Our latest recording project for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has made us concentrate on learning to execute Baroque-style ARTICULATIONS in how we sing and play. We are working on a new recording of George Frideric Handel's Messiah. For this project, the score has been painstakingly and lovingly edited by Mack Wilberg to be of use for other large choirs and orchestras to follow. Maestro Wilberg has studied the many editions of the score and orchestrations to determine how best for a large choir and orchestra to interpret this Baroque Masterwork in an authentic rendition. He told us that the original notations may have worked well for a typical chorus of the Baroque Era (25-30 singers) with a chamber orchestra (also a small compliment), but does not work well for groups our size (360 singers and 110 players). "You simply cannot multiply each part by 10 and have the parts balance."
He said that the orchestrations to compliment large (100 voice) choirs done by Mozart in his day and Prout in the early 20th Century, even, do not work well for the gigantic choirs wanting to sing Messiah nowadays. In particular, careful attention needed to be paid to the notations of ARTICULATIONS, which were well-understood in Handel's day, but are largely forgotten today. In fact, these ARTICULATIONS were so well understood by the performers in Handel's time, that he wrote in a sort of short hand abbreviation where the singer's could make the customary ornamentations. They were never written in any score exactly. So, to make sense of this and help our large organization sound like a small Baroque group, Dr. Wilberg has written exact ARTICULATIONS for us and explains in great detail how we should work to make the music sound close to authentic.
In order for our gigantic choir to execute the melismas, we have been working on learning to detach each and every note, while still keeping form and arch in the musical line. In each melisma or long string of 16th notes sung very quickly, the singer must ARTICULATE each note by separating or detaching one from the next in the line. This way the notes are clean and do not sound like mush. In some sections, every part is singing a melisma. Imagine the "train wreck" of sound if the lines were not delineated cleanly! We are working on keeping our pick-up notes very short so that the important syllables can have that added stress and brilliance. Careful attention is being paid to the natural dynamics and contrasts that happen with the characteristic layered effects Handel wrote into the score. We are working on controlling our sound so that the "softs" are truly pianissimo and the "louds" are at the largest fortissimo the recording microphones can handle. That is something a small choir simply cannot do! The hope is that even our very large choir can sound as clear as a much smaller Baroque style chorus, but still maintain the grandeur and power of our immense group.
And the key to that is -- ARTICULATION!