March 27 – Bravi / VTG Rehearsal #10

Rehearsal #11/March 22nd, 2017
March 25, 2017
Vocalise Blog #11: 3/27/2017
March 30, 2017

March 27 – Bravi / VTG Rehearsal #10

Hi, Bravi and VTG:

We are moving ever forward!  What an experience to work with Joan Szymko on her music, as well as some of our other repertoire.  I’d like each of you to spend some time this week, during your practice, reflecting on our time with her.  What did you learn?  What new insights did you gain?  Did she make anything “click” by saying it in a different way than you might otherwise hear from your conductors?  Did she leave you with further questions about her music or the art of choral singing in general?  What inspiration did you find in her intensity, dedication to music, and passion for the natural world?

I’d welcome any of your thoughts by email (, or in rehearsal next week.  I’d like to hear from each of you, please.  Feel free to write me personally — otherwise, we will have a brief discussion during our Bravi/VTG rehearsal next week.

Onto your action items for this week:

PICTURES and VIDEO at next rehearsal! What to wear:

Any cantabile T-shirt (tour, black Cantabile casual, Lord of the Rings…)

Bottoms: Yoga pants Ok or stretchy jeans for girls (no skirts, please), boys — shorts or pants that will allow you to sit cross-legged, and bend forward.

Bring your Cantabile mat.

Action Items:

  1. Memorize “Rain Music” — the notes, rhythms, cutoffs, added pitches, divisi, dynamics, feeling, and background — this was to be done last week, but still needed more work.
  2. Memorize “Famine Song” for next week.
  3. Refresh memory for “What I Have Done” — both Bravi and VTG, please — we did not touch this last week in rehearsal, but we will, this week.
  4. Revisit memorization and pitch accuracy for “Turn the World Around.”
  5. Work toward memory on “There Has to Be a Song” (your new tenor/bass parts are different!)
  6. Continued diction and legato work on “Esti Dal” (Bravi only).
  7. Practice incorporating the fine details addressed through Joan’s work on “We Are a Circle.”

Rain Music (Laura Farnell)

  • Memorization should be 100% this week, please.
  • Never, ever sing an American “rrrrrr” sound.  Words like “murmur” and “earth” are treacherous.  Pretend the “r” doesn’t exist. Open the vowel slightly toward a British pronunciation, or perhaps a French “oe” sound, as we discussed in rehearsal.
  • Cutoffs in the chorus (“on the Earth drum beats the rain”) need to be corrected and memorized.  Listen for the other part’s words.  Your “rain” will always cut off as the other part sings “Earth.”  Practice by imagining a singer from the other part singing along with you, and pretend that you two must show one another where to cut off.
  • Remember what Joan Szymko said: “fortissimo can sound angry”… if we aren’t careful.  The driven, strong sound of this piece is very exciting, but please be sure in your practice to employ the wisdom of Robert Shaw, a famous choral conductor, from whom I stole this gem: “Never sing louder than you can sing beautifully.”

Famine Song

  • Overall, clearer expression will come from energizing notes and phrases with your breath, not introducing tension to your singing.
  • Make diphthong and consonant changes in words like “child” and “wild” more rhythmic. (Joan Szymko: “Your voice is a vowel-making machine!” VMM!)
  • In the “Rain” section starting at measure 20, everyone should sing with a lighter color – match the sopranos’ tone.
  • When you hold out longer notes like “Rain” at measure 20, do not anticipate the diphthong or the final consonant. Both should be sung as late as possible. (VMM!)
  • Focus on creating more unified vowels — particularly on words like “rain,” where basses are singing quite low and tenors are quite high.  Tenors, please lengthen and soften this vowel.  Basses, bring it forward and make sure it is not too dark.
  • Make sure the forte at “Weave my mother, etc.” is not angry; rather, sing with passion and compassion.
  • In the section from mm. 34-48: make note changes between barlines more fluid – none of these changes should sound like a firm arrival. We are looking for a true legato.
  • Tune the octaves in your parts starting at m. 38 — line them up exactly and know which part is singing octaves with you (Hint: look at your scores!).
  • When snapping at the end of the song, try to overlap with the people around you as little as possible.

What I Have Done (arr. Takach)  (Repeated notes from last week, since we did not make it to this piece in rehearsal)

  • Tenors, please revisit the pitches in mm. 45 – 46.  the C# in tenor 1 was not present in this past rehearsal, and is important to the chord.
  • The same applies to Baritones in m. 48.  C# is the third of this chord (what chord is it, by the way?).
  • Basses and baritones, please practice the rhythms in mm. 71 – 75.  The polyrhythm here is really interesting but you were rushing significantly on Monday’s rehearsal.  Sit gently on these quarter notes.  Do not accent or rush them.  Let the tenors “guide” the rhythm here, as they sing the melody.
  • All:  mm. 92 – 93 should float heavenward — gracefully, as the text says.  Do not sing heavily.  Use a light, shimmering, head-voice tone.
  • Baritones: the final G# needs to be sung on a pure “oh” vowel,” and must be placed high to define this final E-major chord.

Turn the World Around (Belafonte)

  • Try to have the first 6 pages memorized this week. Much of the material is repeated, so please spend some time thinking about the structure of the piece and incorporate this structure into your memorization.
  • Tenors: your first low F entrance in m. 29 is very important.  Please make sure it is solid, confident, and in tune.
  • Remember your rhythmic movement homework for this piece to truly feel the groove of the 5/4 meter.  1-2-3 1-2-3, 1-2 1-2 = STOMP clap clap STOMP clap clap STOMP clap STOMP clap  <– practice this slowly and then gradually increase the tempo to marked tempo of the piece
  • Next, alternate your feet as you stomp!
  • And finally, add words, notes, and rhythms, singing as you move and clap.  You must feel the rhythm in the center of your body, not only in your brain.
  • Basses, a note from the previous blog: please check the ascending D-natural on m. 31, m. 35, m. 39, etc. — any time you have this interval the D-natural must be high to create the jazzy sound of a split-third against the alto D-flat.  Tuning is crucial, or it will sound like a mistake.

There Has to Be a Song (Andrea Ramsey)

  • Pay close attention the differing articulations in m. 15 — first an eighth-note tenuto, then a short eighth note, then a long quarter.  These details are important for the style.  Do not blur them all together, please.
  • Dynamic contrast on page 9:  Please take the dynamic back a bit (mezzo-piano) at “Like a cool clear drink…”
  • Tenors: the word “drink” on a high E can be tricky.  Please keep the “r” short and get straight to the vowel, which should be tall and slender, not spread and tight. Think more like a sigh… practice on the “ee” vowel in your falsetto, first, then try to recreate the freedom in your chest register. Opening the vowel slightly toward dr-IH-nk” will help, rather than a very tight “dreeeeeenk.”  For IPA users, think /I/ instead of /i/
  • Final voiced consonants matter — shadow vowels will help. “Sunshine” and “child” should both have small shadow vowels after them.
  • Please drill the last measure of page 11 repeatedly, so that you do not enter with the sopranos and altos.  Remember, they have an eighth note with a fermata on the beat 3, but you do not come in until the conductor cues you on the next beat.  Please look closely at this!

We Are a Circle (Joan Szymko)

  • Anticipate ALL entrances. Continue to sing this piece with intention and intensity – feel the inner drum beat even when you are not singing with percussion.
  • Remember Joan’s ideas about breath energy: always use your air with intention and direction, so that the phrase is moved forward by your breath support (your core energy), not from the throat.
  • On verse 2, “inside our hearts, there glows a sparKK!” <–please place precisely on beat 3, with a bright “k,” created forward in the mouth.
  • The second syllable of “Circle” should be more of an open “O” than a “uh” – this will help keep the pitch up.  Do not let the final “L” darken the tone or bring down the pitch.

Bravi only:  Esti Dal (Kodaly)

  • Continue work with your diction files. We will spend considerable time on it this week.
  • Use a beautiful, legato sound at all times, connecting through the liquid consonants and getting to the vowels quickly.
  • For the second verse (the polyphonic verse), circle the beginnings of each phrase of text in your part and the other parts.  This will reveal, visually, the intricate interplay between all the lines during this short section.  Your awareness of what other parts are doing will open your ears and improve the sound.  We should hear each part enter clearly, and you should hear it within the ensemble.
  • I would like this memorized as quickly as possible.  The absolute deadline is April 17, but I would like it 90% ready the week before: April 10 (just over a week from now!)  Strategy: Memorize one verse per week until then.  Verse 1 is tenors only, so most of you only have two verses to commit to memory.
  • Consider the translation.  How does this fit in with the rest of the program?  Food for thought: the world around us is powerful and can be overwhelming in its enormity and its wonder.  How do we find our place within it and honor this fragile relationship?


  • Continue vocalizing mindfully, each day, with your full dedication and concentration geared toward these things:
    1. Solid posture and breath support (spine lined up, weight evenly distributed on the balls of your feet, stomach loose and open, neck tall, chin relaxed and low)
    2. Beautiful, buoyant, head-voice tone
    3. Pristine intonation and true legato
    4. Clear vowels
  • Use the meditation exercises you do with Elena to calm your mind and center your body, before you practice your music.  Eliminate all distractions and push yourself to be 100% engaged for the duration of your practice.


Other announcements and reminders:

  • Sunday rehearsals for Bravi will resume this weekend, on April 2, from 3:00 – 5:00.  Rehearsal is highly encouraged but not required.  It is held at the home of Simon’s grandparents, at 227 Verano Drive, Los Altos.
  • Tell EVERYONE about our Spring Concert! This event is twice as big as it was last year, so we want to see twice as many people! Invite friends, family, teachers, etc. Direct them to
  • We are still looking for Cantabile Summer Camp counselors for July 17-21! If you are interested, please email for details! You must be 16 or older to participate.
  • Please mark in your calendars that our rehearsals on Monday, May 1st and Monday, May 8th at First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto begin at 5 PM, 30 minutes earlier than usual. Plan to be there by 4:45 so that we may begin on time.

Always our best,

Jace, Elena, and Justin

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