Monday, April 27, 2015

Movin' and Shakin': movement in choir

I have been so pleased over the last few weeks to have Mandy Swanson, one of our sopranos, conducting "Baba Yetu" which will be featured on the spring concert. Mandy will be conducting. This music is inspired by the Swahili text and has African-like rhythms. Mandy is continuously telling the choir to loosen up, and move their bodies. She always sets the scene and tone for them, focusing on rhythm, clarity of text, and feeling confident but free. She encourages their minds, voices, and bodies!

Choirs can sometimes be the toughest crowd to get excited about their own music! They are focused on so many things like, diction, dynamics, tone, vowel shape, intonation...It can be hard to remember that the audience needs to see the choir look engaged. I have seen all kinds of crazy and cool ideas about how choirs should look when singing, from hand holding to full choreographed action. All of it can have a purpose and meaning. What I think is key is seeing engagement. Are the singers committed to and enjoying the sound and text they are singing? Is it obvious on their faces? In the bodies?

I can't wait for LCA to stand up and sing for the Lincoln community on May 15th. I know we can show off our choral finesse. And I hope that Mandy and I will help them communicate in song and body language the joy of singing!

May 15, 2015
7:30 pm
With One Step... Beginning Anew

and the Summit String Quartet
First United Methodist Church, Lincoln

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Choral Music and the Brain

Well it's been a minute since I have posted. The Lenten season and Holy Week really make things busy in a musicians life.

Today I want to talk a little about how community singing, by this I mean either in a choir, congregation, or any kind of public group singing, affects the brain. Lots of research is being done in this field and I find it fascinating.

First I want to mention a video I plugged on the LCA Facebook page. This is a clip of John Rutter speaking about the collective experience of choral music singing. I think John encapsulates the feeling and the emotion of group singing.

But what's the science? From a recent Choral Journal article  by Riikka Pietil√§inen-Caffrey it states "The science behind the mirror neuron system explains how a conductor's facial expression elicits emotions from the singers and how a singer's expressions are then transferred to the audience, thus determining how the audience will interpret and experience the performance. A number of studies have been conducted on how music elicits emotion."

In a similar article, Gary B,. Seighman notes, "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Musicians in ensemble settings have felt this awareness for centuries. However, recent scientific studies are validating this adage by revealing the physiological and psychological processes of cooperative effort, especially musical collaboration. The implications of these ideas are beginning to shape our very definition of 'ensemble,' while providing new understanding of the benefits of group musical expression on the individual."

I don't have the knowledge base or the time in this blog to dive into the heavy science behind these articles, but i find it fascinating that the sense of community, relationship, the whole being stronger than the one, are all experiences I have had as a singer and conductor in choirs.

I am especially intrigued by the mirror neuron ideas that we in a sense "infect" each other with emotions. We can illicit emotions through the music, of course, but also through our presentation of the music. Instinctually I guess this makes sense. Everything from the placement of the choir, the quality of the music, and the environment a performance happens in effects me when i attend a live music event, especially a choral concert.

According to Seighman's article, "Biochemical levels serve as another mechanism that connects facial expressions with emotions in individuals. In all, singing has been linked with several chemical changes in the body; these various correlations with chemical balancing strengthen the argument that individuals who sing together synchronize physiologically."

From my perspective, though I don't want to limit the community singing experience to simply a chemical response in my brain, it is interesting to see that what I am sensing in the rehearsal and performance has deep truths in science. But returning to John Rutter's video it is still the actual experience and the participation that truly matters.