Thursday, August 13, 2015

Kodaly in the Choral Classroom Workshop- The Rehearsal

Alright- time for Part 3 of my series Kodaly in the Choral Classroom- Notes and thoughts on a workshop with Dr. Laszlo Norber Nemes at Capital Univeristy.  Today I will be focusing on THE REHEARSAL! Finally!

Don't forget to check out the first two posts in the series (links below) - Dr. Nemes had so much information I just couldn't condense it all into one post! He is truly a master teacher- if you ever get a chance to go to Hungary to learn from him at the Kodaly Institute, or attend a workshop with him where ever you are I highly recommend it!

Part 1- Auditions and the 1st Rehearsal
Part 2- Warm-ups
Part 4- Picking and Preparing Music

This post, as some of the others were, will be two-fold.  I will share general advice for conductors to follow during the rehearsal and more specifically 5 issues in regards to intonation and how to help.

A few things to remember:  When teaching chorus- the objective should be to teach music JOYFULLY with concepts leading students down the road to understanding music.

Through singing, students can develop the following:
1. The feeling of musical time (sense of beat, rhythm, meter, form, tempo, etc.)
2. Inner-hearing
3. Melodic skills
4. The ability to move from monophony to polyphony
5. Sensitivity toward pure intonation
6. Reading musical notation on a staff
7. Reading musical notation using a hand-staff or hand-signs
8. Musical memory
9. Transposition (especially with the use of a handstaff)
10. Improvisation (question and answer using solfa, etc.)

When teaching in chorus the teacher should prepare and teach by deconstructing a piece of music.  The chorus members then reconstruct the music though guidance from the conductor.

When reconstructing and learning a new song, students should use solfege as much as possible.  They can sight read, follow from hand-signs or hand-staff, or even echo singing (whether T sings solfa or a neutral syllable- students always sing solfa).  Even if students have never used solfege before, it is still beneficial- eventually they will get the sounds of the intervals in their ears and they will be sight-reading before you know it!

Remember you do not have to teach a song in order from start to finish- starting with melody.  Sometimes it is beneficial to start with easier sections to give students a sense of accomplishment.  Or start with a section you know may be tricky so students have a lot of time to really figure it out and get the sound of the line in their head. Sometimes you may want to teach all students a harmony part BEFORE you teach the melody line.  However, as you teach sections, they should be taught in their entirety- including dynamics and everything so students do not get used to singing without all that is written on the page.

Also, just as you would have logical transitions in a general music lesson, they have a place in the chorus lesson as well. Make your rehearsal flow seamlessly by using lines from previous songs as transitions by perhaps having students work on their musicianship.  Have them echo lines (step step, sing sing as mentioned in the warm-up post or reading from hand-signs, etc.) and start with the meter and/or tone-set from the song that was just worked on.  Slowly transition to a new song by adding or subtracting notes from the tone-set or beats from the measure.  End on a line from the next song you want to teach. Don't be afraid to play music reading games in chorus, just as you would in general music!

Here are a few other tid-bits to remember during a chorus rehearsal:
1. Divide the piece into manageable sections- don't leave the ending for too late!
2. ALWAYS give the starting pitch (or if your choir is more advance, the tonal center)
3. Let the choir know how you will conduct- if you are changing your beat pattern warn them
4. When correcting a piece be sure to isolate patterns for corrections- don't just have the chorus sing the whole song again.
5. If there is repetition in the rehearsal (which there will be!) be sure to give a reason why- are you working on a specific section or interval?  Practicing dynamics? Working on Memorization?

**After the rehearsal is over, immediately (or as soon as possible) write the plan for the next rehearsal.  This way joys and concerns from the lesson will be fresh in your mind.  If you can't write the whole plan- be sure to at least take detailed notes about where you left off in a piece, what was unclear, and what needs work.  This is especially important if you do not see your group every day!**

5 issues in regards to intonation: Every chorus director knows that many things can contribute to the intonation of a choir.  Here are 5 issues and things to think about when trying to fix them!

1. Balance Within the Group: The foundation of balance is PERFECT UNISON.  All voices should blend so that they sound as 1- especially in pp dynamics!  Help students to work together and LISTEN to those around them so that one voice does not stick out.  I will never forget that while in high school a girl in my choir announced one day that she would NOT blend at school because she had to blend in the Youth Choir she was in and she wanted to show off her voice... what??? Be sure students understand the reason behind blending and listening :)

2. Oblique, Inversions, and Parallel Movements in Harmonies: Remember, when the vocal line is moving up you think larger, more energetic intervals.  However, when the line is descending, thing smaller and more careful intervals so as to not go flat. Practice this in warm-ups with reading from hand-sings (P1 follows right hand while P2 follows left), or other simple sight-reading exercises.

3. Long Tones and Repeated Notes: A teacher must remember that they have to teach how to intone a note that is long held, encouraging students to not drop the pitch just because they are running out of air.  Rather, they should be taught to stagger breathe and the technique for coming back in on the same note!  We also need to think about repeated notes as well and being sure that they are not dropping in pitch with each repetition.

4. Danger Points of Intonation: A teacher must be able to discern between the following danger points!
        A. Singing notes around breaks
        B. Loud Dynamics (don't push sharp!)
        C. Quiet Dynamics (keep the support- don't get lazy and go flat!)
        D. Problematic Vowels and Diphthongs (teach students proper vowel formation- warm-ups are a great time to practice!)
        E. Support and Posture (no slouching!)
        F. Letting the pitch change when the word ends on a voiced consonant (don't let it happen!)
        G. Key Changes (be sensitive!)

5. Natural Dynamics: Be sure the chorus is balanced in numbers.  Note: This does not mean equal numbers in all parts! In a 2 or 3 part chorus, the part that has the most members should be the lowest (in my case, the Altos).  The next largest group should be the highest (Sopranos) and finally the middle group should have the least number of people.  These numbers should not be vastly different but it definitely helps when trying to balance a chord (root = loudest, then 5th, then 3rd).   Also remember to crescendo on ascending passages adding energy to the line and decrescendo on descending passages, treating the line with care. 

I will leave you with a quote from Dr. Nemes: "If something doesn't work, find the mistake in YOU [the teacher]."

Don't forget to check out the other posts in the series if you missed them! Links are at the top!

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