The session “Managing Sound: Finding Unification through Prioritization” was ultimately a crash course in creating a unified sound in a group with a large variety of backgrounds and musical abilities. Dr. Cory Ganschow presented the topic with a mix of humor and honesty that was both engaging and insightful. After giving a brief description of her main focus of the following hour, she launched into a personal story. She spoke about how she had the experience of being completely engrossed in a choir performance when she was young. Then, Dr. Ganschow described how she wanted to make such an experience happen with the students she conducts, stating, “My mission became my passion.”
Dr. Ganschow suggested that there must be two things both present for a moment of pure musical ecstasy to occur. First, there has to be the cognitive piece, which is the solid musicianship a student must obtain, such as being able to navigate their technique. The second piece is engagement, which can be exceedingly difficult if some students in a choir are there out of requirement rather than by choice. However, engagement can be altered through an emotional moment while singing. Therefore, by using techniques to quickly create a unified sound, students can get “hooked” on the amazing feeling of giving a great performance. This then makes the students want to further develop their technique and creates a cycle of good performing experience with growth in musicianship and engagement. Through using the techniques presented in this session, Dr. Ganschow suggested different ways of quickly getting a unified sound. Her choir directly demonstrated many of these examples, which indeed demonstrated that these techniques are extremely helpful. The choir sang through two pieces that they had been working on, the English translation of "Weinachten" by Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and "In the Silence" by Jacob Narverud, both of which were included in a packet of resources that Dr. Ganschow provided for the session. The amount of emotional investment in the second piece was tangible in the room for the entirety of the song, with both Dr. Ganschow and her choir deeply focused on the meaning of the text.
They then went back and addressed a difficult passage in the "Weinachten" where all voices have multiple half notes in succession after having very active parts. The choir sang it once at a forte dynamic, and then Dr. Ganschow told them to make it softer but keep the same intensity, which led to a more balanced sound. This was the first technique: starting a passage that is either difficult to balance or control the dynamics of by singing loudly, and then repeating it and slowly backing off the dynamic level until the desired result is achieved. The second technique is finding a good placement on the risers for your choir. This was demonstrated with the tenors from the group. Dr. Ganschow told the tenors to mix in any order at random. While the men were moving, Dr. Ganschow described how on the first day of choir, she will be an easy piece that is fun to sing, and then the second day she will do voice matching. For the tenors, she said that she will usually use the first phrase of "Wondrous Love" because a range of about an octave can be heard in a few measures. The tenors then sang the phrase and were moved around multiple times as Dr. Ganschow showed how she implemented voice matching. Some tips she gave were the following:
The choir then demonstrated a warm-up that helps with the shape and resonance of the vowel. They started on an [u] vowel and then closed to a hum without moving the mouth shape or changing the resonance. Dr. Ganschow explained that it is easy, especially with less experienced singers, for a student to press their lips together and close the inside of their mouth while doing a hum, and that this exercise prevents that and gets a good resonant hum. She also suggested that it is easier to work from bright to dark vowels and to resort back to singing an [i] vowel and then apply it to another vowel when the choir is having a difficult time finding their resonance. They also did a few sigh glissandos from high notes to work from the head voice down, as that prevents singers from adding weight to their tone. Another type of warm up that Dr. Ganschow addressed was the chordal warm up. There was a simple progression in the packet that was provided that she often uses, but she said that even just building any chord on a vowel and then modifying the vowel to find the resonance is an easy and successful warm up. Playing with the brightness and darkness of the sound can also be helpful, as it gives the choir an idea of the range of sound that they have available to them. Dr. Ganschow demonstrated this by having the choir sing on a vowel, then slowly make it as bright as they could, and then make it has dark as they could. She finished speaking about warm ups with a final word of wisdom: “Closed vowels always win.” She elaborated by saying that if a choir is having trouble with their sound on a specific word or vowel, experimenting with closed vowels can help immensely.
Finally, Dr. Ganschow addressed the leadership aspect of directing a choir. She described a concept called appreciative inquiry, which is the concept of starting with the “why” questions and moving outward to the “how” questions, and finally on to the “what” questions. She asked the audience how many of them have had a piece that they have always wanted to do conduct with a group, and swore that one day they would somehow make it work with their group. Many people laughed, as they understood. But Dr. Ganschow explained how this is a very bad way of going about picking repertoire, as per the idea of appreciative inquiry. She insisted that the first thing that must be decided are the “why” questions, such as “Why am I here?”, “Why do I want to do this job?”, and “Why are the students here?”, followed then by the “how” questions, such as “How am I going to get these students engaged?” and “How can I make the things we do in class promote musical growth?”. Only after these questions have been addressed can the proper repertoire be chosen, because it must be chosen for the right reasons.
Dr. Ganschow ended her session with two ideas. The first is that, according to research, “the number one reason people join a group is for a vision…the number one reason people leave a group is because of the leader,” which is to say that we as music educators need to capitalize on the vision that our students enter the classroom with and nurture it. The other was “Your job is to show them what is on the other side.” The “other side” is the moment of musical bliss that can be obtained through watching or performing in an emotionally connected concert.
-Maggi Chauby, '18
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