Shaping Lines with Silver Lining

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Action shot from the warm-upAction shot from the warm-up

To complete my hat trick of coaching adventures last weekend, I headed off to Coventry on Sunday to work with Silver Lining. They are also preparing new music for LABBS Convention in the autumn, but this time I had the pleasure of getting my teeth into other people’s arrangements. It’s fun coaching my own charts, but you learn different things working with music that comes from someone else’s perspective and experience.

Their new ballad is one of those songs that looks simple on paper: a clear arc of melody without tricksy stuff, supported by intuitive harmonies and no more embellishment than is needed. In practice, this places considerable demands on both the breath and the interpretive mind to sustain the phrases - there is absolutely nowhere to hide. Fortunately, the technical dimension was well in hand, allowing us to focus on the artistic challenges.

The chorus are well accustomed to the idea that long notes are there to be developed, but when you have a phrase that contains several long notes within it, you can’t just approach each one as an entity in its own right, you have to put it into the context of the phrase to make sense of how each needs developing. Not all long notes need to build, and even those that do have their own points from which they need to start and arrive at in the context of the overall arc.

We used the concept of the focal point of a phrase – the point to which it travels and from which it recedes - to organise shape. ‘Focal point’ is a more useful term than ‘climax’, because it refers more to meaning than to dynamic. Like notes, all phrases need to go somewhere, but they won’t all have the same shape. Interestingly, one bit of feedback from this work was that as we thought more about shape, the singers had to think less about breathing: the cognitive/emotional work of artistry helped their bodies manage the technical demands more intuitively.

We also introduced the notion of accented and unaccented syllables. Within the overall arc of a phrase, the prosody of speech still needs to make sense. The line needs to link through every syllable, but the relative weights that create poetic metre still need to be evident.

As we worked through the decision-making process of how to shape each phrase, we found ourselves in some interesting negotiations about how different musical elements were shaping those decisions. If you approach the lyrics in an actorly fashion, there are many different ways you can deliver them, with different emphases bringing out different nuances of meaning.

However, not all of these possibilities are accommodated by melodic and harmonic shape. There was one moment in particular where what was arguably the most salient aspect of the lyric fell too early in the phrase to act as a melodic or harmonic focal point. Likewise, the lyrics offered scope for a complex range of emotional states, but some that might be most interesting for an actor would take the voice into places where it would be hard to sing the given line effectively.

It is a very exciting moment when you generate a new Venn Diagram. I am pleased to share with you the one that emerged from these negotiations:


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