Advertise on ChoralNet 
ChoralNet logo
The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.

Spoken Lyrics in Choral Music

Does anyone have any good tips for addressing spoken segments in choral music so it still sounds musical?  An example is "Merry Old Land of Oz" (from Wizard of Oz) where there is singing then spoken "with a ha ha ha and ho ho ho"...
 
My chorus SINGS beautifully, but have not mastered the art of the spoken lyric! 
 
Eric Brown
 
on April 18, 2014 11:50am
Eric,
 
GOOD question! I have attended choral concerts in which spoken passages were performed, and if my eyes had been closed during the the whole piece, I would swear that there were two different choirs performing the piece. It was as though the singing choir would finish the singing portion and run offstage while the speaking choir would rush onstage to perform the speaking part, then run offstage, replaced by the singing choir again.
 
This happenstance is a manifestation of the fact that we human beings have conceptually separated what we call a singing voice from a speaking voice. There are no such things! The terms imply that we have two larynges (plural of larynx), a larynx that we sing from and a larynx that we speak from. Voices are the only physiological processes that we think about and talk about this way. We do not distinguish between walking legs and running legs or pushing arms and pulling arms. Its interesting, though: even voice scientists and otolaryngologists look askance at me when I point out this anomaly in our voice concepts and language labels. I've observed otolaryngologists who have examined a singer and diagnosed vocal fold nodules, and then prescribed no singing for two weeks before a followup visit. Then, at the followup visit, they observed no change in the size of the nodules and suggested vocal fold surgery to remove the nodules. The problem was in the singer's speaking coordinations, not the singing ones. That otolaryngologist was not a voice-educated doctor, obviously, but he was--like all of us are--heavily influenced by the inaccurate concepts of singing voice and speaking voice. We have one voice and we use that voice to speak and to sing.
 
Suggestion: Give the singers in your choirs a comfortable pitch for unison singing [e.g., E3 (below mid-C) for changed-voice males and E4 (above mid-C) for females] and ask them to sing the text from one phrase of the sung text on that single unison pitch. Then, ask them to sing a phrase from the spoken text in unison, and sing it the way they sang the text from the singing section. Do the same contrast (singing text vs. speaking text) while using the various pitches and volume levels on which they are likely to speak the speaking section (keep in mind that when we human beings speak more loudly, we always raise the pitch area in which we speak).
 
After 3 or 4 such experiences, ask them to perform the speaking section of the piece the way they have usually done it, and then...ask them if they noticed a difference in their voices when they spoke the text compared to when they sang the spoken text. After several response observations, ask them to speak the text with the same 'feel' in their voices that they had when singing it. May take a few repeats for them to learn the new vocal coordinations. I predict that, as they gradually master this skill, even more volume will be heard in the higher-volume passages.
 
Note: The main difference that they will notice will be the greater degree of 'open space' in their throats and mouths when they sing (especially vertical and circumference space in their throats), compared to the noticeably more narrow spaces they'll sense when they speak the text in their habitual ways.
 
Hope this helps. Be well.
Leon
  • You must log in or register to be able to reply to this message.