Learning from my voice class (2)

Our assignment for the last week includes memorizing the lyrics of two of the songs we need to perform. I chose Danny Boy and Over the Rainbow. Having performed listened to Danny Boy many times, I thought reciting the lyrics should be just a breeze.

I was wrong. It turned out that singing a song over and over again doesn’t necessarily improve one’s familiarity with the lyrics, not to mention a fuller understanding of what the song is about. Singing sometimes can mute the emotions within words by adding flowing melodies to them. Speaking them out allows us to savor the feelings conveyed by the lyrics and become more aware of what the author wants to achieve through the song. For example, if I were to speak out the lyrics of Danny Boy, the first sentences should go like this (emphasis on the capitalized words):

Oh Danny boy, the PIPES, the pipes are calling from GLEN to glen, and DOWN the mountain side. The summer’s GONE, and ALL the roses FALLING. It’s you, it’s YOU must go, and I must bide.

We should always make sure we understand EVERY word in the lyrics, including the context they are used. Here the pipes are calling as a sign of war, so Danny boy is leaving home to the army and he has an unpredictable future ahead of him. This explains why the father is worried (“If I am dead, as dead I well may be”).

Use high energy when we are saying the lyrics. Note that high energy level is not about pitch: it is more about an active way of talking. Get our voice up to our resonator, and let everyday talking be “beautified hollering”.

A few tips about pronunciation in singing.

1. Never say “r” before a consonant or at the end of a word, unless the next word in the sentence begins with a vowel sound. Such cases are plenty in Over the Rainbow.

2. Words ending with “n” and “d” should not be silenced. This is often overlooked, and I remember my choir conductor reminding us all the time.

3. Delay the second part of a composite vowel sound to the very end of a sentence. A good example is “Oh hush little baby, don’t you CRY” (from Summertime) where the “i” sound should be placed at the very end.

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