Choral Technique and Interpretation by Henry Coward

Webpage by contemporary American choral composer William Copper.

Mus. Doc. Oxon.

Chapter Six (part 2) MUSICAL EXPRESSION.

   The following example illustrates the general way
of treating a fugal exposition: -- 

     And the glory of the Lord, 

   It will be noticed that the bass and contralto 
entries are differently marked from the printed
copy.  This is because of the "lay" of the parts.
When sung according to the above markings, this
exposition has an added charm because the last
entry is heard supported by the rich harmony of
the other parts.  Each case however has to be
analysed separately by the conductor, the marking
given which is thought correct, and then the result
tested in rehearsal and performance.  This plan I
follow absolutely.  In cases where the dramatic 
import of the music will not allow any diminution
of sound in the opposing voices, the entering voice
must have a hard, cutting tone for the first bar or
even longer, as in the following excerpts: -- 

     His curse hath fallen


     NOT YET NOTATED: curse hath fallen down

                POINTS OF IMITATION.

   A great deal of the convincing power of a piece
containing points of imitation lies in each entry
being made manifest to the ear, for in addition to
carrying on the thematic scheme there is a kind of
elation in listening to this throwing about of the
theme, and wondering where it will next appear --
a kind of musical "Hunt the slipper."  Therefore
each entering voice must be emphasised sufficiently 

to call attention to its entry into the musical
scheme.  This emphasis serves the same purpose 
as having the incomer's name called out at official
receptions.  The momentary prominence having 
been secured, the voice can, and generally must,
gracefully subside. 


   When a part has a rest and then takes up the
theme, the singer can see at once that a marked
entry is necessary; but when a part is continuous
the "point of imitation" is most frequently missed,
and the music is generally sung as though it was an
ordinary part of the general harmonization of the
"air," which, as mentioned above, is usually
allowed to dominate the whole.  
   For instance, how many, or rather how few, have
noticed that in the fifth bar of "He that shall
endure" (Elijah) the interest is not in the soprano
part but in the tenor?: -- 

     NOT YET NOTATED: saved, he that shall endure

   Similarly at bar 11 the contraltos should be 
prominent for five notes, at bar 14 the basses ditto,
the contraltos again for three notes, then the tenors
for three notes; while bars 20 to 26 should be
treated thus: -- 

     NOT YET NOTATED: that shall endure to the end


     NOT YET NOTATED: shall be saved,


     NOT YET NOTATED: saved ..,

   A particularly pleasing effect is made by
observing the following obscure imitations: -- 

     NOT YET NOTATED: Go on thy course

   There are many cases where the music, on paper, 
does not appear to call for special emphasis, but in
performance a slight pressure adds point and
meaning -- as in Atalanta, page 4, The Kingdom,
pages 31, 167, 180, 183, The Veil, page 109.  These
may be often regarded as pulsation imitations. 

                 WHEEL WITHIN A WHEEL.

   Closely connected with this exaltation and
subordination is the management of two or more
independent melodies, and the bringing into notice

the subsidiary designs, secondary motives, or 
intertwining melodies, so that they may be heard
without shrouding the principal theme. 
   To do these things successfully involves quick
changes in tonal force and skilful manipulation
of the voicesl. As an illustration we will take the
opening of Bach's "Sing ye" (see pages 197-199).
   It will be seen that a single mark, f or p, would
not be adequate as each part proceeds on 
independent lines; therefore each line must have
its own markings. 
   In the past composers seldom indicated how a 
piece was to be performed, except by an occasional
forte or piano, as they expected that those who
performed the works, being experienced musicians,
would know how to interpret them properly.
Herein lies the danger of overlooking these subtleties
of expression.  Modern musicians are so used to
having every nuance indicated that they often
regard the marking of works -- even old works -- as
final.  To act on this assumption would be fatal to
either an emotional or intellectual interpretation of
the old masters.  I have a copy of Bach's Mass in
B minor which does not contain a single mark of
expression.  Is there any wonder that Bach was in 
the past unpopular? 
   When a composition is manifestly inadequately 
marked the conductor must analyse it to ascertain
its possibilities, and then have courage to carry out
his ideas.  But in addition to the trouble of
searching out the salient points, there will be the
additional labour of training the choir to overcome
the "law of sympathy" sufficiently to act indepen-
dently.  Two illustrations of this "wheel within a
wheel" are: -- 


     NOT YET NOTATED: Hoist up your sails

  Intimately connected with these cross-currents of
expression is the management of contrasted swells,
as in this excerpt:--

     NOT YET NOTATED: O Lord, how great



   One of the distinguishing features of modern 
choral technique is what I term "characterization,"
or realism, of the sentiment expressed in the music.
Formerly this kind of singing was tabooed to such
an extent that when in rehearsals and at concerts
I induced the Sheffield Musical Union to sing with
graphic power, musicians of the old school voted
me a mad enthusiast, extravagant, theatrical, ultra,
and many other things of the same sort.  These
people wondered why I wanted variety of tone-
colour -- who had ever heard of such a demand from
a choir? -- and man y of my friends even thought
I was demanding too much when, in rehearsing 
Berlioz's Faust, I asked for something harder in
tone than the usual fluty, mellifluous sound in order
to depict the hearty laugh of the peasants in the
first chorus.   They were almost scandalised when
I asked for a somewhat raucous, devil-may-care
carousal-tone in the "Auerbach's wine-cellar"
scene, and when a fiendish, snarling utterance was
called for in the "Pandemonium" scene they
thought I was mad.  However, the performance
settled all these objections.  It was seen by
contrast how ridiculous it was for a choir to laugh
like Lord Dundreary with a sort of throaty gurgle;
how inane it was to depict wine-cellar revelry with
voices suggesting the sentimental drawing-room
tenor, and how insipid it was to portray fiendish glee
within hell's portals with the staid decorum of a
body of local preachers of irreproachable character.
   Of course the battle in the rehearsal-room had
to be fought sternly inch by inch, but frequent
trials, approval of the progress shown, and brilliant

success at the concert won the day.  IT was so
convincing that many said they could taste wine
and smell brimstone.
   This vindication of characterization prepared the
way for other experiments. 
   The derisive and despairing laughter in the 
"Demon's Chorus" (Gerontius); the contrast of senti-
ment in "The wraith of Odin" (King Olaf) between
the boisterous mirth of Olaf's company at the opening
of the feast, and their mysterious awe when they
become aware that Odin's wraith had been present;
the graphic touch of "Jarred against nature's chime,
and with harsh din" (Blest Pair of Sirens); the
strident cry of the conquerors, "Slay them, pursue
them" (Judith); the re-echo of the song of the
desert (Omar Khayyam); the forceful, rising apporta-
mento to depict the rushing current (Armada), and
many other examples, all assert the legitimate 
growth of characterization as an attribute of 
choral singing.  Composers have noticed all these
things both at recent triennial and competitive
festivals, and as a result we have now compositions
which open a new world of vocal effects.  Contrasts
of tone-colour, contrasts of differently placed choirs,
contrasts of sentiment -- love, hate, hope, despair,
joy, sorrow, brightness, gloom, pity, scorn prayer,
praise, exaltation, depression, laughter, tears -- in
fact all the emotions and passions are now
expected to be delineated by the voice alone.  It
may be said, in passing, that in fulfilling these
expectations choral singing has entered on a new
lease of life.  Instead of the cry being raised that
the choral societies are doomed, we shall find that
by absorbing the elixir of characterization they have
renewed their youth; and when the shallow

pleasures of the picture theatre and the empty
elements of the variety show have been discovered
to be unsatisfying to the normal aspirations of
intellectual, moral beings, the social, healthful,
stimulating, intellectual, moral and spiritual uplift of
the choral society will be appreciated more than ever.


           "Tender-handed stroke a nettle,
            And it stings you for your pains,
            Grasp it like a man of mettle,   
            And it soft as silk remains."

   Before stating how to produce the laugh, the sob,
the sigh, the snarl, the moan, bell effects, ejacula-
tions and "trick-singing", all of which come under
the head of characterization, I would say that if an
ultra thing is undertaken it must be done boldly.
The spirit of the old rhyme quoted above must be
acted upon, or fear will paralyse the efforts put
forth, and failure will be the result.  In choral
singing, as in other things, the masculinity of the
doing, the boldness, the daring, the very audacity
with which an extreme effort is produced carries 
success with it.  Therefore do not attempt a daring
thing feebly or by halves. 

                  THE LAUGH.

   There are few more effective and legitimate
effects than the laugh, when properly and graphically
produced; but this is seldom accomplished.  The
frequent failures arise from the singers not using
the right kind of tone.  To get the "ring" of the
joyful laugh the tone must be of bright, hard quality

  THE LAUGH - 169 -
with an edge on it.  Otherwise it sounds flabby and
non-infectious, which is the reverse of what is 
wanted.  Further, it must be staccato even in such
phrases as the following:-- 

     NOT YET NOTATED: Knows the worth of hunters

                   THE GIBE.

   Contemptuous gibe and derisive scorn are, as
regards voice-production, closely allied to the
ironic and sardonic laugh.  The chief ingredients 
in all these effects is nasality reinforced by tonal
flavour infused by the feeling of the singer.  Thus
in Gerontius, at the scornful words, "What's a
Saint?" the singers should approximate the upper
lip and nose and thus assist the nasal twang.  In
"He trusted in God" (Messiah) the same thing
should be done, but without such a pronounced
nasal twang.  As the passages in which this
treatment occurs are very infrequent, the charge
of repetition of effect is not likely to be
brought, especially as the singer can infuse 
variation of flavour in depicting hate, scorn, or

   To the question, "Can you get a large choir to
sing such passages quickly," the answer is "Yes,"
if you regard this and similar instances as "trick-
singing," which we will now consider.


   There are certain phrases in most modern works
which present such difficulties in one form or
another that they can only be sung when they are
so well known that the voice sings them as it were
involuntarily, without any conscious effort.  The
above excerpt is an example; the chorus com-
mencing "Surely she'll refuse him," from the
Mastersingers," What have we to do with Kaikobad?"
(Omar Khayyam), the subject in "His yoke is easy,"
and many other quick phrases such as the following
are further cases in point:--

     NOT YET NOTATED: Et iterum venturus est 


     NOT YET NOTATED: Et iterum venturus est, cont'd 

   Some passages may not present very great 
difficulties, but when taken at great speed the
difficulties are magnified, for in technique speed
is the test of proficiency.   Now it is impossible to
get the rank and file of an ordinary choir to learn a work
with such a keen edge of perfection.  Life is too short.
BUt if they can be persuaded that certain phrases are
out of the common, and to master the difficulties of
such phrases these must be treated as a conjurer or
juggler does a trick -- that is practised assiduously 
until they can be sung without mental effort -- the
singers will tolerate reiterations without number till
the required fluency is attained.  It resolves itself
into the glorifying of the words "trick-singing"
until they become a motive for special effort. 
   Therefore all tricky phrases must be specially
dealt with by being classed as trick-singing, and the
music reiterated for a short time every night, first
slowly, then gradually quicker and quicker till the
desired effect is realised.  By this means I have
obtained perfect rippling laughter in the passage
quoted from The Flying Dutchman.
   The sardonic and the derisive laugh, to be
effective, requires a very marked nasality and a
hard, cutting tone.  In The Dream of Gerontius the
hitherto unexplained effectiveness of the derisive 

laugh of the Demons is produced by making a very
marked crescendo on the last note, as: -- 

    NOT YET NOTATED: Ha! ha! ha! ha!

This reverses the marking given, but Sir Edward
Elgar said when he heard the effect, "That is
splendid."  It is the lack of knowledge of this that
has caused this chorus to be often described as
being performed by dress-coated demons.
   As a final word on the laugh I would say that to
get the proper effect the notes must generally be 
sung staccato, except in cases where contrast is
purposely introduced, as in Gerontius.  This can
be done if full advantage is taken of the nasal
forward tone required for this medium of mirth
or derision.


   The power and cumulative effect of reiterated
passages, burdens, and refrains, as well as the
diversity of treatment demanded by such phrases,
are most frequently overlooked by conductors, with
the result that dulness is often associated with
what should be full of delightful kaleidoscopic
variety.  Two such phrases occur in King Olaf--

"Dead rides Sir Morten of Fogelsang," and "Hoist 
up your sails of silk."   Each of the eight entries 
of "Dead rides," and the five reiterations of 
"Hoist up," should be treated differently, but
with such a cumulative effect that the audience
looks out for each reappearance with excited
   An example, short but expressive, of how to sing
reiterations occurs in the following excerpt: -- 

    NOT YET NOTATED: As if aught, 

   The first "aught" is said smartly, the second 
with the final "t" snapped out, while the third is
pronounced almost like aught-a, the carrying glide
(uh or a) being accompanied by a quick emission
of breath like a miniature explosion from a steam 
engine, to express demoniac vehemence.  The
cumulative effect in "A Franklyn's Dogge"
and the "Kaw" in Hiawatha have already been
referred to; therefore as a final example I will
return to the word "fou" (full), which is reiterated
five times under similar conditions in The Wedding
of Shon Maclean.  The way I treated it was as
follows:  The first time short, and very softly; the
second time for one beat, loudly; the third time it
was held for two beats, with a swell on the vowel;
at the fourth recurrence, to surprise the audience,
who by this time had doubtless surmised that each
time the word would be prolonged, it was sung
staccato very loudly; and at the fifth and final

utterance the word was held for three beats with an
exaggerated emphasis and a swell on the vowel to
enforce the fact that the pipers were drunk.


   There are certain imitative vocal effects, such as
bell sounds, violin tone, and banjo accompaniment
which call for special explanation.  Years ago I
heard the "Bells of St. Michael's Tower," as arranged
by Sir R. P. Stewart.  The result was so dis-
appointing that I never gave it a further thought 
till some three years ago, when I asked a musical
critic of great experience in choral work whether he
had ever heard an effective performance of the old
glee.  He said that twenty years ago he had heard
a really convincing performance, but never since.
This was sufficient for me.  If it were possible
then, it would be possible now, and by reviving the
ancient glory I would fill a long-felt want.  I
studied its possibilities, and as a result, during
our World Tour, we had requests to sing it at
every concert, some even desiring it to be inter-
polated during the performance of The Messiah
or Elijah.
   This success was doubtless the result of the
striking imitation of the bell-tone, which was due to
the following method of singing.  The opening,
"Ding, ding, dong bell" is sung nasally, in such a
manner that by singing through the final "ng" 
with closed mouth, the octave harmonic is heard
in the latter half of the sound.  This gives a
decided metallic tinge to the tone.  The ebb and
flow of the pianos and fortes add charm to the 
ensemble: -- 


    NOT YET NOTATED: Ding, ding, ding

   It is however at bars 12 to 15 that the most striking 
results are produced: -- 

    NOT YET NOTATED: boime, boime


    NOT YET NOTATED: bell-oom

Here the words "boime" and "chang" are struck 
with a relentless sforzando.  The clasing of the
explodents "b" and "ch" and the conflicting 
vowels produce a kind of sound-confusion associated
with the clang of a bell.  The singers immediately
get to the nasal consonants "m" and "ng," which
they sing in the nasal cavities.  Meanwhile another
quick change in the dynamics has been effected, to
represent the booming of the bell immediately after
it has been struck by the hammer, namely, the ultra
quick decrescendo followed by the rapid molto swell, 
as shown by the expression marks ff >  < >  in 

the foregoing example.  These three chords are all 
slightly varied in length.  "Bell-oom" is varied 
from the other words by having an unbroken swell
< > ; the last three words are treated with
pronounced swell on "ng". 
   Thus there is variety in every separate sound,
each presenting a bell-tone in various aspects.  The
good impression produced by the "bell" section
was strengthened by the graphic way the words
were spoken and every point of imitation brought 
out, special attention being given to "a crabstick
would take," in which Richard's muscular
Christianity was made evident.  As a climax to the 
whole, the bell effects of bars 12, 13, 14, 15 were
repeated, the interpolated closing word "bell" being
struck fff and gradually shaded off with the nasal
bell-like sound to pppp.  It should be said that
in bars 12, 13 and 14 the effect of the overtones
of the bells is made more convincing if the
contralto G and the baritone D are made slightly 
   It is well known that the tone-quality -- timbre--
of instruments depends upon the order and strength
of their harmonics or overtones; thus an oboe
differs from the clarinet by reason of the double oboe
reed producing a different set of harmonics from
those produced by the simjgle reed of the clarinet.
Having grapsed the importance of harmonics, 
singers will realise why it is  that nearly all
characteristic tone is produced by the nasal
cavities, as it is in these that nearly all the 
modifying harmonics connected with the voice
are produced.  Therefor in imitating violin tone
by humming, or the "pang, pang" of banjo
accompaniments, all that is required is to experiment 

in nasal tone-qualities and practise till the desired
effect is obtained.  With respect to the banjo trick,
care must be taken to get the thin, wiry upper
octave harmonic well defined, and success will be


   Not the least of the elements which go to give
point to graphic characterization is that way of
saying or singing words which is best described by
the word "Diction." 
   This implies not only clear articulation, but also
investing words with those subtle inflections and
shading which reveal the essence of the thought
and make them glow with life, as for example: -- 

    NOT YET NOTATED: Parry, Pied Piper



   The first thing to add to clear articulation is
correct rhetorical accent.  A common fault is to
sing every syllable with one force of voice, without
reference to how the words would be accented and
inflected if they were spoken.  In singing, the
inflection of a word, if not prevented, is to a large
extent, though not entirely, governed by the notes
sung; but the proper balance of the word-accent
need not be interfered with.   Unfortunately this
fact is not grasped.  Thus in the words "Surely,"
"Hallelujah" (Messiah), "He is gracious, com-
passionate" (Elijah), the final syllable is nearly
always sung too loudly, as "Grâcioûs," "Sûrelý," 
"Hallelûjâh," instead of being sung as "Sûrely," 
"Hallelûjh," "Grâcious," "Compâssionate."  A
well-known example of this misplacing of the
rhetorical accent is: -- 

    NOT YET NOTATED: The enemy shouteth

   One authority says that never yet has he heard
the word "Hallelûjah" correctly sung.  This fault
is more markedly displayed when the second 
syllable is carried forward to the beginning of a 
fresh bar, as: -- 

    NOT YET NOTATED: kindness, mercy


   In these cases the singers follow the musical
accent, whereas the rhetorical accent, in which the
second syllable is sung delicately, should always be
followed if the characteristic feature of the word
is to be imparted to the listener.  Special care
should be taken with phrases which have feminine 


   The next thing which claims attention is the
dramatic or descriptive import of the words.  But
it must be borne in mind that it is only one word
in a sentence or several sentences which demands
graphic picturing.  This word I call the key-word,
as it decides the import of the sentence.   There are
certain words which seem to epitomise the leading
idea of the sentences in which they occur in such a 
way that if these words be missing the other words
have no meaning.  This key-word or words needs
emphasising sometimes graphically, sometimes
quietly, according to the sentiment.  If more than
this be done, over-emphasis results, which in many
cases is worse than under-emphasis.   The words
"Take all the Prophets of Baal, let not one of
them escape us, bring all and slay them," are
regarded as a very dramatic series of short
sentences, and yet the only words which are
specially emphasised with strenuous utterance
and dramatic colouring are "Take" and 
"Slay them."
   Even in the lurid "Demons' Chorus" in Gerontius
the only words which call for special emphasis and
tone colour are "What's a saint" and "Psalm
droners."  The fact is that the mind is satisfied

  KEY-WORDS - 181 -
with the graphic key-word or words in a sentence.
Care must be taken, therefore, to secure the proper
presentment of these key-words, especially when,
as sometimes happens, these words are unfamiliar.
   The following are a few examples of words and
how to sing them.   Words like "flashed" want
singing with emphatic "fl" and quickly uttered
sibilant, and the final "t" sound must be well defined.
To get a proper "f" the lips must be made almost
to close so as to get a real buzz.  The rush of air
at "sh" must be rapid, and the carrying glide
uh must come at the end of "t" to give it clear
   "He must die" (Elijah) demands excess of
aspirate, a hard tone, and a fiercely-set mouth.  In
the phrase "Of those that hate him" (The Veil)
the word "hate" wants a hard, steam-whistle tone,
almost a shriek.   How to sing the words "slay
them" (Judith) I have referred to on page 157.
In "able to pierce" (Blest Pair of Sirens) the
explodent "p" must be well-defined, and the
final must be a staccato-making sibilant.   "Woe"
(King Saul) should show the spirit of hopeless
gloom by means of cloudy tone with a sob-like
swell in the word.  A particularly fine example of
the effect of characteristic diction is found in the
following: -- 

    NOT YET NOTATED: I lie here in corners

When this was sung real staccato, with nasal tone
and coloured by the mocking spirit of the singers,
Dr. Davies was so pleased that he stopped the
choir and said, "Oh, you horrors! how can you be
so cynical?" 
   The function of diction is to invest words with
fragrant charm and brightness, as well as to fill
them with terror.   Therefore delicate phrases like
"and the gossips" and "Hoist up your sails of
silk" (Olaf), "Blessed are the men" (Elijah),
"Sleep" (King Saul), "O, pure in heart" (Golden
Legend) should be made a delightful memory by
means of gentle pressures, the perfect closing of 
the lips at the explodents "b" and "p," and the 
graceful use of the carrying glide uh.

   One aspect of characterization in diction which
has been overlooked in the past is the important
part which breathy-tone and breath-afflux may be
made to play in choral singing.  It is astonishing
how few solo-vocalists and still fewer choralists
take advantage of using breath with the tone or
after the sound, as in breath-afflux.  The surprise
is greater when we remember the great models 
Reeves and Santley, who made much use of this
adjunct of artistic singing.  With respect to choral-
singing, the natural objection that one has to
breathy-tone, and the fear that the occasional use of
this special production may develop into habitual
use, may in part account for the non-use of this
accomplishment.  But I believe the neglect is due
to conductors not knowing how to get a large body
of singers to manage it successfully.  The way I

  BREATHY-TONE - 183 -
set about getting the choir to sing in this manner 
is as follows: --
   (1) I decide upon the special kind of tone -- what
degree of breathiness -- is wanted.
   (2) I practice privately until I can personally
produce the desired effect.
   (3) This model is then patterned to the choir.
   (4) I make full allowance for the spirit of distrust
and fear of new effects which afflicts all amateur
singers, and do not give up in disgust when I find
that singers do not respond or are openly sceptical
of and unsympathetic to what I am trying to teach
them.   As it is the unknown that is the terrible,
I know that their suspicion of the strange demand
will grow less and less as the effect is studied
more and more.
   (5) When, after many attempts, the effect is
perfected, I compliment the choir on their achieve-
ment, and everybody, including the conductor, is
happy.  Then the many bad quarters of an hour
are forgotten, and another asset is permanently
added to the armoury of expression. 
   By means of breathy-tone many shades of 
characterization can be expressed in a way that
other means cannot touch.  It must be borne in
mind that whenever breathy-tone is introduced for
dramatic or picturesque effect is must be done in an
unmistakable manner, or the cloudiness of tone 
arising from only partially doing it will be put
down to bad tone and properly condemned, whereas
if the tone be almost a negligible quantity and the
words are spoken in a kind of stage whisper, then
the intention is made manifest and appreciated

   The following are a few cases where breathy-tone
should or must be used to get the proper spirit of
the situation: -- 
   "Will then the Lord be no more God in Zion"
      (Elijah) (expressive of fretful despair).
   "Let Him be God" (Elijah) (solemn awe).
   "Upon your faces fall" (reverential submission).
   "Then for a moment the Veil was lifted and the
       Face was there" (The Veil) (overpowering
   "And none had seen the stranger pass" (Olaf)
       (mysterious surprise).
   "Who hath you these tidings brought" (Everyman)
       (fearsome inquiry).
   "There is a spectre somewhere near" (Spectre's
       Bride) (hushed affright).


   Closely allied to breathy-tone is breath-afflux,
that is, the substitution of breath for what would
otherwise be sound in the singing of a word, such
breath giving a kind of upward inflection to the
breath sound produced.  The difficulty of getting
this done by a large choir is due to their amateur
fear of overdoing it.  When it is first attempted,
the affluxion of breath is practically a minus
quantity, through the sound being continued too
long.  To inspire singers with courage and to give
them the proper lead, pattern the model as
frequently as you would to a professional pupil,
emphasising the fact that the sound must be merged

into a swift current (afflux) of breath as soon as it
is struck.  By this means choristers are able to give
convincing characterization to rapturous delight,
as in "Ah! my heart upbounds" (Bavarian
Highlands); longing desire, as in "O! may we soon
again renew that song" (Blest Pair of Sirens);
overwhelming grief, as in "Mors" (Verdi's
Requiem); dramatic affright, as in "Ah" (last
word of Samson and Delilah); wild jubilation, as
in "Hooch" (Wedding of Shon Maclean).
   Although the opportunity of using breath-afflux
may only occur once in a work, its successful
accomplishment reveals a mastery of technique
which captivates an audience and gives distinction 
to a performance.  Therefore conductors should
not let opportunities for its introduction pass, as
has been so often done.


   In the saying of words it sometimes happens 
that artistic discrimination has to be exercised.  It
is a well-known fact that the eye can only definitely
see one thing at a time -- the object which is on the
point of sight.  Similarly the ear can only hear
closely one sound or series of sounds.  Therefore
in cases where, through several phrases being
spoken together, the words come into conflict with
each other, tending towards a jumble of sounds, it
is necessary to discriminate between the principal 
words and those of less importance.  Having
decided this point, act boldly.  Ask the subsidiary
parts merely to mutter their words, so as to enable
the principal phrase to dominate the whole for 
awhile, as in The Spectre's Bride: -- 


    NOT YET NOTATED: Her tender feet

The reason why some phrases sound confused and
indistinct is because conductors have not realised
sufficiently that everything written is not of the
same importance.  They therefore treat every 
word or note with the same respect, whereas they
should discriminate between the wheat and the
chaff, and relegate the mere filling-up parts to a
secondary position. 


   There are frequent occasions when, for descriptive
effect, it is advisable to speak the words instead of
singing them, although the words are set to notes.
This is best done when a word or phrase is repeated
several times.  Then, to give variety, and as a climax, 

(*) These words should be hummed rather than sung. (+) The words in the bass part must be very clearly and distinctly articulated.

the word is spoken.  For instance, in the reiterated
word "Kaw" (Hiawatha's Departure) the first
is sung, the second harshly semi-sung, and the
last (page 130) spoken with incredulous disdain.
In Gerontius the last sardonic laughs (page 90) are
uttered with a contemptuous, despairing cackle, with
the sound in the throat.  This cuts through the
instrumentation and produces the desired effect.
A delightfully humorous effect is produced in
A Franklyn's Dogge, by saying the seventh repetition
of "Little Bingo" in a shrill, piping voice.  In the 
second verse, at the words "good stingo" (bar 68),
"good" is prolonged with a sort of sepulchral tone,
and "stingo" snapped out; while in the third verse
(bars 30 and 31) the audience is usually convulsed
by the words "by Jingo" being all breath, with
emphasis on the explodents "b" and "j".  In
cases where words are directed to be spoken,
great care and many trials are necessary to get
the choir to sing with convincing utterance and
   It seems almost an insult to caution well-
conducted, experienced singers against making a
travesty of or turning to ridicule any special effects
of characterization.  Still, it is necessary to do so.
When anything out of the common is done for the 
first time, or while a new effect is being developed,
the strangeness of the idea and the imperfection of
the first attempts often sound so ludicrous that a
certain number begin to snigger at the result.
This may be overlooked for a few times, but the
spirit of levity must be supressed, and self-restraint
substituted, or a performance will in whole or in
part be spoiled in six seconds.  This has happened
to my knowledge in phrases like "He leapt"

(Spectre's Bride), the "Demons' Chorus" (Gerontius),
"Little Bingo," the quaint Turkomani melody 
(Omar Khayyam) (page 198), and other places too
numerous to mention. 

                  FACIAL EXPRESSION

   A most important adjunct to characterization 
in singing is an animated, mobile facial ex-
pression.  It is important in two directions.  It not
only promotes good articulation, but the reflection
in the face of the sentiment, be it laughter, ardour,
hate, or disdain, carries conviction to the hearer.
Unfortunately British singers are afraid of showing
emotion, and are especially so anxious not to show
it in their faces that it is almost an impossibility
to get anything like expressive facial movements.
This perhaps did not matter much fifty years ago,
when we were more insular than we are today;
but now that we have to come into competition
with the more volatile or dramatic singers of the
Continent, it is imperative that we acquire
the power of facial expression as a living
commentary on the words spoken.  This can only
be done by the encouragement, stimulus, and
magnetic power of the conductor.  To change
stolidity of face to versatility of feature he must
brace himself up for a formidable task.  In showing
the precise form of muscular action he desires, he
must throw convention aside and illustrate it in a 
somewhat exaggerated manner.  If in response to
this pattern some venturesome soul breaks through
the hard crust of stolidity and does what
is wanted, he should call out the singer's name and
commend him warmly.  He should do this to 

others at every favourable opportunity, and make
all the members feel a desire to win commendation.
The singers must be shown that immobility of face
prevents that free muscular action of the articulatory
organs which all graphic singing demands.  By
good-natured banter the conductor must ridicule
singing a joyful chorus like the opening of Faust
(Berlioz) with an immovable, bored countenance,
or the words "He shall perish; let him die," with
a Sunday-go-to-meeting expression of face.  These
"flank attacks" will have to be continued until a
sort of standard has been fixed, and the fear of
looking ridiculous has been driven from the 
minds of the singers.  In attempting this task let
the conductor, as an incentive to perseverance,
keep in mind the old saw about dropping water
and the stone, because when a British choir
does wake up to its possibilities it can and does
unmistakeably excel in this unfrequented domain
of expression. 


   Some time ago I heard a conductor who was
reading a criticism of his concert ask the question,
"What does the fellow" (the critic, of course)
"mean by saying the chorus was performed very
well, but it would have been better had it not been
rendered in the style of a part-song?"  This point,
which is very obscure to many conductors, I will 
try to make clear.  To differentiate between the
style of singing a madrigal, glee, part-song, and
chorus is a task which few conductors can 
undertake.   They may have a notion that there are 

differences of treatment, but their views on these
are very hazy.  Yet there are well-defined
characteristics which clearly mark one class of
composition from the other, and which call for a 
somewhat different kind of treatment. 
   We will take the simplest form -- the part-song --
first.  In this class all that is necessary is to have
a well-defined melody supported by well-balanced
under parts.  The expression is governed by the
top line, be it soprano or first tenor, and owing to
the general simplicity of the music, great expression
can be infused into the rendering.  In the more
recent part-songs this does not absolutely apply,
as much more independence of parts is introduced,
-- in fact they often incorporate the characteristics 
of the glee and madrigal, and have to be treated in
similar styles. 
   The madrigal suffers most from being sung in
part-song fashion.  The strength of madrigals lies
in their "points of imitation."  The cleverness and
learning displayed in these, as well as the possible
musical effect, are their chief recommendation from
an artistic point of view.  It follows therefore that
the clear presentment and unfolding of these
imitations should be the main object of attainment
in singing madrigals.  Yet I have heard dozens of
performances in which this feature was ignored,
through each voice going on regardless of the
other, or of the claims of "the points of imitation."
The result of such performances is disappointing to
general listeners, the impression being that the
madrigals are unmelodious and therefore dull.
At the close of this work (see Appendix I.),
a tabulated scheme of how to sing madrigals is
given, but to enable these tables to be interpreted

more readily, the following example of how I mark
"In going to my lonely bed" is given: --

    NOT YET NOTATED: In going to my lonely


    NOT YET NOTATED: In going to my lonely, cont.


    NOT YET NOTATED: In going to my lonely, cont. 2

   It will be noticed that the marked entries are the 
centre of interest.  In the homogeneous plain
chordings the soprano takes the premier place, as
in a part-song.  This affords a welcome period of
repose.  Careful analysis is often required to ferret
out the imitations, and still more skill to get the
imitating voice heard; but by bold anti-part-song
singing, and, may be, borrowing and lending voices,
this can always be accomplished. 
   The glee differs from the part-song and madrigal
in that it is usually laid out to give, at sundry times,
solo phrases and prolonged passages to each voice
in turn, and when these melodious tit-bits or even
long sentences occur, this favoured part must be 
allowed to dominate the other voices, although they
may not be "imitative" as in the madrigal.  When
these special melodic phrases are absent from the
lower parts, the soprano takes the lead, as in a
part-song.  When a glee includes points of imita-
tion, as it frequently does, these must be treated in
madrigal fashion. 

   The following excerpts show how the dominating
parts of a glee are treated: -- 

    NOT YET NOTATED: I love the sweep, etc.


    NOT YET NOTATED: the smile of beauty, etc.


    NOT YET NOTATED: discord flies

   The chorus usually needs to be treated in a broader
style than either the madrigal, glee, or part-song;
and being often framed on bigger lines, and
not being bound by any convention, it generally
includes all the attributes of the three classes
already considered, to which is added fugal treat-
ment.  Therefore a chorus frequently requires great
variety of treatment.  The answer to the question of
the conductor at the beginning of this chapter is
that he had probably let the soprano dominate the
whole instead of giving emphasis to the inner and
lowest voices in points of imitation, had neglected
to give prominence to the solo phrases in the lower
voices, and had imposed too much restraint in
working up to a climax -- all of which points must
be attended to when performing a chorus. 
   Sometimes a chorus is built upon one plan --
fugal, madrigalian, or part-song -- in which case the
particular style dominates the rendering; for
instance, "He that shall endure" (see page 159 ff.,
supra) should be sung in madrigal fashion in the 
working up of the principal and secondary subjects,
which are repeated so frequently in imitative form.

   The following Example shows how I mark for
expression the first six bars of Bach's great motet: -- 

    NOT YET NOTATED: Sing ye


    NOT YET NOTATED: Sing ye, cont'd


    NOT YET NOTATED: Sing ye, cont'd 2

   Bearing the foregoing points in mind, it will be
an easy matter for conductors to get each style of
composition sung in the manner appropriate to it. 
   A caution is needed here.  Some people suppose
that it is only part-songs which should be sung with
ultra-refinement.  This is a mistake.  Every class
of composition -- even the choruses of Bach -- may
be and should be sung with ethereal delicacy if the
sentiment demands it.  No rendering, be it vigorous
or emotional or sentimental, should be left open to the 
charge of being "part-songy" if the characteristics
of the class of the composition are preserved.
Therefore do the correct generic thing, and if critics
"say," -- well! "let them say." 

                    "THREE PER CENT."

   Conductors and choristers generally fail to
realise how small a percentage in actual work done
lies between a fairly good and an excellent 
performance, and that this excellence is the result 
of attention to seemingly insignificant details.  But
so it is.  Take three performances of a given piece
at a competition -- one good, the second very good,
and the third excellent.  It will be found that in
the notes sung and the words said, and the general
scheme of expression -- constituting, say, 97 per cent.
of the actual work presented during the performance --
there is little to choose between them, each choir
being fairly correct.  But the spirit, the verve,
the subtle points of expression, both in tone and
diction, of the one choir place it far above the
other two.  Their ebb and flow of force, their
colouring of voice, their clear diction, due to 

quick action of tongue and lips combined, and
their carrying glide uh and convincing facial
expression, seem but small additions to the effort
and skill put forth by the other choirs; but they
make a convincing performance which cuts like a 
keen-edged razor, while the comparatively blun-
edged, ordinary rendering makes little impression.
   Unfortunately this three or five per cent. spirit or
flavouring takes almost as much trouble to obtain
as the remaining 97 or 95 per cent.  On this
account both conductor and conducted frequently 
act on the thought, "Why should we have toil
without end merely to get the turn of a phrases,
the shading of a piano, the placing of a word, the
colouring of the voice, and the changing of
the countenance, when everything is satisfactory
without these efforts?  They forget that
it is this three or five per cent. which is the elixir of
artistic life, and makes all the difference in the
result.  It is the difference between gingerbeer and
champagne.  The flavour which counts is absent,
and its place is taken by something offensive. 
   I was taking supper with a physician, who was for
the time on vegetarian diet.  He said that his meal
had been spoiled by the mushrooms having been
burnt in the cooking -- pleasure turned to nausea by
the smallest of percentages. 
  When I spoke to Professor Arnold, the great
authority on steel, on the importance of small
percentages in securing artistic results in singing,
he said he quite believed it, as the difference 
between common steel and high-grade steel was
less than one per cent.   To illustrate this he kindly
provided me with photographs of two specimens
of steel -- one specimen perfect, the other ruined

through containing one-hundredth part of one
per cent. chromium less than the other.
   The moral is that conductors must not despise,
as beneath notice, the most insignificant details
which tend to a perfect rendering of a piece.  The
amount of work required to get this distilled spirit
of artistry may seem out of proportion to the result,
but the necessity is laid upon them to reach the
goal of excellence, otherwise they become fossilized.
   A good solvent of the difficulty is to act on the
principle which I have found necessary to adopt,
namely: To achieve any artistic ideal, give three
times the amount of work and attention to it that
you consider ought to be necessary.  When you
have adopted this as your standard you will give,
con amore, the additional labour required.  See
Appendix I. for illustrations how to mark for
expression various types of compositions. 
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