Hi, Bravi and VTG:

Thanks for a great rehearsal on Monday night. I agree whole-heartedly with Elena’s remarks: VTG has risen to a more successful level of preparation and ability these past couple weeks.  Please keep the hard work — it’s really paying off.

As Elena said in the Vocalise blog:  “Joan Szymko [composer of “We Are a Circle”] will be with us in rehearsal next Monday.  Please welcome her with respect, openness and sincere interest. Think of things you will ask her during the “question and answer” session. Be a warm and gracious host — show your welcome the second Joan arrives (that is my very kind way of saying don’t even think of ignoring her and continuing your conversations once she comes through the door!)”  –Elena

Onto your action items this week:

Action Items:

  1. Learn about Joan Szymko and her work as composer, conductor, performer and humanist — You can find plenty of information on her website.  We have much to learn from her and share with her next Monday in rehearsal.
  2. Memorize “Rain Music” — the notes, rhythms, cutoffs, added pitches, divisi, dynamics, feeling, and background.
  3. Refresh memory for “What I Have Done” — both Bravi and VTG, please.
  4. Refine intonation, vowels, and memory for “We Are a Circle”
  5. Revisit memorization and pitch accuracy for “Turn the World Around”
  6. Continued diction and legato work on “Esti Dal” (Bravi only).

Rain Music (Laura Farnell)

  • Remember, as you memorize, you must also consider things like timbre (tone color).  The repeated phrases in the driven, opening section need to achieve a similar timbre between basses and tenors.  Tenors, please use a full and right tone; Basses should lighten up a bit.
  • The vowel on “drum” needs to be tall and round.  Think a little more toward “drAWm.”
  • Never, ever sing an American “rrrrrr” sound.  Words like “murmur” and “earth” are treacherous.  Open the vowel slightly toward a British pronunciation, or perhaps a French “oe” sound, as we discussed in rehearsal.
  • Spend some time reading the program notes and poetry for this piece.  The poet’s life is fascinating, and you can read more about him here. Interesting tidbit: he attended Louisville Central High School (in Kentucky) which was, until as recently as 1956, the ONLY high school in the entire city that would accept African American students.  Hard to imagine, and we are so fortunate to live in a different time, now. This was a man with considerable conviction and thirst for knowledge, and he created opportunity for himself when virtually none existed.
  • He wrote another short poem, entitled “Supplication,” which you can read here. Reflect on how closely this resembles the translation of “Esti Dal,” which Bravi will sing. Cotter was writing about social justice and connection to the natural world almost a century before these were popular ideas.  Quite a visionary!

What I Have Done (arr. Takach)

  • 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.

We Are a Circle (Joan Szymko)

  • Anticipate ALL entrances. Sing and practice with intention and energy! Inject more emphasis into the rhythm than you think you need to. Enunciating clearer and sharper consonants will help – we are especially losing some of the middle consonants like “cirKKle” and “darKKness”
  • All of your starting “Ws” need to come earlier so that the vowel following it begins on time.
  • 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.
  • Tutti: at m. 25 in verse 3, begin “altar” with a glottal stroke.
  • As you practice this piece, check your pitch against the piano regularly.  Since Bravi and VTG will be singing the lowest pitches in the piece, please be sure you are not going flat.  You must be the firm foundation on which the rest of the harmonies are built.
  • Memorized 100% by next week, please.

Turn the World Around (Belafonte)

  • 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, 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.
  • Please commit fully to the crescendi and decrescendi in mm. 41 – 44.
  • Every consonant must be incredibly energetic, with lots of breath support (FFFire, TTTurn, etc.).  These consonants must also be quick to get to the correct vowel quickly and in tempo.

Bravi only:  Esti Dal (Kodaly)

  • Continue work with your diction files.  As a reminder for a choral performance, check out this recording that Nathan found.
  • Continue work toward beautiful legato sound at all times, connecting through the liquid consonants and getting to the beautiful vowels quickly.
  • I would like this memorized as quickly as possible.  Drop-dead date is April 17, but I would like it ready the week before: April 10.  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.


  • Spend time each day vocalizing carefully 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.
  • Record yourself a bit of your practice (phone recordings are fine) and listen critically — What do you like?  What do you think could be better?


Other announcements and reminders:

  • There is no Sunday rehearsal this week.  Sunday rehearsals will resume next weekend, on April 2.
  • BRAVI only: call-time for the Joan Szymko Commissioning Concert this weekend is 2:00pm.  The event is at the Woodside Priory , at 302 Portola Road, Portola Valley.  Dress for this event is concert attire (blue ties and vests, shirts and pants pressed).  Approximate release is 4:45 – 5:00pm.
  • VTG: you are not singing at the event above (Sunday) and you are not required to attend, as we have discussed in rehearsal.  There is an issue of space and capacity in a small venue.  Do, however, brush up on the repertoire for Monday’s workshop with the composer!

Always our best,

Jace, Elena, and Justin






March 22, 2017

March 20 – Bravi / VTG Rehearsal #9

Hi, Bravi and VTG: Thanks for a great rehearsal on Monday night. I agree whole-heartedly with Elena’s remarks: VTG has risen to a more successful level of preparation and ability these past couple weeks.  Please keep the hard work — it’s really paying off. As Elena said in the Vocalise blog:  “Joan Szymko [composer of “We Are a Circle”] will be […]
March 16, 2017

March 13 – Bravi / VTG Rehearsal #8

Hi, VTG and Bravi: It was great to spend a full rehearsal with you all last week, following a couple unusual weeks while Elena was away.  Thanks for your hard work and flexibility while I was elsewhere! Action Items for this week: Bravi and VTG: learn all words and pitches (including added pitches) for “Rain Music” by Laura Farnell. Work […]
March 10, 2017

Vocalise Blog #8: 3/6/2017

Hi, Vocalise: Thank you for Monday’s rehearsal.  Learning a large amount of new material in one rehearsal is difficult, particularly when the music is so rhythmically complex.  Keep working on it — we’ll get there!  Elena will be very excited to return next week and see the beginnings of your work on this new repertoire… and you will have a […]
February 11, 2017

Vocalise Blog #5: 2/6/2017

Dear Vocalise,   Hope your weekend if off to a great start. Things are busy here in preparation for tomorrow’s Gala. Best wishes to Aria and Bravi singers on being the entertainment and the inspiration at this this very important and celebratory event.   “Strength often lies in numbers but excellence can only come from personal dedication” (anon.)   “Practice […]
February 9, 2017

Feb. 6 – Bravi Rehearsal #4

Hi, Bravi and VTG: VTG singers should refer to the Vocalise blog, which will be posted very soon, for their rehearsal this week.  Hang in there, VTG — your work will be very helpful in bringing Bravi up to speed as they rejoin you with Vocalise in rehearsal next week! Bravi: First and foremost, thank you for your hard work […]
February 4, 2017

Rehearsal #4/February 1st, 2017

Dear Ensemble, Thank you for your presence, your courage, and your cooperation on Wednesday night.  You are making progress both individually, and as a group, and it was wonderful to see the work that so many of you have put into your music.  Our hope moving forward is that we can continue to build upon the work that you do […]
February 2, 2017

Jan. 30 – Bravi / VTG Rehearsal #3

Hi, VTG and Bravi: This week, for the last time this semester, the blog will address Bravi and VTG singers separately, since we’re working on different goals until next week’s gala.  Most of the blog is devoted to Bravi since VTG spent most of last Monday with Elena and Vocalise.  We’ll be back on the same page soon enough, but in […]
January 27, 2017

Jan. 23 – Bravi / VTG Rehearsal #2

Hi, VTG and Bravi: This week’s blog will address Bravi and VTG singers separately, since we’re working on different goals for the next few weeks.  Most of the blog is devoted to Bravi since VTG spent all of last Monday with Elena and Vocalise.  The next few weeks will be intense for the singers in Bravi, while VTG will be […]