Getting into the Flow with Bristol A Cappella

‹-- PreviousNext --›

BACnov22I spent Saturday with my friends at Bristol A Cappella. It was my first visit since the pandemic, and it’s starting to feel like life is healing over the huge cut in our life narratives made by the covid hiatus. It wasn’t simply picking up where we left off in 2019 (though looking back there are some common themes), but having a shared history with a significant number of the group helped us find our way into working together again readily.

As a group, they specialise in arrangements of pop, rock and show songs, and our task was to work on two songs from musicals, which, while quite contrasting in mood and expressive impact, had some similar challenges. Both are very lyric-led, with the verses in particular being quite wordy, and the task was to find a way to capture the actorly approach to singing the source genre entails whilst supplying the musical flow that would be provided by the band in the original context. The words were absolutely essential to the expression, but we needed them also not to get in the way of the music.

We approached this challenge from several angles. We started with the lyrics themselves, with the goal of not singing words, but singing sentences. This immediately glues phrases together into much more cohesive wholes .We then moved into a more singing-technical focus, and revisited the work we did back before the pandemic on singing like a ventriloquist. I say revisited, but there were quite a number of new singers since then, who were doing this for the first time.

We had an interesting discussion about genre and articulation: how in the British choral community, so many of the musical leaders come from the cathedral/collegiate tradition, they assume the norms of exaggeratedly strong consonants developed to make text audible in very resonant spaces. When singing in drier acoustics, you often don’t need as much muscle to make the consonants carry, but you do need a more continuous resonance from the voice to create musical flow, especially in a cappella genres. Calming the jaw down and reducing the amount your oropharynx changes shape from syllable to syllable helps to create this legato, ‘wall-of-sound’ effect.

As the lines became smoother, the question of rhythmic profile emerged. In one song, we discovered that a back-beat feel brought out details of lyric and embellishment that were otherwise being underplayed. I say ‘backbeat’ but it was less a sense of accent or pulse on 2 & 4, and more a sense of lift it needed. Accenting it just sound a bit mannered and unnatural. But getting more interested in the up-beats than the down-beats (in both a counting, and a conducting gesture sense) helped carry the music forward.

In the other song, the individual bars definitely had more of a down-beat feel, but they went by so fast it was more useful to think of them in 2-bar units, and these turned out to have their main pulse at the start of the second bar of each pair. As our insight into this structure developed, the song transformed from being really hard work to sing, to having an exciting sense of sweep (indeed, swooshythroughiness). It will still demand cognitive and vocal stamina (it is still long and quite complex), but there is more of a sense of the music itself doing a lot of the heavy lifting, letting the singers stride through it with purpose and drive.

...found this helpful?

I provide this content free of charge, because I like to be helpful. If you have found it useful, you may wish to make a donation to the causes I support to say thank you.

Archive by date

Syndicate content