Getting schola members to look up
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    I've seen this problem with all kinds of volunteer choirs: The singers get into a horrible habit of putting their noses in their music, not paying attention to the director.

    What techniques have you developed to change this habit, while not coming across as an ogre?
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,605
    Choose music that they can more easily commit to memory phrase by phrase. Then practice singing without the music at all (in other words, let them see how much they need the music).
    Thanked by 2Gavin CHGiffen
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Fixing their arm position is vital. They should be able to see the conductor and read their music without moving their head, only changing focus between one or the other as needed.

    Beyond that, I give myself permission to be an ogre on this one issue - with the obvious exception of the infirm. If they do not hold their music properly, there is no point in singing a single note. They are prepared for failure.

    Others have suggested music stands. I personally find this pretentious, silly, and cumbersome, though others may embrace it.
  • ScottKChicago
    Posts: 350
    Others have suggested music stands. I personally find this pretentious, silly, and cumbersome, though others may embrace it.


    I think stands are ideal if there's room for them and they're well chosen. Having a music stand at a good height was one of the best things about my brief experience singing Choral Evensong every day for a week in St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland some years ago. Holding on to the music desk ledge gave me good open lungs and posture and an ideal position for seeing the director and other singers. The cathedral's Song School (separate building where their choir rehearses) has stands as well.

    At the high end, you could have some acoustically transparent stands made:

    http://www.marcus-beale.com/images/news/stand_workshop_1.jpg
    Thanked by 2Liam CHGiffen
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Yikes, I'm disagreeing with Gavin in two threads; instant karma's gonna get me!
    Anytime I'm in a choral situation where I can use a music stand as a singer, I'm totally amp'd. I use them at colloquium if we're in a loft or behind a reredos, it just frees my head up so much!
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,943
    ... though others may embrace it.


    Member in good standing of the E.M.S.S.A. (Embrace Music Stands Society of America).
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,431
    (The *other* forum's discussion) http://www.choralnet.org/229739
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,605
    I totally approve stands if they are feasible and are not placed to impede the voice.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    Thanks, all! What would you think about using stands during practice, but not for Mass? Do you think that would train people enough?

    Of course, then they have to stand up for the entire practice....
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    Are any of you using techniques OTHER than music stands?
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,943
    One fellow singer, who is also a professional trumpet player and band director, uses his iPad for all his singing gigs as well as for his marching band activities.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,067
    The quickest way to correct it (in combination with making sure you are "watchable" and asking them to look up) is explain that it is quite simply bad singing posture and puts a crimp in the vocal tract. Tell them there's no way they'll ever reach their singing potential...
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,431
    What do you call those long music stand thingies that they have in the choir stalls? That's what I want. http://www.lukehughes.co.uk/index.php/design/sectors/ecclesiastical/choir/
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    desks (?)
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    If you, Kathy, call them "long music stand thingies," I call them "long music stand thingies."
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,431
    Charles, thank you. I like that in a man.
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,601
    The only way...and this is from years of experience in Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Theaters... is to make them follow you.

    If you are not doing things that affect the singing to the degree that they have to watch you to stay with the others, you are wasting your time waving your arms in front of them and should be leading the responsorial psalm from the ambo...

    If you have your schola asking, "But how are we going to do it on Sunday?", you are doing your job. It's not a matter of singing a chant or anthem perfectly in the exact same way every time, it's interpreting the music with the singers you have at that time.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I once screamed out "OH MY GOD, LOOK AT THIS!!!" while conducting. It got everyone to look at me.
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    Oh, I just HAVE to try that.
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,601
    I bet the priest dropped that Chalice that time....

  • ScottKChicago
    Posts: 350
    What do you call those long music stand thingies that they have in the choir stalls? That's what I want. http://www.lukehughes.co.uk/index.php/design/sectors/ecclesiastical/choir/


    Love those, too. I think the top bit might be called the "music desk," but maybe there are other terms as well.

    Another reason I thought the setup at the Scottish cathedral was ideal is that the rehearsal setup is very much like the cathedral quire (I use that spelling for the architectural location as opposed to the group of singers): music stands/desks at the same height and similar configuration (although grouped more around the piano, and movable), an organ, even, for more realistic sound for final rehearsals.

    The music desks in the quire were solid brass, which not only looked nice but stayed nicely cool on warm summer evenings. I wanted to cool my face off by nuzzling the music desk, but this was discouraged. :)
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    I wanted to cool my face off by nuzzling the music desk, but this was discouraged. :)


    Also, your face would end up smelling like a dirty nickel.
    Which is not ideal.
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,536
    Frustrating, isn't it? Sometimes I look at a neighbor and point to my elbow, but people are often remarkably squeamish about helping me out ;-)

    Liam's advice is excellent; one hopes that memorizing a bar at a time is normal even with the music in front of one.

    I've worked with stage directors who will whisper contradictory directions to different characters, and ask for one-time-only surprises in rehearsal. Having a hat ripped off mid-aria even once brings a certain alertness to the body language! Rehearsing choir in a circle or semi-circle makes it easy to step up to individual singers, and later even a half step from behind one's own stand can get sometimes get startlingly sudden results.

    During communion hymns I conduct almost nothing besides cutoffs, but everyone knows that at the end of a verse there may be a sign for an organ interlude, a women- or men-only stanza, a skipped or repeated verse or refrain, none of these previously rehearsed.
  • Steve QSteve Q
    Posts: 109
    I occasionally play a game of "Simon Says" with the choir - using musical directions - as an exercise for getting the choir to watch me and follow me. I keep it fun and light-hearted, always with plenty of laughs. But I also make sure that I always get them "out" in the end to emphasize the importance of concentrating on my direction. This game often gets their competitive juices going, which really helps get them focused.

    I may morph the Simon Says game into an exercise where I will have them sing a piece that they know well, but give extreme and unexpected changes in direction such as a sudden change in tempo. Nobody wants to be the one that sticks out from missing a direction. I tell them to expect the unexpected and be ready for anything because in performance I may change my usual directions as the spirit may move me.

    When singing a piece which is accompanied, my choir has a bad habit of relying on the organ accompaniment rather than my direction. In these cases, I will try to get them to sing it memorized and rehearse it a cappella to force them to rely only on my direction.
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • Steve QSteve Q
    Posts: 109
    Choose music that they can more easily commit to memory phrase by phrase. Then practice singing without the music at all (in other words, let them see how much they need the music).


    My group always whines when I tell them to put down their music, but then they are always surprised at how much of the piece they really do have memorized.
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • Posture. Posture. Posture.
    And I do like singing with stands, though that's not workable in our loft.
    I use hand guestures and small signs as a reminder of common pitfalls. Have to admit I gave up worrying about being annoying a long time ago. Singers know I expect a lot, and also that I'm grateful for their participation.
    Still, the attention is worst for the propers. Because they're new (well, once a year new) every week. Prof. Mahrt has used poster-sized chant boards for years, and after having heard and seen his choir a few times, I think it's really helpful to all have arms free and be looking at the same score.

    Funnies-
    I actually have used hats to my advantage. Feathers are especially catchy. But they can impede hearing. And do impede my Irish 'fro...
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    You could attach the music to your hat.

    Maybe, use something like this solution, but with the music printed on both sides...

    image
  • Steve QSteve Q
    Posts: 109
    This is great. It seems like singers who say they don't read music are often the ones with their noses in the music the most.
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,674
    The unfortunate thing is that some of those singers who don't read music, don't read text very well, either. I know, some are in my choir.
  • bonniebede
    Posts: 756
    We took the Nook's book hook away
    To use it on another day
    We thought it would be just the thing
    to wear when we began to sing
    Then all would see, despite the gloom,
    Each lovely dot, each precious neum.
    The schola now, could not say 'Can't!
    Can't read and sing! Can't sing and chant!
    The Nook's book hook's a grumble-stopper
    No reason not to sing the proper!
    Gone, the choir's autonomy
    All follow the chironomy
    And sweeter than the light spring rain
    Drops from the choir loft chanting plain,
    And though the organs electronic,
    We also sing songs polyphonic
    The Nook says that it gives him solace
    Cooking's less fun than Thomas Tallis
    We're welcome to his hat for free
    (Though my mums cooking him his tea.)







  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    love it
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    BB, brava!
  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 781
    The "Simon Says" game reminded me of a warm-up that a director I know would use. (I'm sure more than one director has done this...)

    The director gives the choir a sound to say ("sh" or "k" or something,) and the director "directs," in 2/4, (or really any time signature,) and on every beat the choir makes the syllable. BUT they of course have to be watching, and the director will dramatically change his conducting - louder/softer, faster/slower, even directing so that a syllable like "sh" will change from longer/legato to more staccato, etc.

    Participating in that exercise/warm-up can really help the choir to SEE what a difference the director can make - and how watching him can really help them all to be together. (It's also quite an amusing and fun warm-up. You can imagine the "k's" when the director abruptly stops and some people are zoning out!)
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    Fantastic ideas everyone! And BB - that rocks!
  • Another habit- incorporating some warmups where you change endings and they have to follow you to keep it together. It becomes really obvious who isn't paying attention...

    Scanning music
    I ask singers to also make a habit of scanning their music at the beginnings and ends of phrases. "In the breath, scan several notes ahead and let go of them, trusting that you'll remember, so we can get a good take off and establish momentum together. Then make sure you all scan ahead at the 3-4 ending notes of the phrase so we can communicate and all have a smooth landing, a clear and prayerful cadence."

    Visual communication
    Ask the singers to communicate visually with their director and each other (when appropriate). This cements the ensemble approach and responsibility of everyone to pray together.

    The best acapella groups do a lot of this visual communication. Trained polyphonists are looking for others' breathing, vowel shapes, approach to cadences, emotional interpretation, etc. They are looking ahead and anticipating, making educated guesses as to what their ensemble partners will be doing next.

    Last thought- a reminder for prayer-conscious volunteer choirs-
    "A Schola that stays together, prays together." And looking up at the director, at each other, is one important means to more deliberate and more corporate prayer.
  • Adam, BB, I'm lovin' it!
    Hats are so very fun, and multifunctional, as it turns out. :)