SINGING IN CHOIRS - A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE SOLOIST
HOW TO SING HEALTHILY IN CHOIRS - A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE SOLOIST
At some point in their careers, some solo singers will be faced with the necessity of doing choral work. I am a great admirer of great choral music, and am in awe of ensembles such as the Berlin Radio Choir and Voices of Ascension in New York City, with their perfect homogeneity of sound and profound expressivity. I have a deep reverence for the vast and noble choral repertory.
However, for a soloist, especially a larger voiced soloist, especially those “born to sing opera”, there are numerous technical challenges to be met in order to sing healthily in a chorus and maintain a connected vocal technique. I recommend that if at all possible, a solo singer, especially an opera singer, not take on choral work, and if they must, that they do it in an opera chorus setting. An office job (with its own challenges to the psyche and the physique), would be a better money-making option, especially if undue demands are not placed on the speaking voice. Classroom teaching places huge demands on the speaking voice, and a supported, well-placed speaking voice is critical to withstanding speaking in front of classrooms full of students all day.
Let’s assume that you have been offered a church job, and are tempted by the weekly paycheck and perhaps the opportunity to sing the occasional solo. If you are a dramatic soprano, try to find a job singing alto in a chorus. If you are a dramatic or larger lyric tenor, try to find a job as a baritone. This strategy is not a panacea – it presents challenges to healthy technique as well, but may be preferable for higher dramatic voices.
In a chorus, you will be asked to “rein in” your singing voice immediately. Good choral blend requires this. Your integrity as an artist and employee will be compromised if you constantly “mark” and let your colleagues bear the burden of high tessituras, ultra-scaled-back dynamics, and compromised vowel structures. However, the intense partials and “cut” of a well-produced solo voice are anathema to the chorus master.
It is essential that you vocalize thoroughly before a rehearsal and choral performance. “Phoning it in” is an invitation to high-larynx singing. Equally importantly, it is essential to do a vocal “warm down” after sessions of choral work. This will re-establish the solo voice in its healthier technical platform and help undo the bad habits that invariably creep into the voice production of the solo singer required to do choral singing on a sustained basis. I am not an advocate of “forward placement”, but the choral arena is one setting where allowing the tonal focus to rest on the upper teeth, with slight flare of the nares cartilages (area around nostrils) may be helpful. You must be ultra-conscious of the quality of your breathe intake (very deep) and breath outflow (supported deep in the body). You must be as conscious and diligent about breath support as you would be singing a solo aria or role, perhaps more so. The same goes for posture.
Those who believe choral singing is easy money, without detriment to the solo voice, will be unpleasantly surprised, especially if required to sung a lot of “early” music. Still, it is possible to maintain good vocal health and strong solo technique if proper attention is paid to warm-up, warm-down and absolute attention to breath support, posture and placement.