Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Night Out

Greetings readers,

I took a night off from studying voice disorders and the numerous congenital, genetic, tissue malformation, mechanical stress, and neurological problems that can arise in the human population. Instead, I decided to take a night out to appreciate some non-disordered voices.

My fellow Twitter acquaintance Canadian choral conductor, Charissa Bagan, alerted me to a performance by the Choir of the Cathedral of the Madeleine as a part of the Colloquium XXII Conference happening in Salt Lake City this week. After a quick bus ride away from the University, I was dropped off at the front of the gorgeous Cathedral of the Madeleine. I had wanted to visit this venue for a while now and this concert just so happened to provide the perfect opportunity to visit. It is also important to note that I've been terribly choral deprived since Podium 2012.

I slipped in unnoticed alongside some of the collared-shirt and khaki-wearing crowd. Taking a scan through the program, I mentally prepared myself for the plethora of sacred choral music about to come my way. The choir was a mix of adult men and choristers from the Madeleine Choir School. I wish I was raised in a choir school. You think I'm a choir geek now, imagine what I would be like had I had a more choral-centric academic education.

In the first few pieces I definitely needed to adjust my ears to the choral sound within the Cathedral. While the straight-toned purity of the young voices resonanted within the acoustic peaks of the surroundings, I felt like the musical movement of their lines was lost within the expansive space. It was hard to hear the musical interplay occuring within the music. Thus, the first four songs, Gibbons's "Hosanna to the Son of David," Lobo's "Versa est in luctum," Bassano's "Dic nobis Maria," and Tallis's "Salvator Mundi" sounded more like a choral wash of sound to me than distinct pieces. Their performance of Rachmianioff's "All Night Vigil" gave me more of a glimpse of their true choral color as I could hear the adult men singing with their full voices. Organist, Douglas O'Neill, also provided some refreshing accompaniant during Nicolas de Grigny's "Pange lingua." There were reciprocal lines between the organ and the chant lines from the off-stage choir. At this point in the program, I was pretty saturated. Imagine my surprise when the choir reemerged on stage. I looked down at my program puzzled. Hearing the rustle of paper around me, I turned the program sheet over... there was a second half.

I'm not sure if it's because I've been choral deprived for over a month or my 4 hour voice lectures in the morning but I definitely was saturated at this point. I'm glad they decided to change up the arrangement for Tavener's "A Hymn to the Mother of God" and Harris's "Faire is the Heaven" so I had a new choral arrangement to enjoy. The choir split in half and one group stood facing the other half of the choir at a midpoint in the aisle. At least I could train my ears and listen to individual voices singing near me at this point. I enjoyed contemplating the principles of voice production instilled into me over the past few weeks as I watched the singers.

While I enjoy sacred choral offerings, I think I am definitely a fan of more diverse choral programming. It was interesting to hear male voices paired with unchanged voices from the choir school in order to form an ensemble. Also, another one of my favorite parts of the concert? Epic Brewing was the concert sponsor. I thought this was unexpected but refreshing for a church concert sponsor... in Salt Lake City nonetheless! I'm eager to see what other choral offerings this city has for me. Stay tuned.

Until next time readers, take care!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Being a Critical Choral Consumer

Reference: "Models of Vocal Fold Oscillation" NCVS Website (

Greetings readers,

I hope you are all well and enjoying the start of the summer season. As I last indicated to you in a previous post, I am now living in Salt Lake City until August. Currently, I am learning about the principles of voice production from the father of Vocology in the states, Dr. Ingo Titze. The last two weeks have been an absolute blur of physics equations, understanding formant frequencies of non-uniform tubes and how to maximize resonance, semi-occluded vocal tract exercises (humming, straw exercises, anything where your mouth is almost closed) and the use of back pressure in these exercises to decrease the force of vocal fold adduction (coming together) during warm-ups.

What I find most interesting is how there is physical rationale for why we do some of the abstract things we do when we sing. There is also some debunking of myths in lecture. Each day I feel like I'm given a new lens in which to perceive some of these acoustic phenomena, but often, I just end up with more questions, which is what I find most satisfying because I am an academic at heart. This class really is like utopia for a speechie-chorister.

The next paragraph is a complete physics geek-out section. Feel free to skip if Physics is not your thing. You have been warned.

For example, I came to realize that I didn't even understand the basics of vocal fold vibration properly. I've been taught Bernoulli's Principle as the model for vocal fold vibration, but I learned that that is not the case. The Bernoulli's Principle does not explain the self-sustained oscillation of vocal fold vibration. All Bernoulli states is that when there is high velocity, there is low pressure and vice versa. However, if this was the only force in the vocal folds, these two forces would cancel out. It does not explain how there is continuous vibration of the vocal folds from an input air source. Instead we need to think of the vocal folds like a mass-spring system so when there is a build-up of subglottal pressure from our lungs in our glottis (space between the vocal folds), it creates a positive pressure in our vocal folds. This positive pressure is what pushes our vocal folds apart. What we also need to know is that even before we start phonating there is air already in our air tract above the vocal folds that is equal to atmospheric pressure (because from our lungs to the atmosphere we are essentially an open tube to the world). Thus, when air from our lungs meets this existing air that's already in the air tract (above the vocal folds), the air doesn't accelerate right away. The air in our air tract has it's own mass and inertia which is also why there is a positive build-up of pressure in our vocal folds that pushes the vocal folds apart. The vocal folds act like a recoil spring (due to be ratio of elastin, collagen, and muscle fibers in the different layers of our vocal folds) after the positive pressure in the lungs pushes them apart and they recoil back to their initial position. Then since there is continuous phonation pressure from our lungs, it starts this oscillation cycle once again. I applaud you if you were able to follow me through my verbose rationale. If you're intrigued by this model of vocal fold oscillation check out this tutorial link to learn more.

So you my be thinking, who cares how vocal folds vibrate? All I need to know is that they do and it doesn't make my performance any different. True, that may be the case. However, I feel like to use any system effectively, learning the mechanics can help with efficiency. For example, in terms of vocal fold vibration, there are certain threshold pressures from our lungs that need to be present in order to begin vibration. Singers that have a "pressed" voice quality are pushing so much air from their lungs and adducting their vocal folds together too strongly; thus, beginning a very damaging and high-impact vocal fold vibration. The vocal folds have a layered structure and when there is stress and tension on the epithelium (the top/cover layer of the vocal fold muscle) this can cause edema. For example, when there is any shouting, yelling or overall vocal abuse. When there is a build-up of fluid, just like those with arthritis can have a build-up of fluid in their joints, the extra fluid in the vocal fold tissues affect the efficiency of vocal fold vibration and this will be perceptible to a listener as a rough voice. I'm sure many of you already know that singing with a pressed voice means that you are working too hard, but I find it satisfying to know why in terms of a vibration model. I like to know why we do the things we do. Thus, doing voice exercises with easy and soft onsets is a way to reduce the overadduction (squeezing together) of our vocal folds.

I feel like with each of my lectures I could compose numerous posts. While I do intend to share more of what I learn with my readers, I think it is good to self-evaluate why we do the things we do. Conductors and teachers are aware (I hope...) of their rationale for choosing specific warm-up exercises. But as a singer/chorister, it is so easy to become complacent and just follow along without really understanding why we are doing particular exercises. Just like with any rehab treatment you want a therapist to use methods with evidence supporting its use. I feel that singing should be the same way. Of course, there are not the same amount of studies done on which exercises are effective or not, but we need to critical consumers of what we are doing in practice and learning more about an area is a way to do that. As informed singers, I feel like we should understand our instruments. When a violin player breaks a string, they know how to re-string and re-tune. I feel like a singer should be able to do the same. Or at least identify what it is in their regime that caused the difficulty to begin in the first place. The first step is knowledge. That is what I intend to continue pursuing while I am here.

Until next time readers, take care!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Composers, Conductors, and Choirs

The prospect of interviewing Lydia Adams was a formidable one. In my mind, the choral heavy weights in Canada consist of the three professional choirs in our country: The Elmer Iseler Singers, Pro Coro Canada, and the Vancouver Chamber Choir. Thus, the choral influence of each of these respective organizations is due in large part to their Artistic Directors. I knew I better not mess this up. The choral shame would be too much to bear. Adams is the conductor and Artistic Director of the Elmer Iseler Singers. She met with me following her joint concert with the Elmer Iseler Singers and the MacMillian Singers at Podium 2012, which honoured the work of Canadian composer Ruth Watson Henderson.

In beginning our interview with post-concert reflections, the topic of Canadian choral composers and their relationships with conductors surfaced. There is a delicate balance of coexistence between conductors and composers because you cannot have one without the other. A choral composer’s work is given meaning when a choir performs it and a choir needs constant musical inspiration from a composer. In Adams’s mind, it was important to recognize the work of Ruth Watson Henderson and Canadian composers in general because “they write and work so had and how much are they really recognized as being an important voice for Canada? They really are the voice. They are the creators.” While the choir does become a conduit for the composer's voice, the bond between a choir conductor and a composer is also crucial because their collaboration both function to elevate the other. Adams cites her inspiration for keeping a professional group like the Elmer Iseler Singers moving forward is the work of new composers: “It's easy because there are constantly new composers coming forward. I am on the constant search for new composers.” Of course, not just any new composer talent will suffice. “They have to know how to write for voice. They have to know how to set text… somebody who goes for something deeper.” It seems so simple in theory but the prospect of composing music that addresses the aforementioned criteria seemed daunting to me, but then again, I am not a choral composer.

Upon being asked what she hopes to contribute to the history of the ensemble, Adams humbly announces that she wants to be remembered as someone who made great music. There is a concise beauty in Adams’s statement. It is comforting to know that the simple goal of making music continues to guide one of Canada’s influential choral voices.


An interview post part of a Podium 2012 Series cross-posted on Sound and Noise and the ACCC Choral Bytes Blog

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Estonian Singing Revolution

Seeking a quiet moment away from the pre-concert frenzy at Podium 2012, Canadian liaison for the Tartu Ülikooli Akadeemiline Naiskoor choir, Andres Raudsepp, discusses with me the role of music within the Estonian choral community and choir tour so far. As a choir girl who is constantly seeking international outlets to expand my choral experiences, it always perplexes me when choirs choose to tour Canada. Raudsepp describes the appeal of Canada and the relationship between the Estonian-Canadians to Estonians from Estonia. He attributes this appeal to the fact that Estonian-Canadians have always contributed back to their home country in field such as medicine and dentistry, as a result, “Estonia gives back its music.” An excellent example of cultural mutualism.

The Estonian choral community has a rich cultural heritage. Since 1869, Estonia hosts a song festival, “Laulupidu” every five years where over 25 000 singers join together in song. Raudsepp emphasized that this song festival was a formative event in Estonian history because “it established the identity of Estonian choral music… the song festival became an expression of the mentality and desire of Estonia,” and created a “singing revolution.” The reflection of Tartu’s Estonian heritage is also reflected in their repertoire choice at Podium, which was mainly Estonian folklore. Raudsepp remarks this is the case because “the tradition of women as messengers of Estonian's consciousness through folksong over countless centuries is reflected in the current devotion of their country's women singers to their art.” Therefore, the female voices of the group have become a cultural conduit for Estonian sentiments.

Raudsepp remarked that the success of the group is dependent upon three factors. Firstly, the choir has always attracted the best conductors, in this case, Triin Koch. Secondly is the desire amongst the singers. Raudsepp takes a contemplative moment at this point in the interview before continuing: “But there is a third element, and that is a human element, that some conductors don’t realize. Conductors that express gratitude towards their singers get more out of the choir. [Triin Koch] is grateful after every song. You can see that in her face and the faces in her choir.” Oftentimes, it is easy to forget to acknowledge the shared musical genesis that occurs between conductors and choristers. It was clear that the presence of the Tartu Ülikooli Akadeemiline Naiskoor's tour to Canada was not only to sing music, but to share a part of their choral heritage that influenced the development of their nation. From the standing ovation seen following their Podium debut, they clearly succeeded.


An interview post part of a Podium 2012 Series cross-posted on Sound and Noise and the ACCC Choral Bytes Blog

Choir Girl in Salt Lake City

Greetings readers,

Alas, I have relocated since my last post... I am now in Salt Lake City! While I still have Podium interview offerings to compose for you all, I have been busy this last little while preparing for my move to Salt Lake City. What am I doing in Utah? You may ask. I will be attending the Summer Vocology Institute hosted at the University of Utah. For the next two months I will be learning about specialized principles of voice production, voice rehabilitation, and working with professional voice users. I'm excited to learn more about this specialized area of Speech Pathology. During my Masters coursework we only spent half a term on this content. As well, I'm hoping to see the potential of voice science clinical applications which will hopefully, in turn, generate some thoughts for future PhD work. It's an ambitious goal I have set for myself, I know. What I do know is that my soon-to-be professor,  Ingo Titze, sang with Pavarobitti.

If that's not cool, then I don't know what is.

Some people may be puzzled at why I am moving after only 2.5 months in an adult outpatient rehab job I secured after my final practicum. This job really was, in many ways, my ideal clinic setting. However, you know that general feeling of unease that makes you question whether you are doing what you are meant to be doing? Well, that was where I was at after a solid year of clinical work with my practicums and going straight into my first S-LP position. While I don't know exactly what to expect in these next two months, I just know I'd rather spend the time finding out instead of wondering. Since I am a fan of self-moderating my emotional responses, I'm approaching the whole situation with wary excitement.

Thus, dear readers, you can expect to read more speech-centric choral posts from me these next two months. Who knows, perhaps I'll be able to squeeze in some choral experiences for myself as well. I hear there's a popular choir in town called the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Perhaps I'll check them out :)

Until next time readers, take care.