Choral Holidays - Singing in wonderful locations

Posted under: "General Blog Post"

Jan 12, 02:15 PM

Singing Expressively

What is it that turns the experience of singing from enjoyable but unremarkable pastime to an amazing, uplifting event for both the singer and the listener? Is it the quality of the music being performed? Possibly, but experience tells me that it is the way in which the performer allow himself or herself to express the music that makes the difference.
There are many singers who can perform pieces technically proficiently, without ever moving either an audience or themselves. Equally, there are people who are perhaps technically inferior but produce performances of quite staggering power. Of course, there are rare occasions when the two come together.
But let’s leave technique aside for now. How do some people reach that level of expression which truly transports them? I believe one can trace it to a willingness to be completely open and allow true feelings to come out, to dream big and not be afraid what other people think.
One can see it in all areas of life: sportsmen who compete without the fear of failure, business-people who are prepared to take a risk rather than being safe.
Recently, watching the T.V. adaptation of Ken Follett’s wonderful book; “The Pillars of the earth”, I was reminded of the courage and vision of the Priors of some monasteries and abbeys who, rather than build a modest church, began work on what have become some of our great cathedrals. Take Wells for example, a magnificent cathedral within a village setting. How much faith did the leaders of that church have in themselves and their God to create such a building in the middle of nowhere? Milton Abbey, the venue of our first holiday is another fine example.
It’s the same with singing. One can learn to sing beautifully and do all the dynamics written in a piece and even phrase the music artistically. But without that element of allowing oneself to feel and become the source of the music, it will be unlikely to really transport either the singer or the audience.
So how do we achieve this? Well for a start you could come on a Choral Holiday, where we will focus on just that. The holidays which combine singing with Yoga will be particularly helpful as they begin each day with a session of Yoga which enables us through, our breathing and through the opening up of the body and it’s energy sources, to feel on a much deeper level.
For me, the act of encouraging people to breathe much lower and have the courage to sing with an open throat and an alert body, really helps as this means that all the physical action involved in singing then happens around the abdominal area, where we also find our emotional centre. It’s also the place where we hold on to most of the tensions that daily life causes us. Using this area helps us to release some of those tensions and often leaves people feeling much freer than normal. Thos e feelings of freedom often give us a sense of flying with the music, but also, and more importantly, the feeling that the music is being created in the place where we hold our emotions.
The freer and more open the throat, the more the singer will uses their entire body. This increases range and also brings a stronger, fuller and more resonant sound.
Singing then becomes surprisingly easy and one can then concentrate on clear thoughts of what the music inspires in us. So, the freedom in the throat and body releases the emotions, which then become much clearer, more focussed and alive. In turn, the clarity of those feelings makes the body feel stronger which gives security and assurance which helps us to have the faith to go even further emotionally.
Recent performances by soprano, Sophie Bevan, tenor, Jonas Kaufmann and baritone, Simon Keenlyside, that I have been privileged to attend, have been prime examples. These people sing with such a lack of tension and with the involvement of their entire body as an instrument, which results in them having an amazing freedom of expression. This then makes it seem as if they are making up the music and the words, even of the most familiar songs, as if they were expressing these things personally for the first time.
Such spontaneity as this is what I aim at with all my singers, whether they are in a choir or soloists. Singing isn’t about making nice sounds. It’s a means of expression. When we see it as such, then and only then, can we really know what it means to sing.




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