Ten tips for singing in big spaces

For my friends in the Renaissance choir who are going to sing in St. Peter’s in Rome and in Palestrina Cathedral, such an honour to be asked and a great reward for years of dedicated hard work.

(Bear in mind if it is very hot, to keep the fluid levels up and think COOL like Formula One racing drivers. It may be necessary to wear cooler clothing if you can. And make sure your feet are comfortable.)

  1. As you look out into the space feel yourself anchored strongly as you expand the back of your ribs, remember you were born for this. You should be using your low back muscles to take the effort, not your throat. If standing for a long time, place one foot slightly in front of  the other. Not stiff but bouncing on the balls of the feet as if ready to take a dive.
  2. Breathe as deep as you can and try to maintain the open rib swing. Try not to waste energy collapsing between phrases. The diaphragm will do the work if you keep the ribs wide and strong but not stiff. Keep the lower body free, some hip rotation before you walk on.
  3. Remember the space at the back of your throat! Just start your note and let the building take over.
  4. Enjoy using the acoustic, we may be in an intimate area of the cathedral for Mass. Your sound will be taken by the acoustic. It can be disconcerting as it sometimes feels you are on your own but trust your instincts to sing as you normally do. RELEASE between items.
  5. Emphasise the upper harmonics in your sound so that it is deep with breath but high in the soft palate, sing ee instead of eh, aa instead of ah. Italian and Latin vowels give you resonance.
  6. Give yourself a free facelift, stretch up those eyebrows, open up the space behind the eyes, it is the ‘ecstatic nun’ look, “the hills are alive with the sound of music” but it must be a genuine  pleasure of singing not a forced cheesy grin!
  7. Remember to catch the light in your eyes when you walk on into the space, it will lift your posture and your face will look animated. (It does help ladies to have a smidgeon of lipstick and a bit of mascara to highlight your beautiful faces under strong light- otherwise you can look a bit pale and grey…)
  8. Watch beginnings and ends of phrases. You will need to be quicker on the attack to be sure to keep on the pulse and at the ends of phrases when your breath is running out squeeze your buttocks to get the last drop of breath out. You have much more air in your reserves than you think. If you panic it will go. Remember you can breathe on a vowel in all sorts of secret places. Just keep the musical phrasing and the flow.
  9. You will need to work harder on your legato line, but not with the throat- it is the lower abs that are the engines for your line and in a big acoustic it shows up so much more. Listen and blend though, don’t just belt out the sound ignoring those around you. Mould and melt into the tone of the choir.
  10. Enjoy the space, it is exhilarating. Renaissance music needs to dance, so enjoy your fellow choristers lines. YOU ARE MAKING MUSIC! Relax and keep the breath spinning the plates. You should finish the concert/service with more vocal energy than you began, even if mentally you are exhausted! If you find your throat is sore, loosen your shoulders, jaw and tongue. Remember the pinprick point on the shoulder tip and rotate that surreptitiously.

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