"We're No Angels": Helping Singers Find Their Bodies
Ballou, Mary Jane, Sacred Music
The best chant is buoyant. The vocal quality is easy and confident. Before our rehearsal begins, we should take a good look at our singers. Are they slouched with shoulders around their ears, arms crossed tightly over their books and binders with a weary look in their eyes?
You need to get them ready to sing-and that means their bodies as well as their voices. They're not disembodied spirits. A quick physical check-up will help the singers move out of the day's stresses and fatigue into a rehearsal or performance-ready frame of mind. I know that rehearsal time is a precious commodity, but this exercise only takes a few minutes. A balanced posture, combined with a sense of physical ease and mental alertness, can improve the vocal experience.
Before we trot this routine out to our singers, we need to learn it ourselves. No yoga mat, special equipment or clothing is required. No need to get on the floor or have a large area for movement. It takes more time to read this description than to perform the steps, so don't be intimidated.
We will build your singers from the bottom up in ten easy steps.
1. Everyone needs to stand up and put their music down.
2. Plant your feet. Lean back slightly on the heels. Now, shift your weight to the toes, keeping the heels down. Let the weight return to a natural center.
3. Loosen the knees by bending them slightly. You should be able to sway and twist like a slender tree.
4. Think your way up from your knees. Just notice that your top and bottom half are connected.
5. "Decompress" your torso. You are not hauling yourself up. Just give the rib cage a gentle lift.
6. Open the chest by raising your hands with the elbows out as though someone said, "Stick 'em up." Then lower the arms, allowing the chest to remain open and expansive.
7. Relax the arms and let them just hang out. They are firmly attached. Check tension in the hands by clenching and then opening.
8. Ah, the shoulders. After a drive in the car, a day at the computer, or lugging the groceries, we're all curled in and hunched over. Gently lift the shoulders to the ears and roll them back and down easily. This releases enormous amounts of tension.
9. Loosen the neck from a tight, defensive pull down and back with the chin stuck up. Give an easy and slow look from side to side, and then tuck your chin down gently. Let your head rise to a natural balance. Your head was built to sit comfortably and you will be looking straight ahead.
10. Finish with the face and eyes by giving a good yawn and doing some funny lip stretches to "unfreeze" the face. Open your eyes wide to see what's in your peripheral vision.
This entire routine takes less than two minutes once you've learned the sequence. You simply start at the bottom with your feet and work up to the top.
Working with Your Singers
Many adult choir singers will resist any physical movement, even something as minimal as this. …