Preparing Music Properly: The singer’s trump card

Hi everyone – Pat here! Last week, Chris B and I did an Ensemble Hub Facebook ‘live stream’ talking about the importance of preparing musical scores in advance. We were talking about why it’s important to prepare music before rehearsals, and some hints and tips on how to go about doing this. Below are the notes we used whilst we were talking on the live stream, so if you wanted some written text as a reminder or a guide, perhaps it will be useful for you! Enjoy. P




By preparing music thoroughly we allow rehearsals to be a place where value is added to a performance which is already accurate to a good level. We recognize that for many people this is how they operate already but as it’s such a large part of what we in the KS do, we thought we should share with you some of our ideas on how we prepare music properly before any rehearsal and hopefully give you some food for thought on this topic.

First Principles
-Text: title, composer, lyricist, context, style, language, meaning. It’s all on the score!
-Initial mood, tempi, dynamics, key and time signature. Note them!
-Use your resources: Instruments, friends, iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, CDs, Tapes, VHS! What do you have around you that can help you get to grips with this music?
-Using recordings:
Flexibility – we all have our favorite recordings, and they can be very helpful for learning music, but it’s important not to ‘learn the recording’ too rigidly, and to be flexible in case your director wants something different!
-Watch out for changes in mood, tempi dynamics, key, time signatures
-Tricky intervals. Work them out, repeat them, work out your way to find the pitches!
-Finding a note before a phrase starts. Is someone else singing your note?
⁃Accidental at beginning of bar – does it apply to a later note? Mark it in!
-Look vertically for cut offs or similar phrase starts/ends in other parts.
-Breath management – mark it in if you’re going to need a particularly big breath for the phrase/mark somewhere you may need to do staggered breathing with a partner.
(FOR DIRECTORS): Tessitura – have you thought about the best pitch for the piece?
(FOR DIRECTORS): After analysis: Is this the right piece? Suitable? What are your forces?

-Look out for chords where you have 5ths / octaves with another part, and listen in to the tuning of those chords.
-Enharmonic changes: does your note look the same but ‘behave’ differently depending on the notes around it?
-What’s the role of your part at any one time?
Are you the tune? Are you accompaniment? Are you foreground or background? Are you top of the texture? Are you bottom of the texture? Harmonic function?
-Watch out for crossed parts, where you need to adjust your place in the balance.
-Where’s the melody? If it’s not in your part, make sure you know where it is.
⁃ perhaps you are high in your tessitura and someone else is low in theirs? Do you need to re-balance a chord to accommodate this?

Working with unfamiliar languages
⁃ Translations – google translate is your friend if there’s no translation in the score
⁃ Preparing your own short hand version to help make the right sounds
⁃ What approach does one take to begin acquisition of the language?
⁃ IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) as a code for making the right sounds.
⁃ Speak to a local
⁃ Speak to a friend
⁃ Find words in your own language that have similar sounds
⁃ Look up online for language videos/posts on pronunciation
⁃ Find recordings or performances online

-BUT remember to be flexible: your director might have a different idea from you, so be prepared to compromise!
Next level stuff
⁃ compositional devices: look for structure, melodic themes, idioms, motifs that occur in the piece – perhaps this can help your interpretation?
⁃ Historical style/context: could you use ornaments? should you apply musica ficta? is there a historical pronunciation method? authentic vocal style should be considered (in pop and jazz as well as any classical historical period).
⁃ Chordal and harmonic analysis of complex pieces – where is each phrase leading? where is the apex of the whole piece?


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