In my attempt to evoke more expressive singing from my choirs, I’ve tried urging, I’ve had students try dramatic readings of the text, I’ve showed pictures to evoke the message, I’ve made the “ultra expressive” face while conducting.
Last week, I tried a new activity: children’s books.
I propose that the skill of engaging an audience while singing is precisely the same skill needed to engage a three-year-old while reading a picture book. Heightened attention to the story, overly-animated face, diction, voice modulation. If you don’t want to lose the kid, you can’t let your guard down for even a second.
In rehearsal, my students each picked a book from a bag and had five minutes to preview the story and get plan their delivery.
Then we read to each other for the better part of an hour.
Not only was it a great way to bond and have restful but educational rehearsal time, but it gave thirteen examples of reading. Of course some were more experienced and effective than others. Each singer learned what worked and what didn’t. Each singer watched the rest and saw differences in approach.
A brief discussion about the skills needed was productive, too. And in subsequent rehearsals, we’ve been able to apply that experience to our singing work.
A bonus lesson: I had the students anonymously pick the “most effective” reader, who got to read one additional book. I gave him what I deemed to be a “bad” children’s book – poorly written. We all got to see what an effect quality literature has on the ability to connect with the audience.