Friday, December 28, 2012

Fun Friday - Cleaning & Singing

This was on television in the 70's.  What great voices.  I don't know about you but I would love to have these guys cleaning my kitchen.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Fun Friday - Jingle Bell Rock with the Cheerleaders

I don't remember seeing anything like this happening in our school library.  It sure looks like lots of fun though.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Singing for Spruce Lodge Stratford

Last night we sang for the folks at Spruce Lodge in Stratford, ON.  As we arrived, they were loading buses for viewing the Christmas lights.  It was busy and confusing but we started to gather and set up hoping there would be some left to be our audience.

Indeed, we ended up with an appreciative group.

With some of our ETS members with colds and some busy with Dinner Theatre back in Embro our numbers were smaller but they sang anyway. 

Kristy, our amazing accompanist,  had a cold and has been dealing with a shoulder injury but she played anyway. 

 This close to Christmas, our singers had to travel to Stratford even from as far as Cambridge, but they  came anyway. 

There were very high ceilings with huge  skylights that  grabbed the sound so each singer felt  he/she was singing alone but they sang anyway. 

ETS is an amazing group who love to sing.  We were glad we had the opportunity to be with the 
Spruce Lodge group. 


As we left the stage we sang, We Wish You a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!! And we DO!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tonal Tuesday - Watch and Listen for Singing Quality

It is that very busy time of year.  Businesses are trying to get more done in 2 weeks than they have in 2 months.  Everybody needs everything NOW!

So here is and easy post to keep you mindful of good singing habits.  Watch this video and see what things that our Embro Thistle Singers do to make a great sound.  Then read below and let me know what you think.



1. WATCH - Yes indeed you must watch the conductor.  I know there are chamber groups that singing without a leader out front but there is always someone who sets the speed and tone of the group.  When you watch you begin and end together and make the song easier for the audience to understand.  That is the reason for singing in the first place.  How about that!

2. LISTEN - Your voice must fit in to all that is happening around you.  If you cannot hear the others singing, then you are too loud.  Being right all by yourself is just - well, wrong.  Blend is essential to again an overall understandable product.
The accompaniment is very important as well.  Many times you get your note in tricky phrases from a chord in the accompaniment.  However, you are much better off watching the director and listening to your fellow singers and letting the accompanist and the director create the rest.

Whether you are singing along at a school play or community sing song or church service, be mindful of what is going on around you and WATCH and LISTEN and you will be thrilled with how much easier it is to sing.  Have fun singing the season's great music.  Turn up the radio!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fun Friday - Flash Mob Hallelujah Chorus

It doesn't matter how many times I see this one.  It is so fun and so well done.  For those of our readers here in Southern Ontario, this takes place in St. Catharine's.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tonal Tuesday - More 5 Minutes to Improve Your Singing

Now that you have tried the 5 steps outline in last Tuesday's blog post, you can add these fun activities to get even more control over how you sing.

Remember, it doesn't matter if you are singing along with grand-babies or performing in a rock concert, all of these suggestions will make a difference.

6. Sing Up and Down the Scales - I personally NEVER enjoyed singing through the scales.  Doh, re, mi, fah, soh, lah, ti, doh all in different keys.  There are many great warm-up exercises that we choir directors can use to help focus the sound and the vocal instrument.
When you are singing, try to choose a simple song to warm up your voice.  If so inclined, do sing scales or sing Doh a Deer from the Sound of Music.  Remember, tuck the chin while keeping the mid-section open.  And---

7. Eat and Drink Well - There are exceptions to every rule.  However, for the most part you need to eat and drink like an athlete.  Singing does take a lot of energy so eating a properly balanced diet is a forgone conclusion.  Milk (anything made with milk too) , sometimes caffeine, can cause you to develop mucus - YUCKY - and that coats the vocal folds and makes it hard to sing clearly.
Smoking and alcohol are just out.  Period.  Find out what YOU can tolerate and still make a good and comfortable sound.

8. Listen to Your Kind of Music - Listen and sing along with the music YOU like best.  Whatever the style, enjoy.  Sure, go ahead, do a wee jig.  Just have fun!!


Friday, December 7, 2012

Fun Friday - 12 Days After


This choir has a marvellous sound and they act out this very funny song with great aplomb.  Enjoy.   




Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tonal Tuesday - 5 Minutes to Improving Your Singing

It is the Christmas season and we are all busy.  The one thing that binds it all together is that we are surrounded by music.  We sing along and hum our way to the New Year.  I suggest that while we are doing that singing, we work on a few ideas to improve our singing voices.  Ready Set - Sing.
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  1. Voices are instruments.  To play well, you practice.  To sing well, you practise.  Sing along with Bing (Crosby that is) or whomever else you really enjoy.  If the range (high or low) feels uncomfortable, sing only the notes that are comfortable to sing.  Forcing your voice can cause damage.  Sing what you enjoy and when it makes you smile, you have the right thing. 
  2. Tuck your chin.  While you are singing, especially when you get to the "glorias" and want to belt it out, stand or sit as tall as possible.  For instance, if you are cooking, you will be bending and moving not unlike an opera singer on stage.  Just remember to keep your mid-section open not scrunched up.  Also, as the notes get higher - you too guys - tuck your chin closer to your chest and raise your eyebrows.  Try it both ways while refilling the window washer on the car and you will be pleasantly surprised at how much easier the singing is.  So stand tall, tuck your chin slightly and look surprised.  Voila.  
  3. Belly breathing. Now that you have the above mastered, try really hard not to lift your chest when you breathe.  Go ahead take a deep breath right now.  If you made a sound while taking in air and moved your shoulders, you are breathing very shallowly.  Now, put your fingers just above your waist, under your ribs and while you breathe, push them out.  Let me see you do it.  Good.
  4. Drop your shoulders.  You have found your DIAPHRAGM or the muscle that pulls down the lungs and gives you more room for air.  All good athletes know how to breathe from the diaphragm and you should too.  So now when taking a breath, try not to raise your shoulders but instead push out your belly.  That will give you more air to support your singing and will make it easier to hit the notes you want. 
So, practice by singing what you enjoy, breathe, stand or sit as tall as you can, tuck your chin. and looked a bit surprised.  You won't remember all that all the time.  The most important rule, have fun!! 

SING!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Singing for Youth in Ingersoll

The Embro Thistle Singers had a wonderful time last night at First Baptist Church in Ingersoll.  There were a number of groups performing and the church was beautifully decorated.  We hope that a good amount of money was raised to help the young people who go to the Upper Deck for support and activities.

Thanks to Colleen for taking video of our performance and for putting us on YouTube.  Oh yes.  Click here and have a listen.

Although a few sopranos were missing, our Attie & Barb were more than up to challenge.

The wreath made a lovely background.  All of our basses were there!!



Kristy played for her group the Soulmates just before us.  She was a busy lady and did a fantastic job.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

No Snow - AGAIN!! Yahoo.

We had our now annual outing at Cambrocourt in Embro last night.  We love going there to sing after the big Christmas dinner.  Maybe that is why our audience is so very mellow.
Family of four sitting at a Christmas Dinner table

We asked the crowd to tell us how we are doing as we are now almost 3 years old.  As we sang, the crowd was more than willing to sing along with the carols and they were wonderful.  What great singers they are!

It was decided that we have indeed come a long way from our very first singing gig at Cambrocourt.  We did sing a number of challenging pieces this time as well as carols so they did get to hear our abilities for sure.

One lady who plays the keyboard was just thrilled to watch our Kristy play.  She was so impressed with Kristy's talent and well she should be.  It is wonderful to have people who really "get it".

All in all it was a lovely evening and we have not had a repeat of that nasty snowy first Cambrocourt event.  One of our audience reminded us of that snowy night and we were thrilled to see clear skies continue as we sang.

Thanks all of you at Cambrocourt.  We love being with you.


Tonal Tuesday - You Too Can Dance

On Tuesday, we talked about how being in a choir is good for you.


Performing whether in a group or by yourself can be scary no matter how many times you have done it.  This character is supposed to be a mechanic by trade.  What a great way to show that anybody can have fun and learn something new.

I remember when our daughter and her pals decided to do a skit to "Old Time Rock and Roll" and our caretaker agreed to come in first and last sweeping the floor.  What a good sport and it was just the touch that made the performance perfect.  Did he think he would ever be performing in the lip sync contest when he signed on to work in the schools?  I bet not but he did and changed forever.  He still remembers that time.

Brent's courage and willingness to step out of his comfort zone really made a difference.  It made a difference to all who were a part of that day.  Did he know that at the time?  Oh no.  But he did it anyway.

One of the great things about Embro Thistle Singers is that we don't require auditions and we are willing to help each other learn to read the music and get better at what we do.  We have some very capable musicians and some who just love to sing and are willing to learn.

You will never know until you try.  It is up to you to do something that is on that "bucket" list right now.  If it is singing in a choir, then we are your place to be.  Come on out and sing a tune or two with us.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fun Friday - Glee Flash Mob

This took place in Seattle.  They were so lucky it wasn't raining.  Check out the guy eating supper from a tin foil and the lady who hands off her baby and starts to dance.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Off to Feed the Wizard

Embro Thistle Singers are always looking for opportunities to help and to make a wee bit of money to buy more music.  The Embro Thistle Theatre asked us to provide the snacks for the preview evening.  Our choir  can really bake up a storm when asked.  We had brownies, cookies, gingerbread, squares, Dutch pound cake (Attie it was gone first!) and so much more.

Glen and John came to help and they were awesome.  We made the coffee and set out the goodies and then had to wait until the interval for the people to come.  As we waited, we watched the munchkins come through, Doug in a really cool green suit and tiny green top hat perched on his head, our Elaine as a the wicked witch as well as the nasty Miss Gulch and other assorted characters and backstage people traipse through from one entrance to the other.
Still of Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz
Elaine was a much nastier looking witch.  Oh yeah.

The only major problem seemed to be that the Tin Man's hat had been taken home for fixing and hadn't come back.  They had a spare funnel which they used.  Apparently the person responsible for the hat, was in the audience and realized the problem when the Tin Man came onto the stage and immediately left her seat to go home and get the hat.

We had many generous people who filled our tins with change and bills and we really appreciate their generosity.  John was the master of the tongs for getting people's goodies.  Glen and I used napkins and got quite adept and not squashing the cake and brownies.  We left goodies for the children in the cast to have after the performance.  They had come in looking longingly at the yummy goodies and we promised to save some for them.  We hope they enjoyed their treats after a grand performance.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tonal Tuesday - Take a Dose of Choir & Call Me In the Morning

I remember when our grandsons were quite young, they LOVED the High School Musical movie and sang the songs all the time.  This was the most successful Disney movies ever launched.  It has the high school kids all singing and dancing and having a grand time.  Even all the jocks sing and encourage others.

This song "We're All in This Together" is really what it's all about.  There were 2 sequels to this one as well that were equally popular.  Why do you think that was?

Now, there is a television series, Glee, that is all about the high school Glee Club.  Mind you there are lots of plots and subplots but the basis is music.  There are many arrangements available from the Glee show and they aren't half bad.

In this video, the actors talk about how they came to enjoy the people and the music they got to experience.  They loved the "chemistry" that was created.  Listen to what they say about being friends with the people they sang and danced with for 3 years.

Singing in a choir is totally an amazing experience.  Our daughter brought me an article from a Boots' magazine that says that singing in a group is psychologically and physically beneficial.  It brings people together and gives them a sense of achievement and boosts self-esteem.  It also helps you to focus your mind on something other than your everyday worries.  And the bonus is that it gives your lungs a good workout.

This singing thing turns out to not only be fun but good for you.  So being in choir is like the spoonful sugar that Mary Poppins suggested.  It really helps you to be well and maybe it will be all the medicine you need.

All together now, "Silent Night".


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Singing for Moonlight Madness

The mandate of Embro Thistle Singers is to be of service to the community.  We fulfilled that again tonight as we sang before the lighting of the Christmas Lights by the citizen of the year, Wayne Campbell. 
We sing with gusto.

Kristy plays even when frozen.

What a good looking group

We are singing in front of the gazebo.  Although in the pictures it looks bright, it was anything but.  Music was tricky to read for sure.  Thanks Barb for the clip on light.  Brilliant in more ways than one.

One more time.

And then the lights went on.


Well done ETS.  Once again you are top notch.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tonal Tuesday - Boys Too!!

Gareth Malone is amazing.  The choir and orchestra sing first in Royal Albert Hall in London.  I need not write any more as you MUST listen to the comments made after the performance and read the written comments below on YouTube.

These opportunities are SO very important.  Isn't it exciting to know that such wonderful moments are occurring?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fun Friday - Whole New Sound

This choir is from South Africa and their sounds are very unique.  If you read the comments below the video you will see that apparently other groups have adopted this style.  Great compliment.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tonal Tuesday - Just Because

Our regular readers will remember that we talked about The Magical Hat of Confidence and the Military Wives choir.  These women, wives and girlfriends, were left behind while their soldiers were deployed on various missions.  Gareth Malone set out to start a choir to help the women have another focus and it has caught on like wild fire.
The original choir performed at the Olympics opening and their first single, Wherever You Are, became a top hit.

Here the many choirs which have sprung from the original idea are singing Stronger Together.  I love watching Gareth conduct.  He cares so much.  What is your favourite part?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Fun Friday - I Believe

This is footage that is part of the BIG VOICE project.  This is a movie about how important singing in a choir is to students.  The film is being made by a lady who has never been in a choir or conducted one.  She is coming from a place with no preset notions.

I can't wait to see the finished product if this video is any indication.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tonal Tuesday - Is Talent a Necessity?

I was reading an article about a music teacher who had long taught at one high school and had many very successful musical groups.  He was very well respected by his students and the community.  He opined that "talent" was way down on the list of what it took to be a good musician.

I look for someone who really wants to learn.  Obviously, they have to enjoy music and if they are willing to work at learning new things, they are the people I want in my group.

I always want to make it abundantly clear that it is a two way street.  We all have to be on the same page.  There are people in my choir who have sung in many groups and bring a wealth of knowledge and experience.  They suggest music for us and create a centre of stability that allows our less experienced members to learn.  Even those the experienced members are willing to learn and try new ideas.

I love the juxtaposition of willing inexperience and giving experience in our singers.  The bottom line is that I am growing in my musical understanding all the time as we work.  You all teach me more than I could ever learn from books.  As a director, I need to be able to see the music from both sides and that makes it a great adventure.
Screen Beans group of carolers, singing

I follow a number of music blogs and I really am out of my league with some of the intense, technical discussions.  They have names for ways of singing I have never encountered before and delve into cerebral discussions that really go away from the what I consider the core of choral music - enjoying the singing.

I know we have those who explore and study the intricacies of music as science or as a study but that is not my area for sure.  I want to "get at it" and do it so that we all benefit.  Don't get me wrong, I want to learn.  I just want to be able to apply it to the task at hand.

Those of you who work hard at learning as you sing are treasures.  Whether or not you have extensive musical training or background, you bring your energy and joy to the music and it makes our sound just delicious.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for making that effort and letting me be a part.  Now, let's SING!!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fun Friday - Star Wars

Star Wars was (still is for many of us) a great series of movies.  Our son loved them and he had all sorts of Star Wars characters and toys.
When the RCMP Orchestra was coming to town, they advertised that they would be playing the the STAR WARS theme.  That was the key.  We went and what a great concert it was.

Enjoy this short video with Darth Vader conducting with a Light Sabre and the orchestra made of LEGOS.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tonal Tuesday - Our Audience

As a young performer, I always knew that my mum would be right there in the front row no matter what.  I had an ally who thought I was perfect and that injection of ready support always made it easier to try new things.

As a young soloist at church, I would turn to the congregation and stand in my spot at the rood screen and sing knowing that when I turned back to get in my spot, I would look at my dad in the bass section and get my wink.

That simple but effect endorsement is invaluable.  I know that when our Embro Thistle Singers sings their families are often in attendance.  When they come back afterwards, their comments on the concert are really important.  Why else would we sing if not for our audiences?

The type of audience we have often dictates the music we choose.  In the case of one international charity group, we were not allowed to sing about Christmas.  It was explained that because they are represented in many countries with various belief systems, no Christmas references were allowed.  Hmm.  That was interesting.

Just as important are the audience members that you can ask for an evaluation.  How did those last 3 chords in Over the Rainbow work?  Too slow, too fast?  Were the words clear?  My mother always called that kind of look back a "post mortem".  With my mum, it was often done over a cup of tea and some kind of "slushy" dessert.  Oh yeah.

Appreciation of your audience is a key element.  And when we work with the audience in mind, they pay us back with great support.  Thanks to all of you who come to listen.  You are what it is all about!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fun Friday - Traditional Goes Modern

Here is the Brythoniaid Welsh Male Voice Choir singing their cover of New Order's Blue Monday.
Having travelled to Wales with a choir, I got to see first hand how marvellously musical the Welsh are.  Their choirs are amazing and this one no less so.


Thanks to our daughter for sharing this find.  How delicious was that?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tonal Tuesday - Why Choir?

I was reading the Voice-Council Magazine  last week and the article Why Choirs Aren't Dead caught my eye.  I was happy to know that in the professional world of singing it is considered important that the singers belong to a choir as this quotation mentions.  

Contemporary singers consider choir as part of their career –says Mark De-Lisser

So why do we who are not perhaps contemplating a professional career, coming out to choir on a regular basis?  You can see the reasons that the article above suggests but I will give you my ideas.  See if you agree or have others to add or subtract.  


Many of us at some time have been a part of a school or a church choir or both.  Church choirs add to the liturgy during services and help lead the congregation in singing the psalms and hymns. No matter, you learn to sing well and enjoy making music in a group.  Much of the church music is classic and a great way to start.  School music is more of a potpourri but offers many opportunities for learning too. 
Here is my list.

1.  Singing makes you feel.  See I didn't add the word "good".  Depending on your memories or experiences the music bring emotions to the fore.  Singing is a great way to "let it out" as it were.  Singing in a choir makes it safe as if you miss a note or two, someone is sure to pick it up for you.

2. Our choir is a great social experience.  We can go to places we might not otherwise visit and do it in the company of people we know and trust.  My first visit to Britain happened when I belonged to the Woodstock Choralaires.  What a fantastic experience it was.  But, you don't have to travel to Europe to see new places and add to life experiences.  I find that going to churches or residences or nursing homes are also great as you meet new people, and see new places all the time .  
The Embro Thistle Singers start the fall season with a potluck dinner at our place.  We see each other in a more relaxed manner and eat REALLY well.   One thing you know for sure, is that you are not alone.

3.  You learn new things.  Sometimes the music is what you have loved in the past and sometimes it is what you have never come across before.  sometimes you even learn more than the music.  Imagine!

4.  You hone your musical skills.  I am constantly researching new ways to teach the music and vocal skills.  Our choir is hungry to learn.  It is a treat as my learning curve just keeps curving.

5.  Learning to listen critically is so important.  Nothing improves that ability like doing more of it.  Each singer needs to listen well to blend.  We all must work as a well oiled machine and listening well is key. 

6. Vocal skills only improve with practice.  Being in a choir is a safe way to improve those skills.  With others singing with you, it makes it easier to try new vocal tricks. 


Our choir is purely volunteer so when people keep coming back, you know it is because they are getting something out of the experience.   I look forward to our biweekly practices.  I can't imagine life without ETS now!!  Having FUN is key and as you can see, we make sure there is lots of that.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fun Friday - Jingle Bells Through the Ages

Oh what fun!  An amazing group indeed.  We are working on this song and this choreography is NOT going to happen but doesn't mean we can't appreciate it.  Click on the link below to see them. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IM0AMscC9E&feature=em-share_video_user

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tonal Tuesday - What Songs to Sing?

A number of years ago, my husband and I went to see Neil Sedaka in concert at the Stratford Theatre.  As luck would have it, our seats were on the left quite close to the stage and Sedaka was just in front of us.  He wore a white suit and sat at the piano.  That was it.  Just Neil Sedaka, a piano and the audience.  I was mesmerized.

Sedaka sang and talked about his music.   The setting was intimate and Sedaka made you feel as if you were in his living room.  You could tell he loved what he was doing and made you feel it too.

In an article that Sedaka just did for the Voice Council magazine, he talks about choosing your music to make it enjoyable.


He says to sing in your range and songs you enjoy not just what you think the audience wants.  Sedaka has last a long time in this career and he has been able to change with the times for sure.

One of the songs he sang was the ever popular "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" in both the fast, original version and the slower ballad version.  He explained that he changed it to suit the change in musical tastes and it has worked.

As choirs, we need to suit ourselves for sure but also remember just to whom we are singing.  Maybe the song isn't the strongest in musical value but is a whole lot of fun.  If it suits the purpose of fun or a particular need, and doesn't compromise the music, then it is worth it.

We never want to compromise our standards to suit an audience for sure but it doesn't mean that we can't do something different.  I really am not into just one style of music.  I love that we do classical pieces, secular and sacred, modern and everything in between.  Sometimes, it is in 4 parts and sometimes 3.  Our bottom line is that the music is well done and we are having FUN!!

What do you think?  Click on "comments" below and tell us.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Fun Friday - What Creative Voices Can Do

This is a sound check that was recorded.  I have no idea how the other voices kept up their parts.  They sing harmony and accompaniment.  Quite amazing. 


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tonal Tuesday - Our Early Impressions

This last week Sam Sniderman, the originator and founder of Sam the Record Man died.  What I remember  about him was that wonderfully bright, flashing record sign outside his Young Street, Toronto business.  Recordings were in high regard and high demand, Sam's store was one where they lined up to get the new Beatles' albums at the crack of dawn.  Sam was also a great philanthropist using his wealth to change the lives of many.

There were a number of "regular" people who told stories of how the recordings purchased and the visits made to Sam's made a difference in their lives.  For me, even though I didn't go to downtown Toronto often, the huge sign was like a beacon to the world of music.

As I thought about the words said about this venerable "music man", my thoughts went back to those people who made a huge difference in my musical life.

When I was 8 years old, we got an old upright piano.  It was painted white and had an oil painting in glass right in the front.  It was a piece of art itself.  Apparently, someone was moving and glad to get rid of it.  Piano now obtained, my mum signed me up for group lessons after school with Miss Flavell.
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I LOVED Miss Flavell.  I don't remember how many of us were in the class but she had private teaching time with each of us and while that went on the rest worked away at theory in our work books.  I loved music theory and I loved playing the piano with Miss Flavell.  She was warm and supportive.  She corrected mistakes but first gave praise for what you did well.  I think, had I been able to stay with Miss Flavell, I might have mastered piano.  But we moved to Chatham then and my two years of group classes were history.

Other memorable moments for me were Bobby Curtola's visit to our high school, going to see West Side Story at the O'Keefe Centre on my 13th birthday and playing leads in our high school musicals.  My high school music teacher Mrs. Archibald was a huge part of all I learned.  Not only did she do the musicals but choirs as well.  We sang through every lunch hour.  The other half of lunch we studied music one grade ahead.  I learned to read scores, orchestral forms and listening.  We appreciated opera and popular music.  She really was the reason I loved and still love music and most of all vocal music.   All of those people and experiences shaped my life and certainly enhanced my musical learning.

So what experiences have you had that made a difference in where you are today?  What sparked your musical interests?  Do you have a Miss Flavell in your life who left you with positive feelings?  Click on comments below and share your thoughts.






Friday, September 28, 2012

Fun Friday - Hallelujah

I remember hearing a moderator say that there was no definitive rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah".  For my money, it is anytime k.d. lang sings it.    What do you say? Hit the word COMMENT below and tell me.  




Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - What Does It Mean?

Mrs. B, that adjudicator just doesn't know what he's talking about.  Yeah, like how does he know we can't understand that stuff?  How come he can say stuff like that?  Did he ask us if we understood it?
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That was on the bus ride back from the Kiwanis Music Festival.  My grades 7 and 8 choir were incensed that the adjudicator would automatically assume that although they sang the song well the meaning would be above them.  They all knew that no matter what, we never sang something we didn't understand.  We would sing through a song, say the words as poetry and then I would ask them what they thought it meant.  Here there can be no wrong answers.  How the words and music make you feel is a very personal thing.

The great thing about discussing that with others is that sometimes other opinions open up possibilities you might not have seen yourself.  Good songs have words that work as poetry.  There is an article that has listed 100 songs that the writer considers poetry.  A few are in our repertoire such as  "Over the Rainbow", "Wonderful World" and "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen.  We could have some major discussion about what constitutes REAL poetry but being broad minded, as I know our readers are, we will say that each of these songs has a story to tell and uses words well to do so.


Now, I have to admit that as a university student I studied Cohen's poetry in my Canadian Literature course and saw or heard nothing redeeming about it.  Our professor was a person who expounded his philosophy and never asked us what we thought.  Maybe if I had been challenged to think about the poetry, I would have felt something.

Now of course that we get to sing some of Cohen's words, I love it.  I understand it in my own way because I must to sing or lead singers.  Cohen is a poet of the people but early on I would have sworn he wrote gobble-dee-goop.

The song must become personal for you to be able to express feelings to your audience.  The music notes and the words must meld with dynamics to create feelings.  You, the singer, whether solo or group, must feel to share that with your audience.  You don't have to tell anyone how you feel.  They should just know there is emotion there by your intensity, facial expression and sound.  Whether it tickles your funny bone or brings tears to the surface, it is the sharing of your understanding you bring to the music that makes or breaks the presentation.

I feel a song coming on - "Feelings, nothing more  than ---"  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fun Friday - Ella Sings Mack

As mentioned in Tonal Tuesday's blog, Ella Fitzgerald famously improvised the lyrics to Mack the Knife and that became a standard.  Here is that amazing talent singing in Stockholm, Sweden.  Listen for the fun things she does with the words.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Singing at the Embro Fair

The community of Embro is such a super supportive group of people.  They have added to the arena and community centre and enlarged it quite a bit.  Luckily, even though the facility is so spiffy, they still want us to sing there.

On Friday evening, we were invited to be the entertainment for the Fair Ambassadors' Evening.  The Ambassadors past and present are amazing young people to be certain.  Mary Walton is this year's ambassador.  We sang Banks of Doon for the first time and had Heather and Leslie Galloway who played the violin obbligato for us.  

They did a fabulous job.  Our rendition of A Wee Deoch and Doris (last drink of the evening) was lots of fun.  We asked the audience to join in the chorus.  This turn of the century song is about that last "dram a'fore we gang a'wa".  The Scots being ever wise, had a test to see if you should have that last wee drink.  If you can say, "It's a braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht, then it's a'right ye ken."  Have a listen to Harry Lauder on You Tube and enjoy the fun.

We have these pictures because my friends Mary and Chipper came all the way from Sarnia to hear us.  Chipper took pictures.  They are regular readers of this blog.  It was one of those marvellous surprises that are rare but such a gift. 

And do you wonder why our amazing accompanist has shorts on?  Well, we sang at 7:30 and finished just before 8 and Kristy was playing ball in Ingersoll (15 minutes away) about that time.  She literally jumped off the stage when we finished and booted it to her game (which they won).  We cheered her on as she raced away.  

The next day was the Talent Show.  Thankfully, we were last as Kristy's team was now in the championship round.  We practiced without accompaniment in a hockey change room and then went into the hall to find it half empty.  Barb looking stricken, said she thought perhaps we had missed it.  Well, no, they were having an intermission.  Apparently, they forgot to tell the crowd that because they never did come back.

However, we sang our California Dreamin' medley and acquitted ourselves very well.  Everyone got into the theme with Hawaiian shirts and leis and various summery gear.  Barb was dressed for the 60's and brought us fun smiley stickers to wear.  She even had her huarache sandals on.  

Yes, yes that is "moi" with flippers and snorkeling gear on.  And notice that Kristy is still in shorts.  Yup, she won her game and had to go back for the championship game at 5.  This time she just walked off the stage.  
Did you notice that we had a witch in our midst - literally.  Yes that is our Elaine.  She is the wicked witch in the Embro Thistle Theatre's musical, The Wizard of Oz and was promoting that.  Put on a fun hat and she is California Dreamin'.  Our singers are involved in so many activities.  Doug, is on the Fair Board, and Harold who is the Community Service Award Winner, was the parade marshal that morning.  

What an amazing group of people these Embro Thistle Singers are.  I am thrilled to be with them.  Next practice Sunday, September 23 Knox United Church, Embro 7 p.m.  Lots of new music to explore!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - Memory Work

Mack the Knife: The Complete Ella in Berlin

One of the goals we have as a choir is to perform our pieces from memory.  I do have the music in front of me so that I can mouth the words.  Soloists don't have that luxury as they are usually out there alone.  I know if you let your mind wander or you think too hard about the words they fly away.  There is a great story about Ella Fitzgerald who was doing a live recording of her concert in Berlin and the words to Mack the Knife escaped her and the ensuing improvised words became very famous and won Ella a Grammy.  Mistakes are just opportunities for creativity.  Check out Fun Friday this week to hear her sing this famous song with her version of the words.  Listen closely.

When you are singing in a group, you aren't as able to be creative in that way.  You really do want to know the words.  I have taken the suggestions for soloists and reworked them for choir members.
We do have our practices on CD now and so we have at least one recording of each of our songs.  We also have the printed music for each song.

1. Be sure to have your CD or iPod to listen to and the music to the song you want to work on.  Have a pencil, highlighter and writing paper with you.

2. Listen to the song all the way through marking where there are choruses, bridges (that contrasting section between 2 verses).  In other words, pay attention to the parts that are the same and parts that are different.

3.  With your pencil or highlighter, listen again and this time, listen for the words that repeat and times when there are changes to the words.  Especially mark the words that you find are surprising or different than you might have expected.  For example, when we were doing  Purple People Eater and I kept wanted to sing my childhood words "FIVE Purple People Eater" instead of the correct "FLYIN' Purple People Eater". I still have to think about those.

4. This is optional but if you choose to take the time, you will have the words down in no time.  Listen again to the song and start writing out the words.  This may be a start and stop kind of exercise.  Remember, if your hand writing is terrible, it doesn't matter.  This is for no one but you.  The writing will merely focus your mind on the words.  Incidentally, you will be singing your part and reinforcing that as well.
Smiley emoticon writing on paper

5.  Finally, hide the paper and the printed music, put on the CD and sing.  Note where a word or two gives you pause but do not stop singing.  You will find that those words have become part of you.

Now this doesn't have to be done all in one sitting.  I will love to hear how you do with these suggestions.  Click on COMMENT below and tell me what happened.
Have fun above all!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fun Friday - Harmonica Man

On ChoralNet this last Saturday, Scott Dorsey featured this wonderful video of an amazing man who gives music to every child he can.  Not only is he sharing his music but teaching others how to share as well.  His music will live forever.  Watch how absolutely thrilled these young people are.  Music is that language that speaks to all ages.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - The Wigglies

I remember very clearly while teaching kindergarten music one day, I asked the children to sing a phrase back to me somewhat like call and response.  The children did as asked with the notable exception of one young man.  When I saw that he wasn't participating, I asked what the problem was.  He simply looked up at me and asked if they had to make their voice wiggle just like mine.  Oops.  I knew I needed to smooth out the sound for the young ones.

When I was taking vocal lessons, we never did really cover controlling the "wigglies" or vibrato in the voice.  In fact, until an adjudicator told me he like my use of vibrato in a particular piece, I really hadn't ever thought about it.
entertainment,females,music,occupations,opera singers,operas,people at work,persons,prima donnas,singers,vocalists,women

However, I do remember well, an older lady in our church choir who had magnificent vibrato.  Her voice could have loosened plaster (maybe it did).  There was so much wiggle in there that it was well nigh impossible to sing beside her and sing in tune.  She had been the mainstay of the choir for a very long time and it was really hard for her to rein it in to blend with the rest of the choir.  Perhaps, she like me, didn't even know that you could control the "wigglies".

When singing as a member of a group, you really must listen more than sing.  Someone said that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.  We must hear how our voice blends with others.  People with very strong voices have to work hard at that for sure.

We have some awesome choir members.  Some read music, some are learning but all working together make a marvellous sound.  Once I explain the sound we are looking for, we practice it until it works.  It takes a concerted effort and because our choir is smaller, we cannot have voices that "stick out".  Cupping your hand behind your ear does help you to be able to hear yourself.   Also, because Damon is recording our practices, we can not only have a practice CD but I am able to hear the blend or lack thereof.  We continue to work on that.

Listen to some of your favourite groups singing.  Why do you like their sound?  What makes it work?  I would love to hear your ideas.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Fun Friday - Ball Game Fun

My dad sang in a Barbershop Chorus when we lived in Chatham, Ontario (that's in Canada don't you know).  We enjoyed some wonderful quartets and choruses over the years.  The Barbershop sound has always had a special place in my heart as it certainly brings back great memories.

This video is short and sweet.  As the baseball season winds down, please remember that the very first recorded baseball game was played just down the road from here in Beachville, Ontario despite protestations to the contrary.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - Magical Hat of Confidence

On Sunday evening my husband found a program on TVO (TV Ontario) called The Choir: Military Wives.  Knowing I have a "small" interest in all things CHOIR related he suggested I switch it on.  I found it was originally a BBC production of course.  Gareth the choir master,  comes to the military base to form a choir of the military wives left behind when their husbands are deployed to Afghanistan.  Gareth even goes out and tries the military exercises with the remaining forces to really try and understand the life of the base.

He holds no auditions.  One of the things he told the ladies to do at the beginning was to make certain to make mistakes he can hear so that they can be corrected.  The phrase he used was "be wrong and strong".  I love it.

He stood at the front and told them he had a hat for each of them and then mimed throwing out hats and then they put them on.  They were the "magical hats of confidence".

He even went to a couple of the homes to do singing lessons with some of the wives.  One lady was so terrified, he had to work to get her to hum.  But hum she did.  Even with that fear, she got so much more out of the choir she was willing to keep going.  After their concert her comments about how great she felt and her huge smile are a testament to the power of the choir.
Image for Military Wives

They sang their first concert to the troops still on the base and did a grand job.  Mind you, Gareth didn't let them know ahead of time so they wouldn't get over nervous.  However, they sang with confidence and WITHOUT SHEET MUSIC.  

This choir had just begun and yet it made such a difference.  Music was such a wonderful vehicle to create camaraderie, confidence, and a voice to allow the wives to share who and what they are.   It is totally amazing to watch the growth that is happening.

All of you who are in a choir, this is YOU!!  Thank you for all you commit and bring to the choirs.  Have you noticed this growth and change?  Do you want more?




Friday, August 31, 2012

Fun Friday - Enthusiasm Personified

Talk about enthusiastic love of music.  The choir is interacting, the conductor is dancing and Rev. James Moore is just amazing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tonal Tuesday - The Best Practice

It is hard to believe that summer is quickly coming to a close.  Nothing says that more than the resumption of regular activities after a summer lay off.

Our Embro Thistle Singers has started the last 2 years by having a pot luck at our place and then a practice.  Now ordinarily I would not recommend eating a full meal and then singing.  I definitely would not recommend that for a performance but a practice is a little different.


Our choir is amazing at bringing a real spread.  We had meat balls, 7 layer salad, cheese dip (to die for) and a Caesar salad made just before we ate.  We had goulash and chili, sliced meat and green salads.  We won't even mention the cake and cookies and squares.  Oh my.


While I was getting some things organized in the kitchen, the choir moved into the living room and began to sing as our amazing Kristy played.  They started with For the Beauty of the Earth by John Rutter just because they really like it.  they stood about in mixed parts and simply sang.  What a treat.  We went over our music for the Embro Ambassador Evening.  A Wee Deoch and Doris is a fun Scottish pub song we are going to use as a sing along so we played with that too.


When we finally got to California Dreamin', the choir was really rocking.  They have never sung it so well.


All in all I recommend that you have some social time with your choir.  You will find that they are not only great singers but fun people to be with.  Last Sunday we even christened 2 new sopranos.  Talk about being thrown into the deep end.  They swam very well.


What social events have you had with your choir?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fun Friday - Birdland Russian Style

You may know that the group, Weather Report, gained a great deal of fame with its first fusion album, Stormy Weather, with Birdland as its main piece.  No, well neither did I.
I found this video on another web site and was taken by the  amazing opening that looked for all the world like a fashion show.  Very cool idea.
The conductor is my kind of musician.  It is a long piece but more than worth the effort.  Jazz it seems has no geographic boundaries.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - More Than Confidence

It has been said that anything is possible if you want it badly enough and you are willing to pay the price.  I do think many people are unwilling to do the latter.

Our daughter, Colleen sent me a BBC article about a young man, Nicholas McCarthy, who was born with just one arm.  Click on his name to see the full article.  Below you can see him with his small electronic piano playing away.  You can also hear him playing and talking about his journey if you go to the complete article.
Nicholas McCarthy

Last weeks, Tonal Tuesday, was about Confidence.  Well this young man has that in spades.  Not only did he have to be confident but absolutely committed to his goal of becoming a pianist.  His parents were very supportive but those in the music schools less so.  Unfortunately or perhaps, fortunately, he was denied an audition at first because at first blush, one hand seemed an insurmountable obstacle for Nicholas to overcome.  Little did they know that he had all ready gone round that corner and it was the officials who had the road block.

The mind is an amazing thing.  When you put something into the subconscious, the mind does not differentiate between what is actual and what is an unrealized goal.  Obviously, Nicholas saw himself as a pianist and could feel and see that happening and just didn't let anything stand in his way no matter what anyone said.

The lesson here is that no matter what, if you want something badly enough and are willing to "do the work" to make it happen then it is yours.  Are you willing?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Fun Friday - Banks of Doon

This is a beautiful presentation indeed.  What really stood out for me were the comments on the original You Tube from many of the young people involved.  They loved performing and were so happy to be able to relive this performance.  We can never diminish how special these moments can be to each involved.  We will be singing this a the Embro Fair Ambassador Evening, Friday, September 14.  I think we will make every effort to video tape that weekend and open our own You Tube Channel.  Cool.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - Confidence

Are you a confident musician?  Of course you are.  In the shower we all are confident.  What is it about showers that emboldens us?  Scientifically we know that all the hard surfaces cause the sound to reverberate and that enhanced music sure sounds great.  We also know that usually,  (exceptions left to your imagination), we are alone in the shower and so no one knows if the notes are right or wrong.

Confidence or the lack thereof is gained through training and experience.  If you get great support and feed back then you are confident to do something again.  I remember well, as a young girl doing a tap dance at a hall that had a very shiny floor.  In the middle of the dance, I fell but got up and continued on.  At the end, my mum said that I had fallen so gracefully no one would have know it wasn't part of the dance.  I never worried about falling again as I knew that I had the ability to make it all right.

Another time, as an adult, I was singing Abide With Me at the funeral of a friend's dad whom I had really loved.  I had my head in another space so that I could get through it and at the end my stone wall crumbled and I became emotional.  Fearing I would "lose it", I took a breath, anchored a note and slid through the final cadence.  My friend's brother said afterwards that it was typical of me to get fancy at the end and never do something just straight.  It was that "fall down gracefully" confidence that allowed me to fake it to the end I believe.

I know you like me have heard people sing or otherwise perform and you wonder how they ever got to make it to a stage at all never mind record the thing for sale.  I believe that sometimes people can be confident or even brash enough to push through a seeming lack of talent to achieve their goal.

So why then are there so many people with their music unplayed?  Lack of confidence.

I firmly believe that it is our job and our pleasure to build confidence in those around us.  Unnecessary criticism or harshness has NO place in the world of community choir.  Oh yes, we have to point out where changes need to be made and how sounds can be improved.  We don't accept poor sound.  However, it can be done with humour and redirection always keeping in mind that the confidence of the choir and its singers is paramount.

One of the reasons I don't audition people is that singing all alone and on the spot can put an end to someone's wish to sing.  If you want a soloist then that kind of audition is necessary.  However, for choir members, having them sing in small groups and with others gives you the information you need.  Building on their strengths and encouraging their endeavors is what builds that ever important confidence.

Know that singing a wrong note or having a dissonant chord will not bring the world to a roaring halt.  Even if you are a "professional" let yourself make a mistake or two and join the rest of us who are less than perfect.  Fear cannot exist with action.  So often lack of confidence boils right down to fear.  So act confident, learn and work and fear will be at bay.  Then you will look back and realize the YOU DID IT! and survived.  Yahoo.  Confidence builds and you are away.  Once you are confident you can share it with others.  Learn from mistakes, keep your sense of humour and think of others and how you can best serve them.  You are great and getting greater by the minute.  Believe it.