Putting on a great choral performance is about making sure that the musical instruments we use, our voices, are in tip top shape. All the Pink Singers love singing, but not all of us know how to create that perfect sound without tiring ourselves out at the same time. Enter the gorgeous Fiona Dobie who took us through a vocal workshop two weeks ago. Here two of our tenors, Simon and Chris, talk about what they learned.
“Having had vocal training in the past I was looking forward to the choir’s vocal workshop with Fiona. I was not disappointed: Fiona’s teaching style is wonderfully simple but engaging.
With such a large group to instruct, Fiona concentrated on the foundations for a strong voice. Starting with posture she has us all getting in touch with our pelvic floor and tucking our ‘tails’ in, a most amusing sight in the studio mirrors! Then came simple warm-up exercises that we can use at home before note-bashing, as well as in rehearsal. Next she tackled sustained breath control – particularly relevant this season as the choir is to perform Samuel Barber’s ‘Agnus Dei’. With the basics covered, Fiona applied what we had learned to some of our current repertoire, ironing out some problems straight away.
The bonus for me and fellow tenor Chris, was to take part in a short master class with Fiona, again using a piece from our current repertoire ‘Being Alive’ by Stephen Sondheim. We are two of a small group of soloists who perform in this piece, and Fiona was keen for us to really connect with the emotions of the character in the song.
I took the opportunity to ask Fiona how a singer can overcome nerves which manifest as shaking in the legs, then work their way up the body to the neck and throat – not good if you are singing solo! Of course she had a couple of simple exercises, and even a finger pinch you can use on stage – and yes, they work!”
Chris: “I was really pleased to find out we’d be having a vocal workshop in the choir because, although I’ve sung in choirs almost continuously since I was seven, I’ve never really had any singing lessons. So, when our MD also offered me a personal mini-masterclass in front of the choir, I think I pretty much facebooked him back within the minute to accept. The workshop was totally fun, not least because Fiona, the singing teacher, was completely lovely. However, it was also incredibly useful for me to learn some basic technique in terms of posture and breathing, which were things I knew I was probably doing wrong but didn’t know how to fix.
What I’ll remember most about the day, though, was the slightly nerve-wracking masterclass in which I was asked to perform a few lines from a Sondheim piece. I was not in the slightest bit nervous singing in front of the choir; they are my friends and I’ve sung at them in the pub and on the beach in Greece. I also really appreciated Fiona moving my hips and head and jaw about, as she attempted to bash out some of my bad habits. But when she told me stop thinking about the notes and just sing the words like I really meant them, I felt like I’d been asked to stand naked in front of everyone. I suddenly found it insanely difficult to show something so personal, and I realised it was emotionally exhausting to draw on events from my life in order to relive the emotions. The experience has given me a new found respect for actors!
It was such a great opportunity to be part of the masterclass and I’m really looking forward to the choir organising similar workshops in the future.”