I’ve had a bunch of interesting choir situations occur over the summer. There have been some small church choirs that want to stay connected over the off-season, some similar community choir situations, and some thrown-together singing opportunities involving a healthy mix of community folks and members of the local refugee community. Each one of these presented the challenge of building a good choral sound in a limited amount of time. And, of course, the first step in combining our voices for effect is the warm-up.
Now, having been a composer for decades, [as part of my journey to do anything necessary to avoid having to actually work for a living,] I’m inclined to invent a song setting for even the most mundane chores that come up in the choral arena. Singing scales with vowels and consonants has its place, I suppose, but I like to see if I can brighten the experience for groups of singers, especially volunteers, by putting a bit of meat on the dry bones of our initial exercises.
One of the ditties I’ve concocted comes from an educator’s musing regarding the purpose of a life spent singing: “the best way to realize one’s potential as a vocalist is to first and foremost sing who you really are. Once you’ve established that, your place in the assembled voices will be much easier to find, and the director will find it easier to place you in the mix.”
In writing this warm-up piece, I chose words that include a variety of vowel sounds, intervals, and melodic contours that are easily sung, and that also can be presented in a variety of keys to prepare the voices for use in lots of different repertoire pieces. To add fun to the endeavor, I wrote this piece as a round, so that directors can use it in a bunch of different ways without having the singers be distracted by a bunch of reading. My purpose here is to get the singers off the page as soon as possible.
I’m inserting a copy of the score for you to use if you’d like. I put small notes in to show the start of the round. There are keys where the round can be unison octave, and other keys where the tenors & baritones can sing low octave and the SA’s can sing up and octave, etc. Variations in dynamics and tempo can have this little ditty spin out in many ways, for sure. And as they sing, each one affirms that they are on the quest to find their voice, which will hopefully endear them to the journey they’re making together.
I’ve put a subtle challenge in the piece, which you will probably notice when you hear your group singing it. The words “who I” remain on the same note. Folks often try to lower the “I” to duplicate the dips that occur in two other places. I put that in there on purpose. Single occurrences of unison intervals are sometimes overlooked by singers, especially in choral settings. The round is strengthened by this sustained note, and once they learn it they’ll hear the strength of it in context.
Once we’ve gone through several keys in unison, there’s a way I like to do the round in its original key. To heighten the listening acuity of singers I’ll start the warm-up with a baritone soloist and then layer on the other baritones, then tenors, building on the chant-like nature of the piece through several repetitions. Next, I’ll add the altos and sopranos with the round part, quietly, then increase them to match the lower parts. Then we’ll all lower the dynamics, then raise the singing slowly until we’re all really singing in full open voice, several times, and fermata the last note, with a hard cutoff. Sometimes the resulting silence is deafening!
Have fun! Hats off to all the directors starting the challenging adventure of another school year.
Fred Bogert has spent the last 45 years in the music business. He has produced, written for and performed on three Grammy-nominated CD’s, as well as appearing as composer, producer and performer with a variety of artists, from John McEuen and David Amram to the Austin Symphony and the Nashville Chamber Orchestra. Fred’s Nashville studios included RCA Studio B and Studio C, where he recorded over three thousand songs for a who’s who of independent artists. His website is fredbogert.com, and his choral scores are available on sheetmusicplus.com. Fred lives in Louisville, KY.