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How the Words "Sit Up Straight" Have Damaged the Sound of Your Choir
If you’ve been hanging out with musical ensembles for any length of time, regardless of the type of music, you know that good posture is stressed over and over again. Sitting or standing with poor posture reduces the overall windability of the assembly, and looks sloppy in performance. However, especially for a choir, poor posture is a huge barrier to developing a good choral sound. Some of the reasons for this:
* Forward depression, or to either side, compresses the lungs and limits the movement of the diaphragm. The stomach is also less able to move freely during inhalation. The singer, therefore, has to breathe much more frequently, each with greatly reduced efficiency. This makes singing extended phrases and smooth lines difficult to impossible.
*When the body is bent/folded by poor posture, resonant spaces within the body are distorted. This turns what could be a strong voice into a much lighter and less mature sound, often with completely wasted air passing through the mouth. This forces conductors to seek more sound from the ensemble. The ensemble, in turn, needs to breathe More Often to keep in touch with their unsupported sound. The same vehicle with good posture will have to work much less to produce equal dynamics, with a much cleaner quality.
*Poor posture usually indicates a lack of attention, whether in a job interview, on the parade ground or in a team. It encourages singers to talk more, listen less, and pay less attention to the sound of the choir. Naturally, a less attentive choir will not listen to each other for blending, will take longer to learn music, and is more prone to mistakes.
To combat the issue of poor posture, choir directors have a standard phrase (learned from their parents): “Stand up straight!” Alternatively, back, “Sit up straight!” This simple command tells Ensemble a few things, some fixing problems, some creating them. For further explanation:
*This tells the ensemble to straighten its back. A straight back can take pressure off the internal organs, open the airways and allow each breath to be more efficient.
*This tells the ensemble to suck their bellies. It looks good, but means the ensemble can’t release their belly while breathing in. If they are also still not allowed to let their shoulders go down when they breathe, they go back to really small breaths. (For the record, the shoulders don’t need to move to breathe, as long as the upper body is free to expand and contract properly.)
*This tells the ensemble to pull back, or “square”, the shoulders. Pulling them back too much can lead to pressure in the chest, again compromising the room available for breathing.
*This tells the ensemble to harden their bodies into rigid shapes. Any guesses where this is going? True, restricted movement means restricted breathing. An ensemble that focuses on their looks cannot be as focused on listening and blending.
To fix both extremes, a happy medium must be found. The easiest way to do this is in rehearsals – we perform the way we practice. I know that any ensemble has the power to step up when the spotlight is on. Each ensemble goes the extra mile on the night of the performance. The difference is where the “extra” mile starts. A choir with good posture to begin with will be stellar, instead of acceptable. Ways to be a choir of stars (at least for posture and free breathing)?
*When rehearsing while seated, ask your singers to sit on the front edge of the chairs and lengthen their spines. The head should rest, almost float, on the neck. The spine should continue straight down the back into the pair of “sitting bones” on the pelvis. The legs should be evenly spaced, and on the floor. This distributes weight and pressure evenly into the chair and the floor. (The feet should carry a small percentage of the weight.) Weight and stress are directed to supporting structures, not to individual joints that were never designed to bear a load.
*While standing, ask the ensemble to place their feet almost directly under their shoulders, and arrange themselves so that the weight is carried smoothly to the floor. Balance weight on a tripod between the heel, big toe and ball of the smallest toe for maximum stability.
*Encourage your singers to expand from the belly through the chest while breathing. If they were to fill a glass, they would fill it from the bottom up. Do the same with the body.
*Practice long sounds in the warm-up to ensure everyone is thinking how to get the most air.
Doing these things will create an ensemble that is able to go through the longest phrases with you, achieve the most varied dynamics and the richest sounds possible. Stick to a well-supported but not stiff posture on repetitions. The resulting sound is well worth the investment of your time, and the “extra mile” will be fantastic.
Good luck in rehearsals and on stage.
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