R – I say it as often as I can: “Singing is fun, but music is work. The reason we commit to the work is because it’s a labor of love.” Articulation is a sticky subject for me because if my first and foremost concern with any choir I conduct is tone, articulation works against it. If you don’t believe me, try this out with your own choir: do a warmup that establishes good tone, and then go right into a warmup that requires good articulation. Assuming you really did establish a tone of balanced ring and loft in the first warmup, I dare you to tell me your choir’s tone didn’t change during the second. You fix the tone and then the articulation isn’t as crisp.
I think we can easily overlook how radically difficult is is to establish both in equal measure. Let’s presupposition that to get an adequate balance of ring (resonance) and loft (openness without tension) we have to ask our singers to explore more loft in their sound because many – most? – of them already utilize their speaking voice (ring) to sing. Adding loft means removing the emphasis away from the articulators such as the teeth, tip of the tongue, etc. This can accomplish a mature tone produced without tension, retaining the qualities of the speaking voice that are desirable (ring) while incorporating an open sound (loft). The problem is that as soon as a singer begins to articulate, the sound immediately comes forward again and the loft dissipates. The interesting thing to me is that a wonderful tone can take many weeks, months or years to produce, but articulation is something we already can do! The problem is that we have to re-learn how to articulate while sustaining tone. And THAT requires hard work and concentration. Do we insist on it from our singers? Does our tone change when we have good articulation? How about articulating while sustaining phrasing? Do we inadvertently accent and clip our phrases when we articulate?
The Robert Shaw Chorale was and is my standard for incorporating articulation. It was not “talent” or ability that made their articulation extraordinary while maintaining exquisite tone and phrasing. It was something more basic than that. It was hard work. Our singers must make a commitment to the musical attribute of articulation without sacrificing any of the other musical attributes. Listen to this recording of the Robert Shaw Chorale singing Bring A Torch Jeanette Isabella and I think you’ll get the picture.
traditional: “ChrieeST ihs boRn, ahnD Mar-eee’s Call-ING, ah…”
Shaw at 0:09 “Chri sti sboo na ndmaa rysca lih ngah…”
Ask your choirs to find the balance and see where it leads.