Welcome to Renate's Baton. This blog is mostly for and about my choir, The York Region Community Choir.

But, While I'm holding the baton, I'm in charge. So, if I want to talk about other parts of my life, I will. :)

The choir itself is a community and I'm discovering that we have a lot in common with one another besides our love of music and singing.

When I go off on a tangent, there is always a crowd coming along. Join us!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Last rehearsals went well!

Our last rehearsals went well.

We were very good, but not perfect, which is actually perfect ;) We can hope that all of our mistakes have been made and are done, and we're ready to be excellent on Saturday.

Cutting down the length of the program will help us to relax and focus on the pieces that are left. It was very difficult to cut pieces. I love all of the music. I hope your favourite pieces are still in.

We have a wonderful variety of music and a great mix of solos, small ensembles and big choir pieces with piano, guitar, ukulele, piano with guitar, and even snapping accompanying our voices, so it will be a real treat for our audience.

Most of our friends and family already expect this fun variety show, but I know some people will come expecting to be martyred after listening to 2 hours of hymns. (I'm sure you also get asked again and again, which church you sing at.) Won't they be surprised! We have so much incredible talent and energy in our choir and it's exciting to show it off.  I can't wait!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

May 20: Victoria Day

We're a dedicated bunch! We had an excellent rehearsal on Victoria Day Monday!

We sang O Canada, and it was powerful.

Blue Skies is super with Lauren and Gerry doing the solos and all the snapping!

From a Distance is beautiful but we had to spend quite a bit of time reviewing sections. Please review pages 6 and 7 on your own so that we've all got it right. It's important to end strong.

We also spent more time than expected on Wild Mountain Thyme. Please review the words "go and we'll all." Bars 37 and 45 are the way you want to sing, and that's why they're the ones at the end. At the beginning,  it's different, slower. Look at bar 14. Be sure to come in on beat 2 with the word 'and'. Tenors and Basses are extra strong on the word "thyme" and at the end, starting at bar 46.

Small Groups: Lean on Me was fabulous, but we need to memorize it! I keep messing up my words. Spend some time this week memorizing Lean on Me.

Higher and Higher and Together Wherever We Go will not be meeting early until Tuesday. On Tuesday, come at 6:30.

I am working on the concert order. I'll send an email when I've set an order so that you can put your binders in order. We're almost there!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Breathing is Vital

We spend a fair amount of time on the topic of breathing.

Yes, it's vital. We can't live without breathing.  And, you might think it's just a natural thing. But, breathing efficiently and effectively is not something you can leave up to nature. In every physical activity, proper breathing technique is important. Running, swimming, every sport demands a different breathing technique. Singing is physical too, and you have to pay attention to your breathing.

When we do warm-ups, I'm always sure to remind you to breathe with your whole body, with a focus on your "core". When we sing, I remind you of where you can and cannot take a breath. I encourage you to mark the places where you need to take a breath, so that you do it consistently and so you don't run out of air and take a big gulp where you're not supposed to.

We talk about the team work a choir does when we use staggered breathing over a very long phrase. You take a quick breath when others aren't taking theirs so that it sounds like nobody's taken a breath at all. We should not be able to hear a breath in the middle of a phrase.

Particularly in solos and small groups, you can't afford to take a breath in the middle of a phrase, because you will be heard. And, the distraction will detract from the performance. Mark your breaths and pay attention.

Listening to some of the recordings of previous performances, I was hearing some annoying sounds of breathing where there shouldn't be any. It's almost as bad as frowning and making faces, and not watching, and wearing short sleeves when everyone else is wearing long sleeves. Watch the videos on YouTube before we perform again, and let's try to make this performance even better!

May 13

Higher and Higher was so good that we don't have to meet next week! Nobody has to come early.

I was very pleased to see that most of you were there, despite the Leafs' last game of the Playoffs. Yup. Their last.

One Small Step was super.
On Eagle's Wings is done, and excellent. We'll review it again next week, but it's good to go!
You'll Never Walk Alone was amazing! I thought we'd have lots to review, but it was excellent.
We also sang a stupendous Song for the Unsung Hero. No worries.

Kit and Michelle brought lots of yummy homemade cookies and Debbie made us decaf coffee so we had a nice long break and had a chance to chat.

Lean on Me is coming along very nicely and sounded really cool with the guitar amplified.

Next week is the Victoria Day long weekend, but we are still meeting. Hopefully, you'll be back from the cottage in time. This will be our last chance for learning. The following Monday will be the week of the concert and we will focus on running through the concert order to see if it works. Then, the next night, Tuesday, we'll go to Trinity Anglican in Aurora to see how it works there with the sound and entering and exiting, etc.

For Victoria Day Monday:

Blue Skies
From a Distance
O Canada
On Eagle's Wings
Wild Mountain Thyme

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

May 6

Higher and Higher and Together Wherever We Go met early and are having fun and doing well.

Our warm up was mostly about getting the most out of a breath. We had lots of long phrases in our music, especially places where one group is holding a note while the others are singing and the sound has to be consistent.

We spent most of our time on page 6 of every piece it seemed...weird.

I'd Like to Teach the World To Sing: great solos, excellent, but could be better on holding those notes all the way to the end and not dropping out or losing the quality of the tone.

From a Distance: We finished it! And, we sang it completely a cappella beautifully! The solos are lovely, especially the way Jane and Daphne's voices blend. Loved it!

On Eagle's Wings: We finished this too! I'm so happy with the way this progressed and was learned very quickly. It helps that it's a fantastic arrangement.

I'll Be There For You: Done too. It was so easy. I love a fun and easy song! Just watch for the parts where you're holding notes. Same issue as Teach The World.

Wild Mountain Thyme: Beautiful song. Solos are beautiful. Kevin's guitar is a great addition.

Next week:

Higher and Higher and Together Wherever We Go again at 6:30 (we need to review the alto part in Higher and Higher in the second half. Maybe we will stand differently?

Lean on Me at 9:30

We'll need to finish up You'll Never Walk Alone and get it working.
We'll review From a Distance and On Eagle's Wings.
One Small Step
Song for the Unsung Hero

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Perfect Choir Rehearsal: Planning

At the York Region Community Choir, we have a lot of fun and work hard to learn a great variety of music in preparation for our seasonal concerts and seniors' visits. Among us, there are some excellent musicians and singers who can read music and even sight-read. Most of the choristers, however, do not read music, except to know that the notes go up or down-ish, and use the music mostly for looking at the words, preferring to learn by ear. We have weekly rehearsals for 2 hours every Monday. You can see our repertoire for the present season in the right panel of this blog.

Here's how a good rehearsal goes. It's as easy as 1-2-3. 

Warm up physically and vocally, start and end with something that you can sing all the way through with some success, and do all the learning in the middle, with a break in the middle of the learning.

2. Success
3. Work
2. Success

1. Warm up

Starting on time, we have a good but quick physical warm-up and a vocal warm-up that helps to prepare for something challenging in the songs we're going to do. For example, if we're doing a song that has long phrases that require lots of breath, then we focus the work on breathing. When I can, I try to talk about some music theory and discuss the theory behind the exercises we do. They should be required to watch to be able to follow, so I change pace and vary the exercises.

The challenge is to be thorough but not take too much time away from singing. 10-15 minutes is about average. Sometimes, I choose a song that builds from easy and soft to more difficult and loud as our vocal warm-up if we're running behind.

It's important to have a physical warm up because a lot has happened in our day before we arrive at choir. We need to transition from stressed-out individuals with baggage to a relaxed and ready and unified choir.

Starting on time is always an issue. Obviously, it's best to start on time, every time.

2. Start and end with success

The first song and last song have to be something familiar that the choir can sing all the way through to give a feeling of success. Even if we're running late at the end, I make sure to end well. Better late than frustrated. I usually have the last song planned, but sometimes somebody suggests something. When that happens, I like to comply, because if the choir likes a song, they'll sound good, and when they sound good, everyone is happy.

Success is important. When the choir sounds good, I let them know. It's not hard for me to do, because I love them and love music and I'm very expressive. I cheer them on every step of the way. Sometimes, I'm over the top, but it's all good. We laugh, and it's like I'm their goofy mom and we're a family.

3. Work in the middle and break it up

The middle is where the work happens. The most difficult learning should happen in the first half of the night. We go straight to the tricky part of a song and learn it first. The section that's the easiest goes first. Usually that's Soprano. We listen to the piano play the part first, then sing. Sometimes, it helps to have the Sopranos sing their part sotto voce while the other parts are learning theirs, so that they can feel how the parts work together. That also gives them a job to do while the others are learning, so they don't have to sit and wait (and start chatting). Each section repeats their part as many times as necessary, sometimes 2 or 3 times, sometimes 5 or 6.  We sing that section or page, but not the whole song, unless it's fairly easy to sight-read. Then, we move on to another piece so that we don't get bogged down.

If we need to spend a long time on one piece, we take a break before starting another. Break time is important. It changes the pace of the rehearsal and gives choristers important opportunities for socializing and doing administrative business. Important team-building happens during break. Don't skip it.

We work on 2 or 3 pieces that need work, so we're singing 4 or 5 pieces in total for a 2-hour rehearsal. We might manage another run-through of a piece that's ready, for a total of 6. I've tried to do more, but almost always do 4-5.

When we're looking at a piece of music for the first time, we "walk" through it. I point out who's singing what and whether there is a repeat or a section that repeats with a key change, and where the loud bits and quiet bits are, so we get an idea of where we're going with the song. Then, we sight-read it, so those who are skilled sight readers have a chance to practise (and show off) this skill, and for others to get an idea of how the song goes. Then, I zoom in to the trickiest part that involves all part. If there's a hard part that's 4 bars of just Tenors, I don't do that first. Everyone should be involved in that first lesson.

Planning is key

I start planning a season months in advance. I make a schedule for the whole season, giving each day around 5 pieces and giving 3-6 rehearsals for each piece for learning and then review, depending on the level of difficulty. I plan each week's rehearsal the day before and review the plan before rehearsal. I usually learn all the parts of the tricky bits. I circle trouble spots as we sing, and make notes during rehearsal. I try to be flexible and adjust my schedule as I go. Although planning is key, flexibility is really the most important thing overall in my job as choir director. I always have to have a Plan B, or be prepared to make one up fast. That'll be the subject of another post.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

April 29th

6:30 Higher and Higher met and we got through the whole thing
then we sang Together Wherever We Go

We sang Hallelujah and it was a bit messy at first, but we fixed it.
We need to listen to each other and blend.
We sang all of Flying Free.
From A Distance: We learned pg. 6 43-52, and now we know the whole piece-but we need to review the end.
Greatest Love was pretty and pretty easy.
I Will Always Be With You is always beautiful, slower or faster.
Monday Monday is fabulous.

Lean on Me met after choir and it's coming along nicely. We have to work on memorizing it.

Next week:
Higher and Higher is meeting again, this time with accompaniment

From A Distance
On Eagle's Wings
I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing
I'll Be there for you
Wild Mountain Thyme

Lean on Me