At this past July’s North American Jewish Choral Festival in the beautiful Hudson Valley of New York, we had the chance to hear many choirs of varying skill level. Two of the tell-tale signs of a group’s degree of accomplishment were its degree of confidence and its energy level.
Among the very best of these choral ensembles was the select group of young singers from the International Jewish High School Choir, who performed with a degree of commitment and certainty not often encountered outside the professional realm. These young people possessed a thorough knowledge of the music they were singing, and they gave a passionate, energized performance throughout. This was true of all the best ensembles we heard.
The tragedy was how easily one or two hesitant or missed entrances, or lackadaisically executed soft passages, seriously marred some otherwise respectable performances at the festival.
Timid Doesn’t Cut It. There is simply no place for hesitation or timidity in choral singing, or indeed in any sort of performance. That awkward entrance by the basses, that lack of energy in quiet passages, and worst of all, the unnecessary sagging pitch which happens out of carelessness – these things simply don’t sell with the listener. Effective performance, whether in concert or in worship, means being fully committed, and fully engaged in the music.
What are the causes of timidity in performance, and how can they be avoided or mitigated?
Quiet doesn’t mean weak or feeble. It’s a natural subconscious assumption we all tend to make, that when we get soft, we can somehow relax, go on “auto-pilot,” use less energy or, in the most common phenomenon of all, slow down. On the contrary, it is in these quiet, piano places where heightened energy is especially important. Without it, the passage simply won’t read well from the audience.
Low Energy Leads to Flat Singing. If we are singing without full engagement, we are less likely to be fully “tuned in” to the rest of the group, and that’s where sagging or otherwise faulty pitch can more likely happen. Good ensemble means everyone must be singing in the same key!
Nerves Undermine Confidence. For any performance, you must assume that you’ll be nervous – that is, unless you are such a veteran or you’ve performed the music so many times that you could do it in your sleep. (And in that case, the danger might be low energy – see above).
While nervous energy can actually work in our favor, often with performance nerves, we become less certain of everything, such as entrances, proper pitches, correct rhythms, etc. Our vocal abilities are also compromised – we suffer from dry throat, less solid breath support, and tension.
The best way to combat nervousness, and even use it to our advantage, is to concentrate intently on the music, on performing all the tempo and dynamic subtleties you should have learned in rehearsal, and of course, on staying scrupulously in tune. When you’re focusing carefully on these things, you won’t have time to think about being nervous. And this means that you must….
Know Your Music! Perhaps the main cause of hesitation or timidity in performance is not knowing what you’re doing. Be confident and comfortable with every note, every rhythm, every nuance of loud or soft, slow or fast, both as an individual singer and as a group. If you can know the music well enough to look at the conductor at least occasionally, the performance will be all the more solid, and knowing the music thoroughly will make the experience far more gratifying for you, for the ensemble, and for the listener.
Sing Like a Leader. Make it your business to be a strong link in the chain of your choir. When you “own” the material you are performing, you have less need to rely on others around you, and you can make entrances and cues with authority. Of course, this works far more effectively if everyone can sing like a leader, and there are no weak links!
He who hesitates is lost. Chazzak, chazzak (“Be strong, be strong!”). Join Email List