Friday, October 04, 2013

Choral Music Friday

Just to get you all pumped for the weekend, it's time to get into some choral music! What's that? I know! Oh yeah baby!

Here are a few of my favourite pieces. I've tried to seek out the best standard of singing for each piece. Unfortunately the standard of video doesn't always correlate.

If you're new to choral music and have an overwhelming desire to click back to facebook right now, just let's take a risk together. How to explain why listening to a good choir is exciting?

Imagine a sound guy at the mixing desk at your local pub. The band are rocking away on stay. The guitarist has his amp up as loud as it will go. The drumming is smashing away up the back. The bassist is thumbing away trying not to be seen. And the singer is gyrating into the microphone stand as he screams away into the mic. Individually, they are playing a different gig to the one you hear. That's because what you hear is what the sound guy lets you hear. That's because it is the sound guy's job to make sure all the 'levels' are correct. He can make the drums cut through, or make them 'sit underneath' the bass so that the it comes out of the speakers as a unit that gets your feet moving. He can make the vocals louder so that they're not drowned out by that distorted guitar. He can even monitor the levels during a song to make sure any vigorous playing doesn't stick out too much. The point is, one person has control over what you hear.

With a choir, what you hear is dependent on 30 people, reacting in real-time to create a unified sound. Each member has to be listening and singing in unison, not only with the other people in their part (ie soprano, alto, tenor, bass), but also as part of the whole. It's a constant process of 'mixing' by each chorister. As you can imagine, when thirty people are trying to do this at the same time, there's a lot of scope for error. One person out of time, one person giving slightly more emphasis to a note or a word in the wrong place, and what you hear will sound impure. It's like a human pyramid. When one member goes down, the whole thing falls over.

So when you hear a choir sing and it sounds like one living organism, rather than a collection of parts, you can be sure of two things: it is superior singing and it has probably taken about 5 years to get the choir to sing like that.

Take a moment to listen out for the way some of these choirs treat the words in these pieces. For example, listen for the word 'drown' in the first video 'weep o mine eyes'. Can you hear the way they accentuate the 'd' and fall away from the rest of the word, so that the '-rown' is swallowed by the acoustics. Does it not sound exactly like someone slipping below the surface of the water?

Similarly, listen to the way the choir plays with tempo in the second video, a version of Ubi Caritas by King's College Cambridge. Listen to the way they slow down ever so slightly to savour the resolutions of the phrases, particularly the one 'et ex corde diligamus nos sincero' (May we love each other with a sincere heart'). It's not so much a change in tempo as the choir allowing the music to breath. hm-hmmmm.








1 comment:

BL said...

These choirs can be so beautiful ... a breathtaking, thought-stopping experience to sit in a chapel with all those voices cascading all around and over you. And yep, Oxford has some amazing choirs too :)