Penny-Drop Moment

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This is going to be a short one, but it deserves a post in its own right for the sense of revelation it afforded me when the idea plopped into my head.

One of the things I had been thinking about a good deal over the summer is keeping articulation small and precise, and in particular keeping the jaw at rest while singing. This is one of the things that Sean Bui worked on with the Telfordaires in June when he came to us for a coaching session, and it has proved both transformative and challenging. Until we started applying this as a means to reduce tension and improve resonance, we hadn’t realised how much the chorus had been accustomed to experiencing muscular engagement as part of emotional intensity.

One of the concepts we have been using to practise this technique tweak is to sing in the character of ventriloquists. The goal would be for someone listening to the audio track to hear every word, but for someone watching the video track to struggle to lip-read.

The penny-drop moment came when out and about working with another director whose chorus is on the whole quite good at this already. But every so often we’d hear that loss of resonance you get with an over-active jaw, and it turned out to be in response to when the director was over-engaging her face to signal emotion. It wasn’t just that over-doing the signalling disrupts the intimacy equilibrium, with the director taking up expressive space that properly belongs to the singers, it was also disrupting their vocal production.

And it made me realise that this would also be part of the dynamic when a director mouths the words. If the chorus can actually see what the words are, you’re encouraging them to over-articulate. If you are demonstrating the words with genuine muscular tranquillity in your jaw and precision in your articulation, the chorus would struggle to see what you’re mouthing anyway.

So, we already knew that it’s better not to mouth the words when conducting for reasons of precision and expressiveness, but it turns out it helps vocal technique too.

And as I schedule this post, I notice it is due to be published a year to the day since my try-out evening with the Telfordaires last October. Not that the date is inscribed on my heart or anything, but I'm very happy that that opportunity came along. I really feel like part of the Telfordaires family now!

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