Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Changing Spaces

We have ended our long New England tour successfully, and as usual, we have been met with unfailing kindness at every turn. We are so grateful to our fans and supporters, and will continue to bring you the highest level of music that we can, as our way of saying thanks for believing in us.
This has been a very interesting tour in terms of singing in different spaces. As many of you may know, the physical setting in which a group sings brings all sorts of benefits and challenges. The greatest challenge of all is adapting to each new room! A marble cathedral obviously sounds different than a conference room with padded walls and carpet, but it even goes beyond that. The size and shape of the room, instrumentation, ambient noise, size of the stage, and number of people in attendance, among other things all affect the sound that the audience and performers hear. For example, we just performed at the Northeastern Music Educators’ National Conference at the Providence Convention Center. They had to pack about 1,000 (rather enthusiastic) fans into the Grand Ballroom, which was the widest space that we’ve performed in recent memory. There were three sections, one directly in front of the stage that was flanked by two sections that had to watch us on live telecast in the same room! And on the very same tour, we sang in an intimate recital hall built especially for chamber music and smaller recitals, which was great for hearing, but since we don’t get to sing in spaces like that often, we had to adjust for the new sounds of different musical lines, or even different voices that we don’t hear every concert.
So, how do we deal with the ever changing scenery? One of the most important things for us is having a flexible and adaptable plan for performance that we’re able to implement during the rehearsal before the show. On an average concert day, we will have a two hour rehearsal before each show to figure out all sorts of technical elements of the night’s show. The other purpose of the rehearsal is to listen to the sound of the hall as our voices (individually and collectively) figure out how to fit into the space. We’ll make sure that we listen from stage as well as a few guys individually in the hall (when they’re not singing an important part on stage, of course) just to get a sense of what an audience member would hear.
Some important things that we try to remember as we are figuring out the acoustic: we try to sing with how our body tells us, not necessarily what we hear. The spaces can give weird feedback, so it’s not always to our benefit to “give ourselves voice lessons” as we sing. If something is not going well, we also try to stop often so we are not tiring ourselves out with things that aren’t working. On the flip side, we also try not to stop too often for every little strange thing that we hear, it’s important for us to try to simulate the experience trying to sing through clicks in the hall, or funny noises from our own voices during the show, when we can’t stop!
Once we’ve gotten through all of that stuff for the rehearsal, we just try to be as flexible during the performance as possible. Until you start the concert, it’s not possible to know how the sound is affected by the number of people in the audience, what you might feel like under stage lights after an hour, or even how your voice responds to a triple thick strawberry milkshake right before you go on stage (well, I suppose there are some things you can guess at).
The trust that we cultivate, and the amount of time that we spend together gives us the ability to know a lot about the voices of the other eight guys in the arc. We’re very lucky to be able to spend this much time together, but the amount of listening and connecting can start immediately in any group of musicians, if you work at it.
If you have any questions about the way we work, please don’t hesitate to ask us. You’ll find our contact information at the “Connect” heading of our website.

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