How it all started
I remember my Chat with Henri like it was yesterday. January 2019.
„Look, there is that group of non singers. We would like to do a choir concert end of may for our anniversary . Could you teach them some basic vocal skills in a workshop?“
– „Sure! I`d love to do this. But Henri – there is no way i am going to be the choir conductor.“
I then prepared a workshop of vocal warm ups, easy vocal improvisation and breathing exercises. When I came there Henri introduced me with the following words: „This is Jana and she is going to be our choir conductor“.
This is the story of how I became a choir conductor. We are now a group of non singers and me – who had never any experience as a choir conductor before. There couldn`t be a better match.
Anyway. We are working together for some weeks now and our concert is coming closer. They are working concentrated and hard and I feel a kind of motherly pride.
In this post I`ll introduce you to my choir and describe some of my favorite choir exercises.
When I read my literature and spoke to other teacher in aim to chose exercises, I had the perspective of a choir singer and not of a choir conducted. My main aim is that my choir members feel free with their voices. I want them to know their own voice and the other students voices well and perform without shame or restraint.
Improvisation of singing vowels
There are many variations I like to do as a warm up.
One of my favourite is to stand in a circle, someone starts singing the vowel „a“ and the others join in,in any tone that’s comfortable for them. While continuing the exercise they try to harmonize with the voices of the others. The choir learns intuitive to listen to the voices of the others. Another benefit of vocal improvisation is, that it reduces shameful feelings and self – effacement. The choir members get to know the voices of the others well. These exercises also helps to try out their voices and gives the experience of a free sound production.
I really like to play around with voices. A playful learning process is always a very rewarding one.
You can vary this exercise with any form of movement and any other vowel or voiced consonant.
Choose one choir member as a conductor. He doesn’t need any knowledge about conducting. He stands in front of the other choir members. Every choir member chooses a sound. It does not need to be a sung vowel, it can be a consonant, it could be beatboxing or a small singing pattern. The orchestra starts and the conductor now guides them. He signalises who has to become louder or more silent, he guides the tempo, the entrances, rhythm variations. There is no limit to use the creativity in this exercise. While instructing the exercise, the best way is not to make things too complicated. Give a short instruction and see what happens. Most times something wonderful occurres.
As an improvisation exercise it has the same benefits as the exercise before. In addition it teaches the choir members rhythm skills. And again they learn to listen to each other.
This exercise is based on the group exercises in „Voice work“ from Christina Shewell, which I highly recommend.
In my „choir lessons“ I always integrate elements of physical warm up with elements of yoga. We do breathing exercises.
I always let them warm up with semi occluded exercises.
We are singing sirens, and of course we are singing scales. I combine the singing of scales with working on vowels and articulation. As they are inexperienced singers, we are working a lot on awareness.
In total our meetings have a duration of two to three hours. I am blessed to work with a group of people, that are open, like to experiment and just have fun discovering their voices.
I chose to sing “Stand by me” with them because for me its a strong hymne to friendship and “standing together”. As well as a worship song. I also like the reference to psalm 46:2-3
“If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
Or the mountains should crumble to the sea.”
I hope you enjoyed my article. I am now back to studying by watching YouTube tutorials about conducting.
Since there is a lot of scientific research towards choral singing, I`ll publish a second part about this topic soon.
(Another book I recommend for choir work)