Listening and blending with other singers was a challenge when I first arrived at choir practice a few years ago. You see, I grew up in the USA, married an Englishman, spent time in Northern Ireland picking up an awesome local accent, spent a year in the north of England, and finally moved back “home” to the South of England a few years ago.
As fun as all that travelling was, my accent was very confused, and singing with my friends in church was interesting at first! In fact, we had a few different accents in our choir, and it was necessary to address the issue of blending.
Decide Which Pronunciation to Use
In our choir, we go with traditional English pronunciations. After all, when in Rome, do as the Romans do! For example, at Christmas we sing, “O, Little Town of Beth-LEE-hem.” This is not the time to take a public stand on what is right or wrong or how you’ve always said something. You see, when you sing “EE”, and your neighbour sings, “eh” the notes go all clashy and sound wiggly wobbly. That’s not the sound we’re after. So, if there’s a discrepancy, settle it in rehearsal and if necessary, use a pencil to remind yourself. 😀
Blending Voices is Easy
After we settle on how to say those difficult words, we move onto blending voices. Just like having different backgrounds, our choir members have different voices. Some high, some low, some more clear, and others soft and delicate. All of these different voices combine to make a lovely sound. But, if any one voice sticks out, the choir ceases to be a choir and becomes a jumbled mess of single voices.
Rather than using a bunch of frustrating technical mumbo jumbo, I encourage each of us to listen to our neighbour. We let our voices become our neighbour’s. They do the same with ours. We stand in a circle and listen and change to become one voice. The result: instantaneous blending of voices and improvement that we all can enjoy. Smiles appear. We have learned to sing together.
Whether your choir is large or small, or whether you sing as a large group or a duet, you can follow these two simple rules. Agree on how you will say difficult words so your vowels don’t clash. Listen to your neighbour and adjust your voice to sound a little like them. These are two simple steps you can take to improve your volunteer choir without having any background in music.
I’d love to hear from you if you tried this and whether or not it worked for you. Do you have any tips for the rest of us? Please tell us in the comments below. Thanks so much!
For related posts see: Facial Expressions in the Volunteer Choir.