There are lots of issues to address when your choir is learning new repertoire: notes, rhythms, breathing, entries, rests etc etc. With so much going on it’s not surprising that understanding the meaning of the piece can get overlooked.
A piece may be sung with technical accuracy, but if your singers’ hearts aren’t in it, the message and emotion within the music may get left behind. Here are some ways that I help my singers to get connected with a song.
Don’t assume that your singers have thought about the meaning of the piece. Ask some open ended questions in rehearsal such as; What is this song about? What style of music is it? What emotions are being conveyed eg; is it happy, sad, regretful?
You may even want to look at it in a historical context. Was it written in a time of unrest or war? What might the composer or songwriter have been experiencing? Also consider whether it’s written in the first or third person. In the first person, the singer is the character telling their story. In the third person, the singer is more of a narrator telling someone else’s story. This may determine how you and your singers interpret the story and how you tell it.
Find problems and solutions
Look for any changes of emotion in the songs you choose for your choir. For example, a song might tell a story of being lonely, then finding love. Or it could tell the opposite tale – of having love and losing it. Think about how you can use these changes to tell the story musically, using tone and dynamics to show the different emotions.
Try some different interpretations
There’s nothing like doing things the wrong way to highlight how to do them correctly! Take a piece of repertoire, either the new piece you’re working on or one your choir knows really well. Come up with a few different emotions which you will use to tell the story and try them out one at a time. If you’re piece is a delicate love ballad why not try it as angry? Perhaps your piece is a torch song and you can try singing it as if you’re shy. This exercise is great fun and will cause lots of giggles, while highlighting how important it is for your singers to connect with the emotion of a piece.
Techniques to help
Finally, remember to give your singers the tools they need to sing a song with meaning. These can include breath support, bright face, open mouth and good diction. All of these can be practised in your warm-ups.
Show them how much they already do by asking them to sing some of the piece with a neutral facial expression. The sound will feel dull and uninspiring, particularly if your piece is supposed to be upbeat. Now put all the good techniques back into place and hear the difference.