Freedom is an emotionally charged word. It carries within itself a history of tears, pain, laughter and joy, strife and peace. Some will lay down their life for it, while others die fighting against it, because, as James Baldwin remarked about equality in “The Fire Next Time,”  the problem with freedom is “freedom for whom.” I think there are two broad categories of freedom, public and personal – our relationship to others, and our relationship to ourselves, the group and the individual. What is common between them is the notion of responsibility and limits. i am of the opinion that freedom is not the same as chaos. We impose limits on ourselves and others.

What does this have to do with music, specifically so-called “free” music? As I stated, freedom for me has limits, limits which are often self-imposed. When I hear the music of Coltrane or Ornette Coleman, I hear rhapsodies of liberty within the contours of frameworks – chordal, group, individual. Choices refined in order to communicate an idea. Not just any note, but THAT not, not just any embouchure, but that embouchure, not just any grouping, not just any sax player, or trumpet player or drummer or bassist, but that one, and that one and that one and that.

Cécile, one of my students, wanted to be completely free she said. That was the kind of music she wanted to make. I responded that freedom has its walls, and that it is in that space that wonderful things can happen as we examine the walls to the left, doors to the right, the sky above, the ground underneath, we come to understand what we can do, because we have to try. How many ways can I sing the note A? How many colours can be heard in the pitch we call C? How does crescendo and decrescendo affect the emotional impact of a word, etc. The musical experience is a journey, an exercise in freedom, a building site where deconstruct, yes, but also re-construct.

The song I am posting today is the fruit of a workshop I did with Cécile Castera. I played , she sang. Do you see the limits we put on ourselves, the choices made either for personal reasons or for the integrity of the group? Let me know what you think.


Anytune practice app

Just a quick post to share with you an app that I find wonderful and quite helpful for us musicians. It is called “Anytune” and exists in both a free and a paid version. With it one is able to slow down, loop and select passages of music for practice. It is great for learning songs, parts and melodies. Unfortunately it is only for OS platforms (Mac, Ipad, Iphone). But for those who possess one or other of Apple’s products, I strongly advise you to try it out.

L’Introduction à La Théorie et des Jeux Musicaux

Je vous propose quelques sites gratuits qui peuvent vous aider à mieux comprendre les éléments de base de solfège. J’inclus aussi des sites de jeux musicaux de l’écoute – “ear training.” Trois sont en anglais , les autres trois en français. J’espère que vous les trouviez utiles.

Éléments de notation musicale

La notation musicale sera vue dans le chapitre suivant. Nous avons choisi de présenter le cœur de la musique — la constitution des mélodies, des harmonies — avant la notation formelle, puisque la notation a été créée pour servir ces mélodies et harmonies. Mais nous avons toutefois besoin d’un certain nombre d’éléments de notation pour présenter les gammes et intervalles.

Une note représente la hauteur et la durée d’un son ; il s’agit d’une figure ronde, de couleur noire ou blanche, avec ou sans hampe, qui est placée sur une portée (voir ci-après). Plus la note est haute, plus le son est aigu. Comme la valeur rythmique ne nous intéresse pas, nous utiliserons ici toujours des « noires » (note de couleur noire avec une hampe simple) ou des « rondes » (note de couleur blanche sans hampe).
Les notes sont appelées : do (ou ut), mifasolla et si. Ces noms ont été donnés par Guido d’Arezzo et sont les premières lettres des 7 vers de la première strophe de l’Hymne de Saint-Jean Baptiste, un chant grégorien latin. Auparavant, on utilisait des lettres — de A pour la à G pour sol, système encore utilisé par les anglo-saxons.
La portée est un ensemble de cinq lignes, qui sert à repérer la hauteur d’une note. La note peut être sur une ligne ou sur un interligne (entre deux lignes). La première ligne est la ligne du bas, la cinquième ligne est la ligne du haut.
Si une note est trop aiguë ou trop grave pour être représentée sur la portée, on utilise des lignes supplémentaires.
La clef est un symbole placé en début de ligne qui sert à donner la référence de la hauteur. La clef de sol            
indique que la note située sur la deuxième ligne est un sol. La clef de fa   18px-FClef.svg  indique que la note située sur la quatrième ligne est un fa.
Une altération est un signe placé devant la note et qui sert à augmenter ou diminuer la hauteur du son. Le dièse, noté ♯, rend la note plus aiguë, le bémol, noté ♭, rend la note plus grave, et le bécarre, noté ♮, annule une altération. Il existe aussi le double-dièse, noté ♯♯ ou DoubleSharp.svg, et le double-bémol noté ♭♭.
La correspondance entre les figures et le nom des notes est donc :

Resonance + vocal exercises

Over the past few weeks I have seen marvellous advances in the vocal prowess of my workshop participants. And it is not only their voices that are improving but also their musicianship. Why? Because once you start working with your “instrument,” whether it be saxophone, piano, or voice, you begin to understand how things fit together, how musical things work with each other. As you work to “fit” your voice – your instrument – into the musical landscape, knowingly or unknowingly, you begin to ask questions – questions about timing, harmony, pitch, etc. This is a wonderful and fulfilling journey. Thank You.

Last week we did some exercise on resonance. Resonance is very important for a singer. VERY! Resonance is that magic tool that adds warmth, color and a beautiful tone to your voice, as we’ll as giving it power. Your vocal chords vibrate to produce sound but it is your resonators that give that sound depth and individuality. Each voice is unique due to a variety of factors, resonance being one of the most important. Resonators are the areas of the throat, mouth and nasal cavities. Think of reflecting sound. Imagine vibrations that reflect, bounce and amplify. Work on your resonance and watch in amazement how your voice improves. As always it is important to support the breath and to keep the mouth cavity relaxed and wide with the soft palate lifted, but not so high that it creates tension. Find a position that is expanded and relaxed.

I am including some exercises to get you started. (They are in french.)

vocal resonance

Happy singing, every day


Sweet Honey

There are so many great vocal groups, old and new, still together or dispersed. Over the next few weeks I will post some of my favorites. Today it is Sweet Honey In The Rock, an american female vocal group founded in 1973 by Dr. Bernice Reagon. “The name of the group was derived from a song, based on Psalm 81:16, which tells of a land so rich that when rocks were cracked open, honey flowed from them.” Although contemporary in style, their music is rooted in the spirituals and hymns of the African-American experience.  But let them speak for themselves.

N.B. I have updated the music files as well. so check it out

The Art of Jazz Group Vocalese

Vocalese is a style of jazz singing in which words are set to an instrumental composition or improvisation. The style was developed by the great Eddie Jefferson (1917-1989) although he admitted that he was greatly influenced by drummer, trombonist and singer Leo Watson (1898-1950) who mixed both scat and vocalese. What’s the difference? While improvised singing, or scat as it is commonly known, uses nonsense syllables such as dee, bop, bah, doo wop,”  etc. in solosvocalese uses lyrics set pre-existing instrumental solos. Although the style was originally associated with solo singers , it soon became a stylistic component for some vocal groups. Lambert, Hendricks and Ross are probably the best known of these groups. Jon Hendricks wrote the lyrics for the melodies as well as the solos. Vocalese lyrics tend to be syllabic, i.e. one syllable for each note of music.

Below is their rendition of Horace Silver’s “Doodlin’,” as well as Horace Silver’s original verso, for reference. Also I have included the brilliant version by Sarah Vaughan. Listen for when the solo starts on the Silver version and then listen to the singers vocalese over that section.

The 4th video is a fantastic vocalese version of Miles Davis’s “Tutu,” by the Manhattan Transfer.

So what does this mean for my vocal group? We are going to try “Doodlin’ this term. The arrangement included in this post is only for the melody. If someone wants to tackle the vocalese for the solo section, that would be wonderful, but for now we can just work on the melody.

Lambert,Hendricks and Ross – Doodlin’, 1960

Horace Silver – “Doodlin'”

Sarah Vaughan – Doodlin’, 1958

Manhattan Transfer “Tutu,” 2004

doodlin 3part alto 2 final doodlin 3 part soprano doodlin 3 part alto 1 melody

(Our current repertoire : “Feelin’ Good,” “Somagwaza,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Iko-Iko.” We need to continue work on these songs, as well as individual solo pieces. A lot of fun work to do this term. I’m looking forward to hearing these songs take. See you hopefully Friday.)