Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Dancing and singing

My supervisor took issue today with my placing dance under the sub-heading of "Extra-musical features." The thing is, whether or not it is extraneous to music is dependant on the situation. Some music feels wrong without dance, and other music doesn't feel like it can be danced to. In some situations, the first type feels more 'right', and in others, the second fits better. I am busy teaching two 'African' songs to my choir, and I never even entertained the possibility of notmoving to them. For some of the choristers, however, the possibility of having to move and sing simultaneously is terrifying, and a physical struggle. One issue is, of course, that that choir are used to holding their music in front of them as they sing, and that makes moving difficult, if not impossible. I have always had difficulty holding music while I sing. I develop a sore back, and battle for control of my voice when I have music in front of me. When I was in Argentina with the Wits choir, I realised for the first time just how much I do move. Even when I am austensibly standing still, I tap my foot, move my head, sway from side to side, and even bend my knees and back in time to, or in sympathy with, the music. But last night, at the UJ rehearsal, the choir were very still. And my own choir stand very still. The Drakensberg Boys' Choir, on the other hand, move constantly. they sway and bob constantly, and even music that isn't choreographed (as much of their music of all styles is), is hardly still. Singing is such a physical thing. Music is such a physical thing. One of the flute students in this music department moves constantly as she plays, and thinking about it, so do most of the solo musicians I know. And yet, for some people, movement and singing are worlds apart, and difficult to link together. Is dance extraneous to the musical performance? Why do we put such an emphasis on standing and sititng in rehearsals? why do I start every rehearsal with stretching and moving exercises? Why have western choirs traditionally moved so little? Is the text I am working with sound or the whole performance? That last question was really answered for me by choristers bringing what I have hitherto referred to as "extra-musical" features into their discussions of choirs. I some contexts, the issue is the sound, and in others, it is the whole performance. But the fact that the whole performance can influence the sound makes it relevant.

1 comment:

choirgirl said...

Ok, after great deliberation, I have some more points on this matter,and some sort of initial decision about its application to my essay.
It my 'familiar musical environment,' both as a chorister and a solo singer, movement is extraneous to singing. My singing teachers have all, at one time or another, told me to "stand still while you sing." there are two reasons commonly stated for this. the first is that movement distracts the audience from the music, and the second is that it distracts the singer. The argument goes something like this: 'Singing well takes enough energy as it is, if you waste energy on other movement, you aren't channeling it properly, and singing technique and the music itself takes so much concentration, and diverting some of that concentration to co-ordinating other movement means there isn't enough going towards the music.' I always move when I sing. I sway from side to side, tap my foot, bob my head, or just move in sympathy with musical phrases and patterns. I don't know how not to, and quite frankly, I wouldn't really want to stop, despite the above-stated argument, because I feel that it's linked to my mode of musical expression. On the other hand, it does look odd, and can be terribly distracting when one person in a choir standing perfectly 'to attention' is bobbing and swaying out of the orderly ranks. In some settings, it just doesn't work. And some music is inseparable from movement. I have yet to see a performance of "Bawo Tixo somandla" without movement, and it might look a little odd. When I was recording a CD for the Wits choir the year before last, we had to deliberately stand still for songs we would normally move in in order to reduce noise on the recording. It was very difficult for some people, who just felt so compelled to move, and yet, it was amazing to hear how much noise that one filters out in a live performance is generated by movement in a recording situation. Even lifting a hand to wipe one's brow can create a surprisingly notiable 'dead spot' when it passes between a part of the choir and the microphone. When the focus should be on sound alone, movement is extraneous. On the other hand, movement, even as meager as facial mobility, can do a whole lot the a live performance. One chorister I interviewed commented that he felt that 'African' music has "no musical value." On its own, it is a shocking statement, and even in context, It will inevitably raise a few PC eyebrows, but when you think of the amount of distraction from other musical elements it can cause, perhaps he has a valid, though badly articulated, point. Whether movement is extraneous or intrinsic to musical performance is a moot point. Certainly, the answer is context specific, and neither view is absolutely invalid. On the other hand, the fact that both contexts exist in my 'field' means that placing movement, costume, and other related elements under the heading 'extra-musical features' privelages one view point. I therefore am removing this heading, though I have yet to decide what to replace it with, or alternately, how to redistribute the information in my paper.