December Voices: Upper School Music Teacher David Southerland

We end December with a blog from our Upper School music teacher David Southerland who gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the hard work that goes into each choir performance.
“We’re warmed up and suited up. We’re about to line up and enter the arena in formation. You’ll take your positions and find your windows. Plant your feet shoulder-width apart, keep your knees slightly bent, weight forward, rib cage open, shoulders relaxed, spine lengthened, face up and out, feet angled in. Breathe down and out, not up and in. Let’s talk through the opener. Think through your first entrance. Breathe in on the first vowel. Watch me in the rubato section starting at measure 9. Apply a hairpin crescendo in measure 12. Sustain the “ah” part of the diphthongs in “time” and “fly” in the second phrase. Stagger breathe from bar 33 through bar 40. Tall, warm vowels throughout the legato sections. Watch me for cutoffs. Remember the cutoff in measure 51 is on the “and of 4” so you don’t leave the tenors hanging, and don’t forget we need clear dynamic shifts in the sforzando at measure 74. In the section with the cascading entrances, each part should back off after your first measure so the other entrances can be clearly heard. Altos, bring out your suspension in that section; you finally get a beautiful line, so enjoy it! All of you, lean into the dissonant clashes so the resolutions are more satisfying. Build to the modulation; we need to earn that. If we do it right, we can make them cry. Listen for the melody on page 13; your “oh” and “ah” should be background. You should actually be listening for the melody all the time. In the last phrase of page 15, let’s take a bigger ritardando and start the diminuendo earlier. Watch me for that. And watch me for the fermata and getting back into the A tempo section on the last page. Just watch me as much as you can. Check your volume, tenors, as we approach the final cadence. Baritones and second sopranos, we could use a little more there from you. And everybody, smile.
Then, in the second song….”
Our Upper School singers are used to hearing this kind of instruction before heading onto the stage. They understand what all of it means, and they are able to incorporate all, or at least most, of those instructions while standing in front of a group of peers, teachers, family and friends. It’s a remarkably courageous act to be a singer in a live performance setting and to experience the vulnerability an artist feels as hundreds of eyes observe and hundreds of ears evaluate. In addition to dealing with that risk and exhibiting bravery in the face of it, a performing artist must be a technician who is skilled, knowledgeable and practiced. Furthermore, a collaborative artist such as a choral musician must also be a team player willing to put ego aside, share the spotlight and blend with other voices. It’s a complex endeavor that we try to make look easy. We are fortunate to have a strong group of talented and devoted singing artists here at GSB who love the process of preparing as much as they love the performance itself. It is an honor and a pleasure to work with them to bring the joy of music to our community.
Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a rigorous, meaningful and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.