One of my favorite corners of the inter-web-thing is www.Librivox.org. It’s a site built and maintained by volunteers that has over 8,000 audio books that are free to stream or download (and they’re adding 100 or so every month). All are in the public domain and read by volunteers using texts from the Gutenberg Project, a collection of over 46,000 ebooks (www.gutenberg.org). As somebody who reads entirely too fast, having someone one read aloud to me slows me down and I find that I truly savor the words. It would only take a second to read this; read it aloud to yourself, nice and slow-like. Linger on the consonants a little:
“A September sun, losing some of its heat if not its brilliance, was dropping low in the west over the black Colorado range. Purple haze began to thicken in the timbered notches. Gray foothills, round and billowy, rolled down from the higher country. They were smooth, sweeping, with long velvety slopes and isolated patches of aspens that blazed in autumn gold. Splotches of red vine colored the soft gray of sage. Old White Slides, a mountain scarred by avalanche, towered with bleak rocky peak above the valley, sheltering it from the north.”
From “The Mysterious Rider” by Zane Grey
The colors become clearer don’t they?
The same is true with singing. You can’t just blast on through, you have to sing the music at the pace intended by the composer and both you and your audience can feel and be moved by it (and just like in an audiobook, pronunciation is everything…if it all sounds like mush, it falls short).
There’s another parallel that Susie often emphasizes. When a book is read aloud, the reader can vary the tone of their voice and bring emotion to the words that sit flat on the written page. The unhurried pace allows meaning to be added. This is even truer with singing, especially as a member of a chorus. The rise and fall of the dynamics are driven by the power of multiple singers and add meaning and emotion. This is especially true when a note and syllable are held for multiple beats. With a few exceptions particular to some musical styles, that long note should never be static. It moves with the flow of the song, the volume changes, there may be a diphthong that gives it shape. It’s an opportunity to paint a picture if you linger and move.
And, as with so many of the other pieces of choral singing, if we all do it together it changes music into magic.