An important means of vocal training lies in ensemble or choral singing. Not only does it develop musicianship through participation, but it also may be a source of genuine pleasure. Throughout history, uniting voices in song has served to inspire and stimulate man and has been a potent medium of self-expression. The usual combinations of voices singing together are duet (two voices), trio (three voices), quartet (four voices), sextet (six voices), octet or double quartet (eight voices), and choir, glee, or chorus (any number of voices likewise grouped as to range and quality). Combinations may be of voices of boys or men alone, of girls or women alone, or they may be of boys and girls, or men and women together. Compositions may be in unison or in two or more parts, and they may be composed in harmonic or contrapuntal forms.
When singers perform without instrumental accompaniment, they are said to sing a cappella, from the Italian, meaning in chapel style.” It refers to the fact that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, chapels were generally not provided with accompanying instruments. Hence, the singing was unaccompanied. A cappella is often somewhat loosely used to designate the contrapuntal style of compositions written in this era, such as the works of Palestrina, Lassus, and the madrigalists.
Every choral conductor should train his group to sing many selections with out instrumental accompaniment, or in a cappella style. This musicianly discipline will develop accuracy of intonation and purity of tonal blend in part-singing. In addition to training the ear and the voice, a cappella style broadens the singer’s acquaintance with a field of choral literature which every musician should know.
Well-rounded ensemble training likewise contemplates the use of many compositions provided with piano or orchestral accompaniment. Moreover, an exclusive use of a cappella style often tends to take away the spontaneity and life that an accompaniment adds. For the good of voices as swell as to maintain interest, the choral repertoire should include compositions of varied types. Some should he sung with accompaniment and some without. Some should be serious, sustained, sonorous, while others should be gay, lilting, and light. All should be within the comprehension and ability of the group.
Good ensemble singing implies good blending of voices. This means an agreement or unanimity in interpretation of the composition and in tonal quality and quantity. All voices should be in tune and should be freely produced. Breath should be taken at the right places in the music and in the right manner, and words should be pronounced correctly.
Each member of the chorus should put forth his best effort to help attain a high standard of singing. A single voice beginning and ending the phrase a trifle late, singing in a slightly different tempo, or pronouncing words differently from other voices mars the effect. In truth, there must be close co-operation among those who make up the organization. An individual must he willing to submerge his identity for the good of the many. In other words, those making up the chorus should think and act together as one instrument. This requires musical, mental, and physical alertness on the part of all.
Everyone should listen not only to his own, but to other voices and parts. Consideration should be given to the meaning or mood of the composition, the harmonic structure, the relation of one section or part to another, the voice leads, and the melody or melodies in the piece. Often the most important tune is given to an inner voice which the sopranos or basses may easily obscure. The conductor may indicate these and other features and strive for a unified interpretation, but each singer is responsible for his own part in achieving the desired musical result.
For effective choral singing, every voice should be assigned to the part to which it is best adapted in range and quality. Since young voices are not fully developed, they should be watched closely so that no strain is put upon them. To a great extent, each individual should assume responsibility for the welfare of his own instrument and should ask for a re-test and re-assignment any time he feels he is singing an unsuitable part. Sopranos should learn to carry an inner part as well as the usual top or melody. It broadens musical experience and makes for vocal independence and good musicianship.
Chords, both singly and successively arranged, are excellent drills to promote good blending or tuning of voices. Cadence chords found in certain compositions are useful in this connection. However, before proceeding to such combinations, each section of a chorus should be able to produce a good unison tone.’ For detailed discussion of choral training and technique, consult standard textbooks or try one of the great courses offeded here.