Blog Post #23 - Alto and Bass. Choral and A Cappella. DHS singer shares experiences with different vocal parts and ensembles.
By Guest Blogger: AnnLauren Djoko '22
Hey guys! My name is AnnLauren Djoko, and I’m so excited to be a guest blogger. In this segment, I’ll be comparing and contrasting singing in a group that focuses more on pop music and singing in a more choral group. Though this year was my first in a singing group, in the past I have sung by involving myself in musical theater. Being in the band has also helped my understanding of how music works. By being in Chamber Singers and the a cappella group, Ingrid Sound, I’ve become more familiar with the differences between the two very different styles of singing. It has also been very interesting having to use different parts of my voice (in Ingrid Sound I use my lower range for bass, and in Chamber Singers I use completely different part of my voice to sing alto).
A cappella and choral music have many differences. There is, of course, the more obvious difference: the fact that in a cappella all the sounds and music heard are vocal, while in choral music, instruments are often used for accompaniment. Even though this is true, the differences go much further. The vocal technique used for these two styles of singing are very discrete. In choral music taller vowels are used in many cases to achieve a sort of “angelic” sound, and the desired sound is always clean, balanced and overall blends together as choral ensembles usually consist of more members compared to a cappella ensembles.
Though a cappella ensembles do share these same values, the focus is a bit different. For starters, in a cappella there are only a few people on each part. In the rhythm section, there is only one vocal percussionist and there can just be one bass. Presentation is also very different between the two types of ensembles, as in a cappella most of the tim an arc is made for performances, while in choral groups there are usually risers to stand on while singing. Though blend and balance are still a main focus, other components focused on in a cappella really depends on the style of the pop song being sung, which can vary from Sia to Maggie Rogers (two very unique singers). For example, Sia songs are usually dramatic, heavy, and full of angst, while Maggie Rogers songs are more light, airy, and “feel good”. While singing a Sia song, like “Bird Set Free” in our repertoire, we focus on the dissonance of chords, building dynamics from the verse to the chorus and portraying an emotion through the song and through our performance. On the other hand, while we sing a Maggie Rogers song like “Alaska” in our repertoire, we focus more on softer dynamics throughout and emitting the same energy as the soloist while not overpowering the lead vocals or any other part. Though tone quality and pitch is always important to maintain no matter what, it’s a bit more important to maintain while singing softer songs, as all individual parts are more “raw” and can be heard more easily.
Even though there are many differences between a cappella and choral music, there are also some similarities. At the end of the day, both styles of music have to do with singing and vocal technique, which means focusing on the things stated previously: blend, intonation, pitch accuracy, balance between parts and stage presence.
Personally, as an alto in Chambers and a bass in Ingrid, it’s sometimes challenging to use my voice differently. Before high school I definitely wasn’t sure what my voice part was. I sang mezzo in middle school (which I know wasn’t exactly a fit for me). Even so, once I joined Ingrid Sound and Chambers, I had a much better idea of my true voice part. It’s still sometimes challenging to switch between parts, especially when the alto parts in Chambers are a bit higher. This year, I’ve been working on extending my limits when it comes to how comfortable I am in my falsetto (upper-register), and I feel like I’ve improved a lot. I try to do daily vocal warm-ups, practice constantly outside of school becoming more confident in singing songs that are meant for altos and mezzos, and carry that same confidence into performing with groups. Even while singing the bass parts, I sometimes struggle to sing the lower notes, but I remember to loosen my throat and not strain myself, which also improves my tone and pitch.
Even though these two styles of song are very different from each other, they both bring things to the table and create music that sounds amazing!