Working with vocal ensembles on vocal technique

Weekly Teaching Tip – Nov. 16, 2015
by Piotr Markowski

By ‘vocal ensembles’ I mean various forms of collective singing – groups performing classical music, gospel or children’s choirs. Teachers often ask me: can the MIX technique be implemented for collective singing? My reply is always a firm YES. I would even say that the MIX technique is perfect for working with vocal ensembles, because modern ones have very varied repertoire and the MIX technique allows them to fully implement their chest and head voices – this will give them powerful lower sound in gospel, and also ability to perform the high-pitched classical parts. I am emphasizing this fact, because I have encountered numerous ensembles which sound good only in one style.

For example: ‘classically’ trained female voices very often have trouble with their chest voices, sometimes lacking them all together. (When singing high notes in classical pieces, without the necessity of going under middle E or D, they sound okay, but when they try to sing lower, in another style, e.g. gospel, they sound much worse ) Conclusions? By training the vocalists both in chest voice and head voice, we can be sure that they will be prepared to handle varied repertoire.

When leading vocal ensembles we must be not only conductors and accompanist, but also vocal
coaches with a deep understanding of voice. We must create an ‘orchestra’, with consistent sound. I believe that uniform, even sound is the greatest advantage of any good vocal group. Achieving this sound will be possible only if the entire ensemble uses similar vocal techniques.

At this point it is very important to understand that uniform vocal technique is not equal to losing individuality. Everyone has different emotionality – to put it simple, everyone is different. The trick is not to lose the individual characteristics of group members when working on unifying the ensemble sound.

I believe that one important thing that must be taken into consideration when working with a
vocal group is centralizing vowels. The problem with vowels is that they are formed in different locations: some in the front, some in the back, some in the middle. As teachers, we must help our vocalists to achieve the right location every time. When I work with vocal groups and have to practice a choir part with several voices at the same time, e.g. with sopranos, the majority of rehearsal is always dedicated to them singing the given fragment together in a comfortable spot. I add lyrics only when I know they sound good, and when they themselves feel comfortable in the given spot. This makes the vocal group sound consistent, which is, as I’ve already mentioned, the key.

I think that this elaboration can be treated as a short introduction to further study of working with vocal ensembles in the context of the MIX technique.

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