The October and November 2015 issue of Choral Journal included a two-part article titled “Ten Keys to Unlocking Artistic Choral Performance” by Frank Eychaner. Following are short excerpts from Keys 4-6. You can read it in its entirety online at acda.org/choraljournal. Click “Search Archives” and choose October 2015 (part 1) or November 2015 (part 2) from the dropdown menu.
The gap between an uninspired reading of the notes on the page and an artful performance is monumental. The following ten keys can help us bridge that gap, “unlocking” the expressive powers of our singers through the music we make with them. These “keys,” a compilation of the best practices of some of the finest minds in the music world, have served me well in my quest for choral artistry, and it is my hope they can serve you.
Key 4: Melody
No two consecutive melodic notes have the same importance. Artistry is vastly improved when we draw appropriate attention to the first, last, highest, lowest, and longest note of the melody—notes that usually occur with significant words and accented syllables. Melodic lines move ahead (often concurrently with an ascending line) to a musical high point, then decay until there is a release, a pause to gather energy, and a restless moving ahead again in the next phrase. How do we draw attention to these melodic events? We should make them substantively different from the notes around them with subtle (and sometimes overt) changes to articulation, dynamics, stress, tone, and even tempo.
Key 5: Conducting and Artistry
Develop your conducting facility like your life depends on it, because your musical artistry certainly does. Why use a hundred words to describe away a poor conducting gesture when you can develop gestures that clearly and consistently communicate the composer’s intent to any musician? We are choral conductors after all! Our gesture can become our greatest tool or remain an artistic liability. Adapt traditional patterns to appropriately communicate the choices made in Keys 1-4.
Key 6: Tone Color: Authenticity and Honesty
The vocal tone that is appropriate for a choral work should always be informed and guided by the historical and cultural context that gave birth to the work. In educational ensembles, this ideal is often balanced by the developmental limitations of the singers with whom we are working.
Additionally, Howard Swan noted that all conductors have sounds they prefer from their singers, sounds they intentionally evoke with their conducting and teaching. Despite these limitations, we must work deliberately, via warm-ups, study of style and performing quality literature from a variety of traditions, to increase the ability of the ensemble to perform with appropriately varied vocal timbres that manifest the composer’s ideals represented in the scores we perform.
Read the rest of this article (and more!) in the October and November 2015 issues of Choral Journal, available online at acda.org.