Concrete Metaphors for Christmas Rehearsing

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This time last year I was complaining misanthropically about the clichéd nature of so many Christmas songs – both in their musical profiles and the imagery of their lyrics. This year I seem to be in less of a bah-humbug mood, and have been delighting in the way the Christmas season can provide a never-ending fund of imagery to help the rehearsal process.

I’ve written before about the usefulness of metaphors as a means to encapsulate complex, multi-dimensional (indeed, artistic) ideas about how music needs to be performed. And the more concrete and vivid the imagery it is, the more memorable it becomes. It turns out that the festive imagery we use to represent the season to ourselves can serve this purpose effeciently, effectively, and cheers everyone up in the process. People like to feel Christmassy, especially when rehearsing Christmas music.

So, here is a collection of metaphors that have emerged during my rehearsals and coaching sessions this year (some from me, and some from the singers):

  • Rudolph’s nose lighting up (push beat on the word ‘red’)
  • Skating rather than trudging through snow (relationship between tempo and articulation)
  • Leaping deer (feeling 3/4 rhythm in bars rather than beats)
  • Jumping out from behind a Christmas tree (sudden dynamic change)
  • Who’s the turkey, and who’s the cranberry sauce? (balance between thematic material and embellishing lines)
  • Sprinkling glitter over black cloth (vocal tone as cloth, consonants as the glitter)
  • Tone colour as mulled wine (warm, aromatic, gently intoxicating)
  • And a season-neutral but usefully concrete way of conceptualising legato:
    thinking of the words as the nap on corduroy – a textural effect rather than the main substance of the fabric.

Of course, these metaphors worked so well because they arose in response to specific musical contexts. This particular group of singers needed this particular type of help on this particular musical moment. The response to the metaphor came partly from its vividness and appropriate seasonality, but also from the recognition that it was personalised – the group exerts a sense of ownership over the artistic effect because the metaphor that expresses it has arisen from the process of their own endeavours.

So, I might use some of these again next year – but only if the music is asking for them.

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