HE OTHER DAY, I was speaking to my colleague, Keven Smith, a Curtis graduate who currently serves as choirmaster at the FSSP parish in Sacramento, California. I had decided not to record any more rehearsal videos because I’m “self conscious” when it comes to my singing voice. My feelings of inadequacy may have come from studying piano—since pianists are taught from a young age they are never good enough. 1 In any event, Keven basically told me that rehearsal videos don’t have to be perfect. He said they are valuable and I should continue making them—even though I am not pleased with my voice in the Soprano range.
I therefore offer you this rehearsal video and score. (It begins with Soprano and Alto, but at the 0:58 marker, it switches to Tenor and Bass.)
* PDF Download • “AGNUS DEI FOR TWO VOICES”
—Based on a piece by Father Francisco Guerrero (d. 1599).
That piece is an excellent way to get your people singing when choirs return—because it’s only two voices, the range is not excessive, the Solfège is already added, and it just “clicks” in real life because Guerrero was a master of counterpoint.
Working with Volunteer Choirs:
The worst thing you can do during a choir rehearsal is talk a lot. The people are coming there to sing. And by singing together over and over, they will learn to blend. We have recently (2 weeks ago) been allowed to have choir rehearsals after a year of rehearsals being forbidden. In some ways, it is like starting over for me as a director. I need these choirs to sing together for a long time—and the issues with tuning, breathing, and relaxation will begin to be resolved. Below I am being venturesome. I’m releasing this live recording from our rehearsal in which we begin in unison then attempt to add parts:
Variety is the Spice of Life:
As choirmasters, we can learn from the great artists, who knew that variety was important to concert programs. These days, that notion seems lost. For instance, I once attended a concert by András Schiff in Kansas City, and the entire first half was Scarlatti Sonatas. Now, I love Scarlatti—but this was not an appropriate choice and most of the audience soon began to snore. Therefore, in our rehearsals, we do hard work—such as singing the above Agnus Dei in Solfège—but not for the entire rehearsal. We mix it up! We also sing “fun” songs, such as Brébeuf # 704 Hymn for the Ascension:
We also sing contemporary pieces. Here is an excerpt from last night’s rehearsal:
I also toss in other types of music, such as medieval plainson with an Ison added:
* Mp3 Download • Gregorian Chant With Drone
—Listen carefully, and you hear one of the Bass singers hit a low D.
Update (8 June 2021):
You can hear a live recording of our first attempt at singing the Guerrero 2-voice “Agnus Dei.”
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Piano students know their octaves will never be as fast as Josef Hofmann, their thirds will never be as clean as Josef Lhevinne, their repeated notes will never be as crisp as Horowitz, their legato will never be as sumptuous as Ignaz Tiegerman, and so forth.