Saturday, January 20, 2007

Harmony Vocal Singing

I have been reviewing the recordings of tonight's Camden Soul rehearsal, and just thinking about how to improve the blend between the harmony voices in the backing vocal ensemble. I started thinking about how to best describe the specific way that backing singers have to synchronise to get that perfect blend. It is so much more than the matter pitching well. All the singers (and there are around 16 in Camden Soul) also need to be approaching the styling of each song in exactly the same way... this means addressing the matters of both voice quality as well as vowel type.

Voice quality depends on the air-muscle balance and how we implement that. We can talk about how edgy we sing, and how loud we sing: these are two separate dimensions of the dynamic. You could label them the quiet-to-loud axis and the soft-to-edgy axis. So the four extremes would be a quiet soft voice, a quiet edgy voice, a loud soft voice and a loud edgy voice. Every situation needs an agreed choice of (and ability to deliver!) style of phonation throughout the group. Of course we must always stay balanced, and know where that centre is, so that we can learn to bend it without breaking it....

In general backing harmony vocal work you are dealing with a wide variety of songs, and each will carry a certain style... not so much a reference to genre as a to the way language and sound are used. The singer is always faced with a variety of vowel choices for every word, and the choices made are a strong factor in the overall styling. The sound of the vowel that comes out from the ensemble can only sound right stylistically of everyone is making the same choicess. Describing vowel stylings is tricky... we can think of them almost like fonts on a computer, complete sets of sounds that have a common character. Like "small and precise," or "deep gospel," or "push-out soul." ?. Makes sense to me.... .

Anyway great rehearsal tonight, even got a dynamite live recording of Rocksteady from it... band was cooking, Naomi nailed the lead vocal and the rest of the singers had their hands up in the air.... Carol's new song sounded great, and Asya's Pull of the Sea, having been gigged a bit already, is settling in really nice. The girls have got their moves better, and the three new singers seem to be working out well. So a great set of gigs coming up... new original material plus looking forward to being at the wonderful Clapham Grand again. (And the Bedford, and the Miller, and Kings Head... see the Camden Soul site for details)

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