Thursday, September 6, 2007

Vocal Inflections…

It's been a busy week, vocally, for me. The quartet has been progressing nicely and we've had a few performance opportunities that went fairly well. Last week we performed for our bass's church, a nice Episcopal congregation in Livonia. We did 3 tunes in the service that fit the sermon very well. We started with a rather rapidly learned rendition of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" for a prelude, "I Believe" after the sermon, and the "Irish Blessing" for the benediction. They all went well and we received several compliments afterwards. Following the service, we headed to the fellowship hall to do some more secular stuff for the coffee hour, which didn't sound as good, but was nonetheless, well-received.

This past Tuesday, we had a mid-afternoon rehearsal – a first for us, as we all (now) work – to accommodate a very special guest. Dave Ellis (International Bronze medal tenor from Stormfront) and his wife Cindy (also barbershop bigwig) were in town for a while and we were able to secure Dave to coach us for a couple hours before he headed to Lansing to coach the Capitol City Chorus. This guy got us to ring chords in a way that I never knew possible! For about an hour and a half we only worked the intro to one of our songs. He taught us some tricks with vowel shape and tuning of certain chords that has us rattling windows at the softest volumes! It was absolutely amazing!

Being a tenor, I'm used to just sitting back and listening to the other three parts get all the attention in a coaching session. This is usually because many coaches just don't know what to do with the tenor. Most just assume you'll hear the chord and lock in your note to the overtones (assuming they're actually produced). The trick is, you can hit the right note perfectly in tune, but if it's a certain note within the chord, it needs to be adjusted a certain way. Plus, being mostly falsetto, it's a purer tone so vowel adjustment isn't worked on as much. Not so with Dave! Being a tenor himself, he had TONS of advice for me that made my part lock in so much better. It's no secret that I have a bit of an ego about my ear when singing, but I know I'm nowhere NEAR ready for the international stage. These tiny adjustments to my tuning and position of my soft pallet made a WORLD of difference toward making the entire quartet's chord lock.

Tenor's often considered decoration on the chord and a bit less of a priority on the scheme of the quartet, but after this session, I found that if it's done right, it's the key to making the quartet lock by truly reinforcing the overtones and making a chord ring and sparkle. A good tenor can be the difference between a good quartet and a truly GREAT quartet, while doing so by VERY subtle means!

This was an unbelievably valuable experience for us as a quartet and myself personally as a tenor. We hope to be able to meet with him again a time or two before contest as we narrow down the 2 songs for contest. Cindy emphasized only working of 2 for contest. If we make Saturday night, we could go and do Polecats, but we made the show.

On the non-quartet vocal front, I met with my buddy Paulie B. last night to get a sneak peek at the rough mix of the instrumentals for his new CD. I gotta tell ya, there's some good shit on there! There's a trippy Grateful Dead-ish instrumental track in there that is pure serenity, a folk rock ballad that has some great lyrics and introspective feel, a great pure rock tune that is BEGGING for great stage and light production, and a pure groovin' and cruisin' tune that smacks of the Cars. My job is to help him come up with any backup vocal parts where applicable and coach him to get his vocal skillz (it's rock, so that's skillz with a 'Z') a bit more refined. He's got some GREAT instrumentals laid down and fantastic songs, but a lot can hinge on if the carpet matches the drapes, so to speak.

I'm REALY excited to be helping Paulie on this project. Not just because the music is cool and the sound is inspiring, but because this is so dear to him. It's somewhat akin to being asked to mentor a small child. The future of this precious creation is being entrusted, in part, to my care. While its success is largely in the hands of it's parent and others involved, I've been trusted with helping this project grow and thrive in my own small way. It means a lot to me that he asked me to do this. This is his baby and I have been asked to be an influence on it. That's always a great honor.

Coming up next: Vague references, with gratitude…

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