Breathing warrants diligent practice–just as much as notes, rhythms, text, and all other aspects of good singing. Since breathing is an automatic behavior, we tend to focus on it only in distress; but consciously practicing it can lead to amazing results for choir members and soloists.
This was all driven home to me the other night when I sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with the Rockford Choirs at their spring concert. In preparing the last phrase, I unconsciously took a massive, filling breath – and only later realized why.
With Gold Company, Steve Zegree loved to hold the last chord of “Bridge” for about 3 seconds longer than anyone thought they could sing. Over hundreds of rehearsals and performances, I taught myself to take the breath I needed for his interpretation. Now, more than 15 years later, I could have kept singing another 15 seconds past the cutoff, because I had practiced it that way.
Breathing requires the same deliberate, slow, painstaking practice as any other aspect of singing; give it that practice and phrase lengths extend and become more flexible.
It doesn’t just happen. And it affects everything else in the choir. So why not rehearse breath just the way we rehearse pitch accuracy, dynamics, articulations, and all the other factors of a stellar performance.