Where Are You When You Sing? Proprioception for Beginners

Proprioception is the awareness of one’s body in space. It’s the sense that we all use continuously (otherwise we would wander into walls and tip over sideways all the time).  The problem is that we don’t use it consciously.  Using this “Sixth Sense” consciously in preparing to sing can give you both support and freedom of movement that will improve your sound and your stamina.  If you’re also a director, effectively communicating this to your singers will take the ensemble up a notch.
 (Perfect singers and ensembles need read no further.)

We’re told endlessly to “stand up straight” or “put your shoulders back.”  At that command, many snap into a parody of military attention for a few seconds. Others just shuffle about.  Melanie Malinka gave her ensemble at this summer’s CMAA Colloquium the best directions I’ve ever heard and which are now engraved in my heart.  Ms. Malinka is the Director of Music at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City.  She works with bright and able children.  You can’t give them vague directions; they want specifics.  And here they are:

1. Stand with your feet under your shoulders, hip width apart.

2. Put your weight over the arch in your feet.  This is critical!  You may feel as though you’re falling forward because most of us lean back on our heels.  Don’t worry – you won’t fall down.

3. Tuck your tailbone under.  Check this by putting your hands behind you and making an inverted triangle with your thumbs and index fingers at the base of your spine. A nicely tucked tailbone will engage your core muscles.  It will also help raise your sternum, getting rid of the curled-up slump that most of us have from driving, working at the computer, etc.

4. Bring your chin down and lengthen the back of your neck.  Again, we tend to crank our necks heads back (counterbalancing the slump).  Balance your head by putting your hands on the two “bumps” on the back of your head and feeling them rise to their natural position as you lower your chin.  You can look down at your music without bending over it.  Lower your eyes.

5. When singing without music, e.g., warm-ups, put your hands even with the side seams on your pants.  That will also help move your shoulders gently back and raise your breastbone (aka sternum). (This is a suggestion of my own.)

You and your singers will have a supported frame for your singing, the space for your lungs to do their job, and an open passageway for the sound.  Your body will be working with you, not against you.

“Wait, wait,” you cry.  “I can’t remember all of that and it will take me forever to get lined up. Choir rehearsal will be over before we ever get ready.”  Okay.  Start with steps 1 and 2.  Take your time.  Add an additional step each week.  And keep up the reminders.  Be a bit of a “body nag.”  If you can, write these steps in abbreviated form on a white board or poster in the front of the room.

Remember to practice what you preach.  And may Melanie Malinka and her singers live long and prosper!

Colloquium 2014: Positive Reactions!

Horst buchholz directing Victoria’s Requiem

This year was my first colloquium, and I ABSOLUTELY LOVED it. I met so many new people, made lots of new friends, and met several of the other Café authors too, including Adam Bartlett, Mr. C, Jenny Donelson, Fr. Smith, and lots of other people too from the MusicaSacra Forum. I learned so much from the breakout sessions, and singing chant under the skilled Scott Turkington for the whole week. But I’m not the only one! Many other attendees had great things to say about it as well!

Tommy Myrick, a fellow cantor of mine during the Colloquium in Scott Turkington’s Schola had, among other things, an interesting reflection that struck him during one of the Colloquium liturgies.

On this day, it sunk in why the Church has to be something not of this world. Outside there was loud music (which could be heard inside the church), the hustle and bustle of this fast paced world, and hundreds (if not thousands) of souls wandering here and there. In the midst of this modern chaos, we who were attending the Colloquium were assembling to take part in Holy Mass. Here, we had stepped out of time and space to be with our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. It was not like anything you could find on the streets of Indianapolis at the time.

Fr. James Bradley, who speaks about his experiences in learning more about liturgical music, and his great experiences. Fr. Bradley also wrote more about his experiences here and here in other posts on his blog.

Jeffrey Morse’s daily solfège warmups

Last week’s CMAA colloquium, I think, provided a number of key ways to implement this sound principle in an authentic way. First, we know that liturgical paradigm articulated by the CMAA could be well described as ‘sing the Mass, not sing at Mass’. This is something that has been spoken of before by Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth regarding the revised English translation of the 2002 Missale Romanum, and it is a principle that we should take very seriously.

In the chanting of the proper texts and, where possible, according to the proper chants, the faithful participate at a deeper and more profound level in the liturgy of the Church, than when the prescribed liturgical texts are supplanted by hymnody or, even, silence. I am yet to be convinced by any argument that prefers non-biblical texts at any point in the Mass, over those antiphons and psalms that flow from sacred scripture and which have been an integral part of the western liturgy for hundreds of years.

Fr. David Friel, one of the bloggers at CCW, also wrote about his great experiences in Indianapolis, specifically one of the breakout sessions session given by one off my new friends, Charles Cole, on chant harmonization:

Charles Cole’s chant harmonization breakout session

Yesterday, I chose to attend the breakout session led by Charles Cole in Christ Church Cathedral. The topic was how to accompany chant on the organ for which Charles gave us a number of “rules” to follow. He also acknowledged that not all of these rules must always be strictly followed.

First among the “rules” is the need to stay within the notes of the scale pertinent to the mode. Also, as in all composition, parallel octaves and fifths are to be avoided. Perfect cadences are not advisable. Registration and harmonization, we were taught, ought to serve the melody and text (which are always paramount in chant), striving to remain unobtrusive. It seemed to me that the underlying thrust of the presentation was this: a skillful organ accompaniment can actually help to reveal facets of modality within a particular chant.

Father Friel wrote several posts about his experiences that you can find in 4 parts: I II, III and IV.

Were you there? Did you enjoy it? Share your experiences below too!

Seven Days of Heaven, or a week in “Indie”

Photo courtesy of Charles Cole

I have a certain respect for the cultural assignation “indie.” Basically it’s a post-boomer rhetorical add-on to both the lexicon and parlance for artistic endeavors and projects un-beholden to “the man” or “the machine.” In filmdom and popular music is where one finds its most common usage. Directors like Gus Van Zant. Werner Herzog, John Sayles (to name but a few) and musicians such as Jewel, Kurt Cobain and Ani DiFranco distinguished their total independence from the artistic status quo and the requisite funding and handling that attends their respective industries. However, for the hundreds and even thousands of secular (and, who knows, sacred) “indie” artists who achieved acclaim on their own, by their own rules and inertia, most of them ended up integrating into the interdependence of the “machine” who recognized, funded and marketed their unique visions and voices so as to charm and enchant larger audiences to the spices and perspectives of their particular artistry to massive scales. It’s how this world works.

It is to this progression from independence (not liberty) to interdependence that occupies my heart this day after finally getting home from “Indy.” That and “jet lag” (four hour flight, hour to car from LAX, three hours to home and hugs, including total facial from senior French bulldog!) I was eight years ago almost disdainful of the attribution of “Seven Days of Musical Heaven” to the CMAA Colloquium. Seven years ago I decided to check out for myself this clever shill and then discovered true intra-dependence among the faculty and 100 attendees at the 2007 DC colloquium. Coming from a perspective informed both by independence (at the job level of teaching and parish) and corporate mindsets cultivated by NPM and ACDA, I had never before been swept away by the intra-dependence of absolute consensus about the “task at hand.” That, of course, was and remains the fit, right, universal, beautiful and (to the best of all abilities) sacred worship of our Creator by a manner of His creation: the art of music.

(Picking up essay Wednesday morning.) The first thing that comes to mind about the willingness and discipline involved in moving from independence to interdependence results from listening to one recording at Carl Dierschow’s website, the ubiquitous Mozart AVE VERUM CORPUS sung at our first Mass by all 250 of us at Indy under Horst. I personally was transfixed and transformed in those moments, not using the score at all. It was glorious and truly enthused. And you can hear that, feel that when listening to the mp3! Well, think about this: Carl wasn’t there, yet he gifts us by taking upon the compiling of our archives. (A bunch of other folks I love and respect weren’t physically there, but they can be because of Carl.) And no one then or at any other moment of the week engaged in what other groups call “showcases” at their confabs. Another moment flashed through my synapses- a particular moment when Dr. Buchholz asked assistance from his brilliant wife for unifying an incipit passage in the Requiem among the sopranos, addressing her as “Dr. Nam.” It was both so appropriate and so loving a gesture. And this was my first year with any meaningful encounters with Dr. Nam. She had heard of my bronchitis and made a point of checking upon me and asking me if I was aggressively treating the infection. Then later she noticed me leaving the hotel for St. John’s Church and shouted after me, offering to drive me in her car.

Oh, and did I mention the Requiem? Oh, well, it was literally “musical heaven,” an occasion of deep faith and witness, but also of ineffable joy. The profound, unfathomable presence of the Catafalque, Fr. Pasley’s explication of it prior to Mass, and then his amazing, word perfect mini-homily about the cross-relation (pun intended) between what the Catafalque represents and the eschatology of the light emerging the jeweled windows of St. John’s providing us sure hope, even knowledge that “we are not alone.” And because of the Requiem (and particular the Dies irae, for myself) we are not independent of each other and our Creator, Savior and Succor.

There are not enough superlatives to laud Janet Gorbitz, Mary Jane Ballou and sweet Mary “Mezzo” for their efforts they inherited early this year in order that colloquium could even get off the ground. And it soared! Enough thanks I cannot express privately or publicly to Richard Chonak for untold hours and years he’s personally provided me life and career-edifying help. Those who’ve known me and yet remained my friends (!) over these seven years of colloquia and fori know I’m a puddle-of-tears softie emo (in the parlance of our time) but little things such as claiming dearest Wendi and her mom as my sisters, the brave, undaunted Jessica as my adopted CMAA daughter, the new tangible friendship of my incredibly hospitable roomie who essentially made my visit to Indy possible, which I caricatured as the new CMAA “Felix and Oscar Odd Couple,” and upon whom I saved my requisite faux pas for the very end, when I spilled red wine upon his immaculate white shirt simply by standing up when Dr. Labounsky was leaving the table at the final brunch! David, you are delight! May all good graces come your way.

I think of the amazing Aristotle! Our Aristotle, Esquerra, and his loving bride, flashing that incandescent, Cheshire Cat smile at every encounter, but yet so humble of heart after all the very real musical contributions and references for us for decades. And we are still interdependent upon those of us whom we’ve met at CMAA events for so many years. Kathy from Reno who’s quarter century of faithful, (gotta be sacrificial) attendance at colloquia is a sure foundation upon which all these beautiful young people can stand and sing our prayers. And the clergy? I’m speechless in anticipation of the renewal that some of our boomers, genX’ers and millennial priests and seminarians will assist our Lord in reviving the living traditions of our ritual faith expressions. Can it be that the ever eloquent and intellectually gifted Fr. Smith was the same person who quietly giggled when I uttered a sibilant a split second too early on Saturday and ducked when Horst’s head turned faster than the Terminator’s knowing that face would have red eyes of death by lazar beam? Yup, same guy.

We are also indebted to the Kathy Pluths, Arlene’s, JT’s, Norman from Oregon, Mary Ann the Singing Mum, and our cyber buds Noel, CDub, Liam, francis, J.Quick, RollingRJ, et al who were absent this year but ever-present. Told you all I’m a crier, in all meanings of that word. Lastly, there is only One-in-Three to whom we are totally DEPENDENT, and to Him I offer my thanks. And I should not be surprised, hopefully upon the moment when the purgatory light turns from red to green in my eyes, that when I first see my Maker, He’ll probably look not unlike William Mahrt. We were Indy, not “indie.” (No Pelagian implication intented!)

Colloquium Vlog – Day 5+6

The mood has been bittersweet as we complete our final day. My apologies for the missed video yesterday, so I incorporated some clips from yesterday before playing today’s clips.

And again, if you haven’t been following Charles Cole’s photos on New Liturgical Movement, I’d highly encourage you to check them out, particularly pictures of today’s amazing requiem for deceased CMAA members.

We are the “Large Array”

If you’ve ever seen the film version of Carl Sagan’s “Contact,” you’ve seen two of many magnificent earthbound radio telescope installations, namely the Large Telescope in Arracebo, Puerto Rico and the Very Large Array of dish telescopes in the New Mexico desert. Jodie Foster’s character resolutely believes that “little green men” have and are trying to contact “us.” So, she and her crew relentlessly listen for frequencies that are unidentifiably “foreign” to cosmological emmissions.

I’ve had my second bout of bronchitis at a colloquium this year, but got antibiotics called in from California which I got onboard immediately. That allowed me to participate in my schola and choir for each day, amid getting some rest at other points of the day. But, during yesterday’s Mass (Latin OF) and Wednesday’s EF I purposefully sat in the very back- does that make me a real Catholic or just a conscientious PIP?- even though bronchitis isn’t contagious.

The Reverend Doctor Ed Schaefer’s schola chanted the Latin Introit from the very front of the nave on the gospel side. From the back of the church I could hardly hear them without intensive focus on my part. When I psychologically adjusted to that I heard first the men effortlessly sailing through the antiphon in a manner that would suggest an almost sotto voce vocal technique, but it really wasn’t. They sang with what Horst Buchholz says, “sing with two ears, not one mouth.” And then the more accessible treble women took over the antiphon adding the beauty of womenchant with almost sheer perfection. I had to write down, “I’m listening to angelic choirs (literally?) crossing, or permeating the noises and frequencies that reverberate through both the cosmos and our earth. AKA, “Contact.”

It was yet another revelation to me from yet another moment in a colloquium. Actuoso means that, like those telescopes, we have to have our human “operator,” our will and desire, predisposed to listen for those beatific sounds. Maybe all of them won’t be perfect or pretty or pristine, but they’re there at every Mass. And if you don’t understand what I’m saying, get thee to a colloquium.

Colloquium Vlog – Day 4

Day four has come and gone. I was lucky enough to be able to be able to learn how to better harmonize chant, then play the big organ as well! We also had vespers and compline. Check it out!

Looking for more Colloquium Coverage? Check out NLM!

For you readers at home following the Chuch Music Association of America’s annual Colloquium in Indianapolis here at the Café with my videos and Mr. C’s posts, I’d encourage you to check out one of the CMAA’s other sites, New Liturgical Movement, where you can find pictures of all our liturgies to get a small taste for one of the most beautiful parts of the Colloquium. I’d encourage you to check it out every day this week for all the fantastic photos you could want from the Colloquium Masses and other liturgies!

Here’s a small selection of his photos from this week, check out New Liturgical Movement every day for more photos of our all beautiful liturgies!

Colloquium Vlog – Day 3

And we’re into day three for the 2014 Colloquium! Another full day with organ recitals, more rehearsals, preparations for solemn vespers tomorrow afternoon, and crazy architecture professors spreading the love around for sacred architecture!