Choir Notes: Fall Term, 2017

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January 9, 2018 ~ Welcome to all you wonderful singers. We had several newcomers and lots of old timers. It was a great way to begin the New Year.

What we sang: “The Sleigh” – we began practice by running through this fast, fun wintry song, which we’ll keep in out notebooks and perform in our June concert. (It’s OK to remove all other winter/holiday songs from your notebook)


4 New songs – 1st time sight reading:

“I Sing Because I’m Happy” – a joyous gospel piece. Be mindful to pronounce “I” as “ah.”

“Long Time Ago” – Sopranos have the melody on this ballad.

“Sixteen Tons” – Before singing this familiar piece, we worked to understand how it is put together. James finds the last chord disappointing, so we’re changing it. First sopranos will slide up to C; second sopranos slide to A; altos to G sharp; tenors will slide up a major seventh to E sharp; basses will sing the F that’s written but down an octave. It sounds really cool the new way (and will all become clearer with practice)!

“Memory” (from Broadway musical “Cats”) – lots of shifting between 12/8 and 10/8 time in this piece. James explained how to count them, and how they differ in feel (quite likely he’ll explain again!).


“Loch Lomond” – Tenors and basses start serving as “bagpipes” at measure 44. Be mindful of the 2 repeats (measure 53 repeats back to measure 50; measure 61 goes back a page to measure 54). ONLY sopranos sing on the downbeat of the last measure of the piece; ATB (alto, tenor, bass) must watch James for cue to sing the final “oo”.

Just for fun: James likes to leave us with a weekly “Piece to Listen To.” If you have a chance, listen to/watch “Ave Maria” by Kevin Memley:

An aside: A very big "Thank You" to Mary Beth Earley for volunteering to be our new Note Taker! And a very, very big "Thank You" to Alesha Jess for her years of notetaking. This is an important job. Last night I asked who used the notes. Well over 50% of the choir members refer to the notes! Yes! warmly, Dianne

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January 16, 2018 ~ Had a great evening of singing and were delighted that newcomers from last week actually came back for another week of singing. Yahoo!

“Long Time Ago” – We primarily worked from bottom of page 3 to bottom of page 4. James noted that it’s important for the rhythms to be precise. The MP3 will be especially useful for sopranos and altos to learn these rhythms.

“Loch Lomond” – To make the end of the piece work, it’s critical for altos, tenors and basses to stop singing after beat 4 of the second-to-last measure (measure 69). ONLY sopranos sing on the 1st beat of the last measure. Please mark your music however you need to in order for this to happen. Altos, tenors, basses: watch James for cue to sing the final “oo”.

“We Rise Again” – At measure 29, we are changing the word to “rejuvenate.” In this piece, breathing with the phrases is important. For instance, for the phrase beginning at measure 19 – “We rise again in the faces of our children” – breathe after the phrase during the eighth note in measure 21. No breathing in the middle of phrases!

“Seal Lullaby” – We did a full run-through, since this piece is a carryover from previous terms. Again, consistently breathing with the phrases (not in the middle of them) is important. James walked to the back of the room to hear us from an audience’s point of view, and was impressed!

“Sixteen Tons” – On page 9, measure 36, our own James will sing the bass solo: “A well-a bless my soul.”

Fun note: Merle Travis wrote and made this song a hit in 1946, but most people are familiar with Tennessee Ernie Ford’s 1955 cover, which sold 20 million copies and became a gold record. You can watch the song performed by Travis, Ford, Johnny Cash, ZZ Top and others at:

“Memory” – We continued learning this new piece. Using the mnemonic “tri-pi-let tri-pi-let du-ple du-ple” may help us learn the rhythm of the 10/8 measures.

“I Sing Because I’m Happy” – We also continued learning this piece. Remember to always pronounce “I” as “ah.”

This week, James suggests we listen to "Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine" by Eric Whitacre (composer of "The Seal Lullaby")

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January 23, 2018 ~ Be sure to check out "Watermelon Man", see below.

“We Rise Again” – All sopranos and altos will sing at the beginning of the piece, and also at Verse 2 (at letter “D” – top of page 6). Basses can be more prominent from G to H. Note that we are in unison at measure 58 (top of page 10). To lessen the somewhat melodramic finale, James may be changing where we end this piece.

“Sixteen Tons” – In James’ words: “This song is all about cool.” We will be doing the finger snaps as written. On page 10, we will sing the phrase “St. Peter, don’tcha call me ‘cuz I can’t go” legato (smooth, connected). Four of us who listened in the audience agreed: dynamics are key to making this piece “sing!”

“Loch Lomond” – We continued to hone this song. At measure 24, sopranos and altos should pronounce “purple” as “pu-pl,” and “Highland” as “Hie-land” (slight emphasis on the “e”). Starting at measure 28, tenors and basses should “Think of Scotland!” and really resonate the “dai dai’s” bagpipe-style.

“Prayer of the Children” – Lots of honing on this piece as well. At measure 32, note that ONLY sopranos sing the word “for” to start the phrase “for something of their very own.” At measure 69, we will sing the word “softly” – you guessed it, more softly! – and with a slight emphasis on the “f.” We also practiced pronouncing the Croatian lyrics that begin at measure 90. Refer to the MP3 for extra help with that.

“Memory” – More work on this new piece. Note that its highlight is the phrase “If you touch me you’ll understand what happiness is” (measure 50-52). Let’s sing it like we mean it!


This week, the suggested piece to enjoy is Herbie Hancock’s "Watermelon Man." There's a neat a cappella version (though it starts a bit slowly) at And a live version featuring Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis at: Watermelon Man. Talk about COOL! ;)

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January 30, 2018 --

“Sixteen Tons” – This song really needs the finger snaps to come off “cool,” so James would like most of us to snap. Unlike our more formal choir pieces, we should pronounce words colloquially. For instance, “St. Peeta” instead of “St. Peter,” “ma” instead of “my,” “sto” instead of “store.” On page 5, we will do a small crescendo through “muscle and blood and skin and bones” (measures 12 & 13), then decrescendo through the next phrase: “a mind that’s weak and a back that’s strong (measures 14 & 15). Then we hit the next phrase loud: “You load sixteen tons...” At the top of page 8 – beginning with “I was born one morning...” – James would like big sound and more attitude from the altos. This is your moment! Similarly on page 13, pickup to measure 59, basses should be ready to rock the phrase “If the right one don’t get’cha then the left one will.”

“Long Time Ago” – In the 5th measure on page 4, watch James for a slight slowdown (but no real fermata) at the phrase “Long time a – go.” James noted that the key to singing this “beautiful, moving” piece is to “milk it, ” but without doing too much.

“Memory” – Note that the measures in 6/8 go by very quickly, and flow almost immediately into their next phrases. We will increase intensity at the 6/8 measure on page 4, and slow down during the 6/8 measure in the middle of page 6.

“Words of Wisdom” – We sight read this new piece, which was written just for our choir by our own conductor and music director James Moursund! This is a piece that will challenge us with its harmonies and meter changes. The lyrics are from the Book of Proverbs.

“We Rise Again” – We continued working on this piece. At measure 25, on the 2nd beat, we are changing the quarter note to a half note (it’s the “cean” part of the word “ocean”). Hold that for 2 beats and remove the full beat rest that is written after it. Keep the half-beat rest that follows. So, the counting for that measure will be: 1, 2, 3 OFF “and then...” We’ll also do this at measure 49 (page 8), and at measure 57 (page 9).

A bit of background:

The song was written by Leon Dubinsky, a songwriter from Sydney, Nova Scotia, for a 1984 stage musical titled “The Rise and Follies of Cape Breton,” as an anthem of resilience and hope at a time when Cape Breton Island was going through an economic crisis. According to Dubinsky, the song is about "the cycles of immigration, the economic insecurity of living in Cape Breton, the power of the ocean, the meaning of children, and the strength of home given to us by our families, our friends and our music."

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February 6, 2018 -- Choir notes

“Sixteen Tons” – James changed the final note of the piece (page 15) for all voices. Basses will sing the F# as written but down an octave. Tenors will sing an A natural (up a third from the F# that's written). Altos will sing a C#, down from the F# that's written. Second sopranos will sing an E# -- a "tiny" step down from the F# that's written. First sopranos will sing a G, up a half step from the written F#. Then we will all "fall off" at the end of our notes.

Other notes: We should try to "swell" the modulations more (measures 27/28, 49/50). Pay attention to the decrescendo through measure 52, and to the rhythms in measure 53.

Overall, the top dynamic of the piece is mezzoforte. We should sing it sly, cool, sneaky -- but not that loud!

"Words of Wisdom" -- We worked carefully on the last few pages. Pronunciations to watch for: at measure 73, "grasp" should be more like "graahsp" than "grassp;" at 71, "happy" should not be too bright or "haa-py." Basses: at measure 61, the second note has been changed to an A natural. Basses can stagger breath at measures 65, 66, 67, but should "sneak" out and back in.

"Long Time Ago" -- On page 3, second-to-last measure, tenors and basses have the melody with "Dwelt a maid..." Sopranos and altos, entering just 1/2 beat later, add another texture or echo; they should be agile, wistful, like "leaves dancing around the melody."

"I Sing Because I'm Happy" -- From measures 39-42, all voices will sing the soprano line (in their own octaves). We will sing the repeat section (measures 43 to 47) four times, in this manner: only sopranos will sing the first time through; tenors join them (singing the tenor part) for 2nd time; altos join them (singing alto part) for 3rd time; basses join on 4th time through (bass part).

"Erev Shel Shoshanim" -- We ran through this piece, which we hadn't sung since our December concert at Timberhill. We remembered the text! We'll be singing it for our June concert.

"Memory" -- We worked at the end of the piece, beginning at measure 39. It's important to watch James for a "hint of a ritardando" at measures 51/52 -- where we should be loud!

"Proper Cup of Coffee" -- We ran through this just for fun!


Listen to: "Balleilakka" by A. R. Rahman, arranged by Ethan Sperry. One nice version among many on YouTube is at:

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February 13, 2018 -

"I Sing Because I'm Happy" – On page 5, measure 28, sopranos and altos should not take a breath before "For his eye..." So, remove the rest on beat 2 of measure 28; crescendo strongly from measure 27 into 28, and flow directly into "For his eye..."
Similarly, at measure 29, we will not breathe after the word "eye" (this applies to all voices) -- and at measure 30, no breath before the words "the sparrow." We can stagger breathe during the passage -- but won't breathe in those specific spots. [When this phrasing appears again at measure 50, treat it the same way: no breath between "yes I am!" and "For his eye…"]
Back at measure 21 (and whenever it occurs): basses need to be fortissimo with "Oh yes I sing” Rich, deep, "Yogi Bear" sound. Go ahead and "overdo it," basses!
At measure 33, sopranos (on C), altos (A flat) and tenors (E flat) will lengthen their first notes by 1/2 beat (shorten the quarter rest on beat three to an eighth rest).
We also reviewed how we'll handle the "I'm so happy, yes!" passages (measures 39 through 47). ALL voices will sing from measures 39-42, but instead of singing our notes as written, we will sing the soprano part (in our own octaves). We will sing the section from measures 43 to 47 a total of FOUR times (voices sing their parts as written). 1st time: sopranos only; 2nd: tenors join them; 3rd: altos join; 4th: basses join (with LOTS of power!). Then, at measure 47, all voices sing as written and continue to end.
We may add some instruments (tambourines? trumpets?) to this piece -- stay tuned!

"Memory" -- We agreed this piece is not among our most technically difficult. But, we need to work smartly to improve sections that tend to be sloppy.
We worked the section from measure 19 to 23, trying to achieve a sound that has tall vowels and is somewhat breathy -- ghostly, distant, "like an FM radio announcer." At 23, we return to regular voice (not breathy). This is another phrase where basses should be big and deep-sounding (Yogi Bear again!).
We MUST be ready to sing at measure 39, top of page 7, immediately after a piano solo and a page turn. Please mark your music prominently [James suggested "GOOOOO" -- the shouting form of "GO"] so you turn the page early and are ready to sing at 39. We mustn’t get lulled by the loveliness of Bryson's solo!

"Prayer of the Children" -- Throughout the piece, we will use brighter, more commonplace or vernacular vowels; James does not want us to sound too "traditional choir-y." We worked the section from measure 51 to 63, both on notes/harmonies and on rhythms. At 53/54 -- "lah dah dah dome" -- emphasize the second "dah" and don't hold it extra.

"Words of Wisdom"-- In this piece we WILL use "really high English." All vowels very tall. Think "Choir of Cambridge College."
At the beginning of the piece, James made these note changes:
Sopranos, measure 11: all three quarter notes are now C sharps. Measure 12: first note ("one"), change to a C#; the word "who" remains C#; beat 3, C#. Altos, measure 11 is fine as written. Measure 12: first note ("one"), change from G# to an A (up 1/2 step).
For the passage "Her profit is better than silver" (begins at measure 21): there is no breath after "pro-fit". Pronounce "better" as "be-ta" and "silver" as "sil-va."
It's important that, when sopranos and altos cut out at measure 29, tenors and basses hold strong. Only when sopranos and altos come back in at 30 do tenors and basses decrescendo and fade out.
Measure 39: altos and tenors must watch James because the notes "can" "com" will be shorter. Those voices can stagger breathe during measures 37/38, while the sopranos and basses are still singing.
"16 Tons" -- We ran this quickly at the end of rehearsal. At pickup to measure 52 (start of phrase "If you see me comin'"), we should hit the word "If" at mezzo-forte and then pull back immediately to mezzo-piano. The audience will be expecting just another verse, but we'll surprise them with a new feel. Sneaky!


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