the arm" for the guys.
  • It is not impossible to approach voice teachers who might have a singer that would profit from singing with you and have a chance to sing solos....with so many churches abandoning trad music, young singers with talent are ignored....
    Thanked by 1Esther
  • With all charity, I recall the following admonition: "Never teach a pig to sing. It frustrates the teacher and annoys the pig." It sounds like your two men would be better as "song leaders," where they can belt out the melody of a hymn at a non-choir mass, than being expected to hear and sing the bass part in a polyphonic texture. See if you can re-cast them in this role.
  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 781
    ^ disagree.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,481
    I actually tell people (but I have an established choir and don't NEED bodies) to take singing lessons if they can only match a pitch, have never sung, can't keep their part or whatever. I ask they do this for a few months and come back at the next season (after Christmas/Easter/September). This way I do not offend, never cast anyone away forever and they can fit in better and be of help to the choir! No one has done it yet though!
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • Jani
    Posts: 432
    I guess I have a very different mindset than other singers. For a volunteer choir I would have to say, why not just let them sing what they can? Sure SATB sounds great, but if they can't do it and still want to sing, what's the biggie?
    Thanked by 1Adam Wood
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I think Mark Husey has a point. There are some people who - God love 'em - can't sing. Or at least can't be made to sing with the level of commitment they offer and the level of expertise in pedagogy possessed by the director. And I happen to think that, no matter the size of your choir, no one is so "desperate for bodies" that you should just put up with destructive voices. It diminishes the end product and ruins the morale of the whole choir.

    In my past choir advocacy, I've suggested many ways of helping out with the music, with choral singing being one of the best. But there's also hymn singing. And let's not forget donations to the music program. Not everyone is fit for the choir.

    (all that said, I think the baritones described by Esther's original post can sing, and should be helped. I only intended to make an abstract statement to back up Mark's controversial point)
    Thanked by 1R J Stove
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,481
    For a volunteer choir I would have to say, why not just let them sing what they can? Sure SATB sounds great, but if they can't do it and still want to sing, what's the biggie?


    Well, I have a tenor who might throw a tenor who joins and can't sing over the railing in the loft! lol!
    Thanked by 1Jani
  • Jani
    Posts: 432
    I know, canadash, I know...:) it's not easy grinning- and- bearing off-key singing. Maybe everyone else can sing extra loud???
  • TCJ
    Posts: 836
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,677
    Oh, the Barney Fife sensitive microphone? How I wish I had one. LOL.
  • Oh my!!! I need a Barney Fife mic..........how do we get one? I mean, perfection for the frustrated choir director!!!!! LOL!!
  • I never ask anyone to leave because of ability. (Effort maybe; ability, never)
    This is something that all of us have to deal with, in any un-auditioned ensemble, So ...

    First,
    Sooner or later, you will have to determine whether or not thy can learn any string of notes (melody or bass part). I play five note patterns on the piano (and ask that they allow me to get to know their voice better). the singer responds by singing the five note pattern back to me, using the "lyrics: "1 2 3 4 5". The numbers allow me to refer the singer back to number two. (Can you listen again and make #2 a bit higher. Make the 5 notes harder as you go. (say, begin with a triad (eg. c e g e c) work up to c, up to f#,down to D#, up A#, back down to C. Give the singer two chances at every parttern. The first time you play it, it's to see if he can get it on his own, The second attempt, will tell you if he can do it with some help and encouragement (which you should give in large quantity after first attempt, before the 2nd. After you test 5 0r 10 singers from your choir, you will have a very good idea of what it means, if a singer misses on most of these. If they miss three in a row or so, end the exercise with a couple of easy one, to provide a positive feeling of accomplishment at the end.

    2nd,
    Do not hide the problem, but also avoid belittling the singer, even if he can't cary a tune in a shopping cart. In rehearsal, point his errors just as you would anyone else, and be helpful in going over his mistake area one or two time, (More gets embarrassing.)

    3rd.
    Offer to help him fifteen minutes, or 30 minutes before every rehearsal, regardless of how well he did on the five note pattern, but keep that info in your head.

    Meet with him weekly for about five times (you be the judge) let him know how he is doing. Then offer him a deal. "It looks like you are having a difficult time with these notes. Why don't we work together to help you out?"

    4th
    If he missed every pattern except the most simple ones, he will also become frustrated with the music even though you are helping him. In this case you owe it to him to to tell him what the problem is. (He has a much harder time hearing pitches that most people. Let him know that you re willing to coach him, but it is doubtful if he will get the part easily if at all (only say this if it is true, It's difficult, but these are rare.)

    Much more common are folks who might miss on some of the intervals. Work with them and help them. But, if they really need your help, sooner or latter, make it a requirement. "You do very much better when I help you, but you definitely need me to help you. Are you willing to come every week?" From then on, be honest about his progress. Few singers are willing to continue to come for help every week if they are really getting nowhere. More common, a few will want help once a month, and even skip rehearsal, and then want to sing on Sunday. In this case, they are just not giving their best to the choir. The must accept your help upon a regular basis. Many people will do this if the help is making them better. If after trying their best they are still not able to sing their part, they will become frustrated, and discontinue. If they ask you if it will get easier, you can not honestly say yes, if it is unlikely that they will ever be able to survive with out your help.

    Didn't mean to write this much.
    Offer help, and be honest. Don't hide the problem.
    Good Luck, We've all been there!
    satbSteve
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,912
    I also have this problem sometimes with the students. With them, though, the issue is that they are too young to sing independent parts yet, at least until they get to about 4th or 5th grade. I was surprised a few weeks ago when I was teaching intervals to the 5th graders that they were able to sustain two notes at the same time! I haven't moved on to independent parts yet, like in choral singing, but we do rounds all the time, which I have found helps tremendously when teaching how to maintain an independent part. This may just be part of my eccentricity as a teacher, but what I like to do when I am trying to get the students to sing a part by themselves is to have them sing a known melody (such as "Frere Jacques") over and over and over, and while they continue repeating it, I start singing something completely different and in a different meter even (such as "Twinkle, Twinkle"). The kids get such a kick out of it, and it usually breaks down the first time, but I have them do it again, explaining that they need to sing their parts regardless of what else is going on. Success is usually only one or two more attempts away. I have used this method with the church choir with the same success. It might work for you!
  • hartleymartin
    Posts: 1,447
    Two-part stuff can be quite effective, especially if part I is Sop/Ten and part II is Alto/Bass.

    Also, look at getting someone who is musically capable to act as a section leader that the other men can latch onto for their part. I have a couple of friends who can't really read music, but can follow another voice pretty well and generally get the idea, but could never sustain a part on their own.
    Thanked by 1R J Stove
  • JaneC
    Posts: 6
    Three-part music (SAB) can also be nice, depending on the willingness of your tenors to sing a bit low. I think there is less of it available than two-part music, but some can be found. We have very capable men, but usually only three of them on any given Sunday. We can do four-part music, but SAB is safer for us. The sopranos and altos don't mind singing in unison, but sometimes get a bit bored, and they so outnumber the men that they can also overwhelm them.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,912
    For the church choir, I usually just do soprano and alto, and have the men sing the soprano or melody part. Today, for example, we sang a melody with a descant, and the man (yup, you read that right, I've got one, count 'em!) sang the melody with the others. It worked out great! People couldn't stop complimenting them!
  • hartleymartin
    Posts: 1,447
    I think the general rule-of-thumb being proposed here is to program music according to the abilities of your singers.

    Don't discount the possibility of using 2-voice mass ordinaries or singing a Hymn in parts in the manner of an anthem. Whilst lovely 4 or 6-voice polyphony would be wonderful to have, it isn't essential to church music. SEP and good hymns can form a very effective basis for parish music.