Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Worship Conference 2017: Singing a New Tune


Ever since I first started singing harmony in church, I've considered myself an alto. My mother enjoys singing harmony in the hymn singing at church, so I simply picked it up from her. Thanks to her, I became very adept at sight-reading in high school and took a course in college (it was called Sight Singing and Ear Training) to get even better.

While at Martin Luther College, I also took voice lessons for a semester. It was to fulfill a requirement, but it ended up stretching me because I'd never done that kind of vocal work before. It's so different from singing in a choir!

My teacher, Jodi, listened to me sing and gave me a ton of helpful things to do with my body and my breathing to get me to sing at my best. But she also revealed to me something very surprising: I am not a natural alto!

This shouldn't have surprised me, to be honest. My mother and sister both are sopranos and have a very wide vocal range. I just figured I was the opposite of them, because I'm always the opposite of them. Even in my high school and college choirs I was selected to the second alto voice (the lowest vocal position a girl could be) and I got very good at singing low parts.

Jodi informed me that I was a mezzo soprano. If you know your Italian, mezzo means "medium." So while I couldn't hit the insanely high notes, I could get pretty high. I'd just honestly never tried!

In college I just internally scoffed at her suggestion of switching vocal voices. I was an alto, that was the cool part, and that's all there was to it!

Fast forward to real-life...

I have now been the choir director of several groups - senior and junior choirs, small groups, trios, and duos. I have found that while a piano is very helpful, the best way to teach a section is to hear it sung from the actual instrument for which it's intended.

Because of that, I have found myself singing all four parts as I lead choir practices. Sometimes I jump around between parts in the middle of a song. (Though I make sure they know it so they don't get confused.) And if I know that a certain section is struggling, I will take on their part when we perform - and yes, I've even sung bass for a song. (Not very well.)

I have done three Festival Choirs at the WELS Worship Conference, and each time I sang the voice part in which I was most comfortable: second alto. However, this time around I decided to go on a different path. So I selected the second soprano voice part.

Why would I do this? Several reasons: First, I am interested in a change of pace. Second, my mother and I often practice together, and I figured it might be a good idea to learn the same part instead of learning my part and hers. Third, I've never sung soprano as the member of a choir before! If I have the chance, why not take it?

It will provide a good set of challenges. More often than not, the pieces I will be singing have four lines of music. After almost twenty years of reading the second line of notes, I need to condition myself to read the top line.

While I know my voice can hit those high notes, but can it hit the high notes during an entire concert? And how many times am I going to accidentally enter with the altos?

I have two weeks to get my ducks in order before this concert shakes out. I have confidence that I can do it. And I know one thing for sure: I'm going to have a lot of fun being a faux-soprano!

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