About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he resides with his wife and children.
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“In spite of what it is currently called, the music of these songs is not modern: this musical style is not new, but has been played in the most profane places and surroundings (cabarets, music halls, often for more or less lascivious dances with foreign names). The people are led on to rock or swing. They all feel an urge to dance about. That sort of “body language” is certainly alien to our Western culture, unfavorable to contemplation and its origins are rather suspect. Most of the time our congregations, which already find it hard not to confuse the crochets and the quavers in a 6/8 bar, do not respect the rhythm; then one no longer feels like dancing, but with the rhythm gone to pieces, the habitual poorness of the melodic line becomes all the more noticeable.”
— Unnamed choirmaster (Northern France) circa 1986

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Video Demonstration • “Do Choral Vowels Matter?”
published 8 September 2015 by Jeff Ostrowski

N MY COLLEGE YEARS, I often sang in multiple choirs during the same semester. One professor placed so much emphasis on proper “choral vowels” that choir members would get angry. I remember times when the entire rehearsal was dedicated to the vowel shape for just three chords. After one such session, malcontents approached this professor and berated him: “You spend too much time on choral sound; some of us don’t even know our correct pitches yet.” His response was: “You may be right, but I cannot stand the sound of amateur choir vowels.”   And he was right.

Amateurs sing “eee” with a big smiling faces, but the proper way is to round the lips. See and hear the difference:


Amateurs sing “ah,” but the proper way is to sing “aw” with soft palate lifted. This concept often frustrates choir members, but the middle of this video shows “Tah” vs. “Taw”:


In Saint Augustin’s Exposition on Psalm 42, he talks about those who doubt God’s existence. “Show me your god,” they demand. Saint Augustine replies: “I cannot show Him to you because you do not have eyes to see Him.” God exists, but the eyes of faith are required to see Him.

By way of analogy, choral vowels do exist, but you must possess ears to hear them. Many paths can lead you to these ears. Here’s one easy way to begin: whenever you sing “Do Re Mi” try to sing “Faw” (for Fa) and “Law” (for La). That will help you raise your soft palate, and with time your ears will hear the beautiful resonance of a lifted soft palate.