Seems like everywhere I turn these days, I hear some little girl trying to sing "Let It Go" from Disney's new animated musical "Frozen." They all want to sound as accomplished as Idina Mensel. Dance classes, voice lessons, talent shows, YouTube videos, you name it. My daughter even related this cute story about her daughter and the impromptu talent show performance.
Their Ward had a Talents and Hobbies Activity and Breakfast a few weeks ago. People signed up to share a talent or bring a display of their hobbies. They enjoyed a morning with a pancake breakfast and leisurely touring the displays, then came the talent show. The Primary children sang as a group, and then came some solo acts, and for the finale, the Youth were to do a lip sync to "Let It Go" from "Frozen." Each teenager had a silvery scarf bracelet to wave during the chorus of the song. (The leaders had actually prepared more elaborate costumes, but the Youth refused to wear the other pieces.) The music started and the youth made their way onto the stage. But there was an extra little scene stealer among them. Little 3-year-old Megan had somehow weedled her way into getting herself a scarf bracelet to join the youth on the stage. She didn't understand though about the lip sync. She sang out the song with gusto and gave quite a performance, upstaging all of the teenagers. No stage fright for this girl and she knew all of the words and sang all of the notes on pitch! Way to go Megan!
As fun as seeing all of the displays and enjoying the breakfast was, Megan's little impromptu performance became the talk of the Ward. My daughter was at first mortified that her little girl got onstage without her knowing about it, but what mother could not be proud when everyone congratulated her about how darling her little show-stealing daughter was?
I am so pleased that there are songs out there that capture the imagination of children and give them confidence to soar to new heights. I just hope that teachers and parents will take the challenge to give those children some training so they can sing on pitch! I have already heard too many out-of tune renditions of this song. I think that is what amazed the people in my daughter's ward so much. Megan, at 3 years old, has a wonderful sense of pitch! This is a proud grandmother talking!
Introducing a new piece to your choir can pose challenges. Will the choir members like the new piece? Will they take to it easily? Will the message come across? Will they be able to learn the notes and rhythms as well as interpretation in time for performance? All of these questions are well-founded and worth thinking about, of course. Many choir directors will stick to using songs that they and their choir people already know and never branch out. But they are missing great opportunities for exposing the choir and the audience to a wealth of beautiful repertoire and growing their musical abilities.
The trick is to introduce new music a little at a time and let the choir's appreciation of it grow as they get acquainted with it. People like what they know. That is an acknowledged fact, so just work with it. You could tell an interesting story about how it was written or who wrote it. You could have some recording played or an accomplished singer perform it for the group. You can share your personal, spiritual connection to it. But most important, allow enough time to learn it in stages. Even good sight-readers may be able to perform it quickly, but they won't remember it or have a connection with it unless given enough time to internalize it.
One of the hardest parts of learning a new piece is keeping all of the parts together. Even if the singers are singing in unison, if they are not familiar with the piece and are buried in their music, they do not stay together. There are many reasons why the RHYTHM is so important. First of all, keeping the BEAT is fundamental to staying together -- within a part, between the parts and with the accompaniment. Entrances and cut-off's and lengths of notes in the phrases all affect how the group stays together. We don't want anybody singing in their own time zone! RHYTHM defines where the consonants should line up. If the consonants do not line up, the DICTION becomes unintelligible. RHYTHM also affects the TEMPO. The conductor may start off at a fast clip, but unless the group stays with him, he has to relax the TEMPO to try to hold the piece together. And TEMPO affects the overall INTERPRETATION of the piece. When the TEMPO is off, the FEELING is off. And when the FEELING is off, so is the SUCCESS of the PERFORMANCE. Ultimately, we want to have a successful performance. So keep in mind how important keeping the RHYTHM is!
As important as learning the notes may be, keeping the rhythm together is even more important.
Just released in time for Easter is the new Mormon Tabernacle Choir CD, "He Is Risen." On that recording are six Easter anthems from various eras. Each of these tracks is also available for digital download from Itunes or Deseret Book.com. We had a glorious experience preparing for and recording these wonderful hymns and choral masterpieces. Offered are two arrangements by Mack Wilberg "He Is Risen" and "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" with full orchestra, organ and choir, "In the Garden" and "Jesus Has Risen" arranged by Ryan Murphy, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," and "Worthy Is the Lamb" from Messiah by Handel.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is also preparing to perform the entire oratorio Messiah by George Frideric Handel on an Easter Concert, April 18th and 19th, 2014 on Temple Square. Tickets become available on March 11th.
March is the month which celebrates the anniversary of the founding of the Relief Society. This women's organization of the LDS Church is recognized as the largest organization for women in all the world. Through their efforts, much service is provided for those in need. And yet, the Relief Society is much more. It offers a place for all the women to gather together not only to love and serve each other, but also to learn and grow by teaching each other gospel principles in word and action.
A couple of years ago, a call went out for music to be created that reflected the history and mission of Relief Society. Many of these songs were premiered at a Relief Society Music Festival held on Temple Square that fall. One of my songs was sung, as well. "Come and Sit With Us" was inspired by a picture of African Relief Society sisters. It was obvious that this picture was snapped as the women were actually just getting ready for the picture to be taken. These women were indicating for the other women to join them for the photo. They were adjusting their positions on the benches to make room for everyone. Their smiles of welcome were infectious. The caption read "Come and sit with me." Is this not the great mission of Relief Society throughout the world? Do we not want all of our sisters to be included in the joy of our worldwide sisterhood?
As I was thinking through the ideas for the song, a friend of mine presented me with a lovely framed piece of art that she had penned in beautiful calligraphy. It was a quote by one of the first members of the Relief Society.
"We must cherish one another, we must watch over one another, comfort one another, and gain instruction that we may all sit down in heaven together."
-- Lucy Mack Smith
This quote became the perfect pairing for the other ideas for my song. I went to work and had the song finished relatively quickly. Lucy Mack Smith, mother of the prophet Joseph Smith and founder of the Mormon Church, knew how important it was for women to come together, to work together, to love and serve each other, and share that special bond of sisterhood. She also used the word "sit." (It isn't the physical act of sitting that is important, it is what sitting represents - making a comfortable place where love is a common bond.) Sister Smith talked of the hope that we will be able to sit down in heaven all together. That is the idea I wanted to connect to the first part of my song -- women making space for all to sit down together in love and sisterhood on earth connecting to the idea that we may someday also be able to sit down in heaven all together.
As you plan your celebrations for the Relief Society Birthday this year, give a thought to how we invite all to "Come and Sit With Us" in a worldwide sisterhood. Perhaps you could include this song in your celebration. Enjoy!
Imagine a song created using just one phrase. Not that common in today's world. Well, with the exception of some pop songs that repeat one line over and over until the fade out. But seriously, during the Baroque period, it was quite common to set one or two phrases of scripture per song, and develop them, word paint them, and relish in them for a minute or two in order to create a wonderful piece of satisfying music. Handel was a master at that. Nearly every piece from Messiah is created using relatively few words, yet the entire work provides three hours of glorious musical fulfillment.
Composers call that process "theme and development." For example, the musical motive to word paint the text phrases "all we like sheep" and "have gone astray," as composed by Handel, have contrasting rhythmic and melodic features. They sometimes are performed by all the voices homophonically with the rhythms and harmonies lining up vertically. Sometimes they are introduced contrapuntally with the different voices playing a game of cat and mouse chasing each other up and down the scales in wandering melismas. Sometimes the motive is introduced in a short succinct statement, other times it is treated in a fast passage that "strays all over the place." And as our conductor says, "Here you all get to stray a little more before the great reckoning!" Those of you who know this piece understand that it ends with a dire statement in a sterile minor mode: "And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquities of us all."
When I was thinking of setting the scriptural verse from Alma 37:6
"By small and simple things are great things brought to pass," I thought of working in the theme and development model of the great Baroque composers, but keeping the musical ideas in a contemporary style. This is such an amazing text emphasizing that the simple things in life can mean the most and set the course for our lives. I decided that the text was important enough to warrant stating in several different ways and then at the end have it present in the background while highlighting some of the most important little things we can do to fortify us against the dangers in this life. The result of my effort is an SATB choral piece, "By Small and Simple Things." It was recently in a sacred songwriting contest. I appreciate all of the votes and thoughtful comments it received. Though written for a Youth Chorus, it has such a timeless message, many choirs are sure to find it enjoyable to sing.
Hope yours will, too.
My name is Betsy Lee Bailey. I enjoy singing and writing all kinds of music. I have performed and directed or taught music all of my life. This blog is dedicated to all of the people who have been encouraging me to write about my experiences.