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APPROACHES TO CONTEST


By Alan Burt
aburt@jeffnet.org

The following information will be of special interest to new members, and is offered as a helpful reminder to all of the other members.

While a contest is very much like any other performance before a large audience, it also has some major differences. Unlike other major performances, a panel of judges sits just in front of the stage and can distract the unwary contestant as they take notes. When the curtain opens the judges have to write down the name of the song and the chorus, and comments about what they see and hear. Then too, the contest flow from dressing area to warm-up room, picture taking, and finally the trip to the stage is more regimented. Lastly, for many performers, the contest turns up the gain on doing our best -- and stomach butterflies can run more rampant.

Admittedly, singing for an audience of your peers is different from singing for the public. Your peers are both more critical and more appreciative of what you do. When you please this knowledgeable crowd, as you are bound to do, you want to pop your buttons with pride. It is a great feeling!

Over many contests, and by observing other contestants, you pick up on the tricks of the trade . . . what works and what to avoid. Use the following information as a kind of check list to ensure that you are fully ready for the contest.

BEFORE THE CONTEST:

Check that you have registered for the contest. All contestants must be registered to appear on the stage. Technically, a chorus can be disqualified if it does not meet this requirement. You will pickup your registration at the Headquarters hotel in Bend.

++ Attend all rehearsals! The director needs to work with all of the pieces of his ensemble every meeting night, not just on the contest stage! All members of the chorus need perfect repetitions to produce a perfect performance. The hallmark of an outstanding chorus is to consistently produce outstanding sound, moods, and presentation moves, rehearsal after rehearsal. It is disheartening for all concerned when members "save it" for the contest stage.

++ Do work in front of a mirror at home to preview your facial expressions, and your presentation moves. Remember, we have to overdramatize to get our message across the footlights. While you may feel internally that what you are doing is too much, in reality the audience needs even more for you to really sell the message of your song.

++ Check that you have all of your uniform pieces and that they are placed in a garment bag, ready to go. Be sure any items are back from the cleaners, or that your shirt is not still in the wash. Yes, it has happened to others, but just don't let it happen to you.

++ Have your uniform cleaned! This will enable you to look your best. We want to look as good as we sing. Cleaning will also get rid of any perspiration odors. During the uniform check, it was noted that some uniforms badly needed a cleaning and pressing.

++ Put your shoes in a separate plastic bag within your garment bag. If your shoes need polishing, give them a good polishing. The separate bag will protect your uniform from the polish or any accumulated dirt on the soles of your shoes.

++ Pack a personal grooming kit with any items that you need: comb, hair spray, underarm deodorant. Include emergency items like safety pins and a needle and thread.

++ Get a haircut at least one week before the contest so that you look your best and do not look like your barber scalped you. Quality singing deserves a quality appearance.

++ Review your sheet music in the weeks before the contest and identify any areas that are causing you difficulty. Fix those spots on your own or get together with your section leader to iron out the problems.

++ It is a good idea for each section to schedule one or more section rehearsals, just before the contest, outside our normal meeting night. The goal is to produce one unified section sound, and to fix any disparities between section members for a really solid performance.

++ Drink plenty of water in the weeks before the contest, or before any performance. It is amazing what this can do for your voice, and it helps you to stay healthy. Carrying a water bottle with you on the day of the contest will only help if you have religiously had lots of water to drink in the previous week or so. Stay well hydrated.

++ Do sing scales and ma, me, mi, mo, os in the days before a contest. Johnny Mathis said that his manager could tell if he had not practiced his scales for a couple of days and his public could tell if he had not practiced his scales for a week. Given that we sing only once a week, how about doing some scales during the week to keep you vocally limber?

++ Stay away from alcoholic beverages at least 24 hours before a performance. We want 100% of what you can deliver.

++ Get plenty of rest in the days before the contest so that you are feeling refreshed and comfortable.

CONTEST DAY:

++ Again, double check that you have everything that you will need at the contest.

++ Allow sufficient time to get to bed so that you, and anyone that comes with you, are not up late. Preferably, arrive the night before the contest and get a good night's sleep.

++ Once you start in the contest flow, stay together! We stay together for mutual support, and to be on tap for last minute announcements and uniform checks. Those who wander off place undue stress on the music team and the remaining members. The director and everyone else asks, "Where is so-in-so?" when it is time to move to a different room in the contest flow. They don't need the knots in the stomach caused by the inconsiderate absent member(s).

++ Do stay limber and relaxed. Use the wall press exercise, and deep slow breathing excercise. Where possible, sit and relax rather than stand for long periods.

++ When your director or other members of the music team ask for you attention, give them your undivided attention. In this way they will not have to repeat their instructions, if there is still time to do so. Don't be the reason someone else, and you, do not understand an important message or instruction!

++ When passing other contestants, always act like gentlemen. Encourage other contestants and truly wish them well. We want them to do their best just as we want to do the best that is in us. Act as a model and mentor for other choruses. That's the sign of real CLASS.

++ In practice, and while on stage, put your ears out front! Focus your attention and your listening at a point just behind the director. Listen for how your voice contributes to the sound -- like one voice. If you can hear your voice, and it sounds different from the sound projected behind the director, you are (a) probably singing too loud and (b) need to blend into the sound you are hearing.

ON STAGE:

++ HAVE FUN. You know the words, music, and moves. Let the performance come together, naturally. Remember, we are competing against ourselves. We are there to do the best job of which we are capable -- not to beat anyone else. If we take care of number one, everything else will take care of itself.

++ Once upon the stage, move purposefully to your position on the risers. There is no rush!   We will give you time to get in your proper window on the risers, to do some relaxation exercises and last minute tie-straightening, and to concentrate on the director just before the opening of the curtain. The director will give the signal to open the curtain at the beginning of the performance, and to close the curtain at the conclusion of the performance.

++ Do not watch the movement of the curtains. That is a bush league trait. Just before the curtain opens, stare at an imaginary spot in the audience about 10 rows back. When the director gives the signal to open the curtain, smile with all of your teeth showing to the real people. Let the audience know that they are in for a special treat -- then back it up with outstanding sound, presentation moves and thrilling moods.

++ Always ignore the judges in the pit. As far as you are concerned, they are not there.   Instead, sell to your people in the audience, and to the director. If you do a great job on your audience, you will also do a great job in the scoring categories.

++ Tell your people in the audience, the ones that you face, the story of the songs from your heart. Put everything you have into your performance. When the chorus has sung its last song, you should feel tired and proud, as though you have given your all -- which you will do. Hold nothing back for another day! Your moment in the Sun is now!

++ If you should happen to miss a move, don't show it in your face or in body English (Oh, darn!) or try to catch up with the move. Pick up with the next move as though that is the way we choreographed it. Often, no one will know that you missed the move, unless you deliberately telegraph it!

++ Keep your eyes on the director always unless you have a choreographed move where your eyes are supposed to go to a different spot. Wandering eyes show up on stage like twin spotlights. Not only does this distract from our performance, it disturbs the mood we are working to maintain, and it will result in lost points and detracts from our total effort..

++ Similarly, stay in character throughout the performance. This means, no stray hand movements to glasses, to scratch, to smooth your hair, or so on. If a member should faint during the performance (which is unlikely but has happened) continue as though nothing has happened unless the member is in some kind of obvious danger. If you just have to adjust slipping glasses, do it between songs, or wait until the curtain closes.

++ Stand on the risers with your toes on the front edge of your riser, just hanging over the edge ("hang-ten"). Stand in the singer's posture with the legs slightly apart, and lean forward with your weight on the balls of your feet. Keep your knees flexible so that they are not locked. Locked knees can lead to fainting.

++ Start each song with the "attack" pose with one foot slightly ahead of the other and leaning just a bit toward the audience. Grab your audience's attention with a solid, confident tune up chord - one that says "If you think this is good, wait until you hear this next song!" Then start each song with the lean, grab your audience, and don't let them go until the very end of the song.

++ Be aware that the stage lighting and spot lights may be right in your eyes. Don't let it bother you. You know the audience is there even if you can't see them very well.

++ Acknowledge your people during the applause, let them know that you thank them.   Then, during the moments between songs, quickly think about what you are going to sing next, the mood and the first word, and the first move. While you are doing this, take in a couple of deep breaths and quickly and silently let them out. This will help you to catch your breath, and will enable you to fully prepare for the next song. Your director will delay the start of the next song to allow the applause to die down and to allow you to get fully prepared.

++ When taking the pitch for the next song, sing confidently and strongly. Breathe to start the next song by forming the target vowel for the first word. Watch the director and come in together, confidently, and with good support.

++ Listen to the sound that is being focused just behind the director, and watch the director's face for mood clues, and his hands for tempo and cutoff clues. When the adrenalin starts to pump, stay with the director and fight the tendency to want to race ahead. You don't want to end the song before he does!

++ At the contest, when the adrenalin starts flowing, and the curtain opens, experience has shown that we act like we have a video recorder in our head. With some variations, what you deliver is what you have rehearsed. That is why so much emphasis is placed on doing everything well. Practice does not make perfect, it makes things permanent. Therefore, we strive for perfect practices so we remember everything, perfectly.

Similarly, if we save our best performance for the contest stage, in the heat of the contest, we usually do as we have practiced. Don't save your best performance for another day; let all the members enjoy it from rehearsal to rehearsal. Solid performances are contagious. We get so excited about what we have done that we can't wait to get to the next meeting. It is like reading a book that is so good you can't put it down.

Be aware, the sound in contest facilities can be vastly different from that to which we are accustomed. Some facilities are very live and others soak up sound like a sponge (a dead stage), as though you are singing out of doors. If we are lucky, we will get a chance to sing once on stage before the contest. If we draw a dead stage, it may sound to you like you are all alone on the stage. If so, continue to sing as you always have. Don't force the sound or try to sing louder. If the stage is very live, it will be like our rehearsal hall.

Do not be surprised if it seems like we have hardly been on stage and we are at the end of our two songs. The time will go by in the blink of an eye--it always works that way.

That's it. Those are the tips and tricks that have proven that they work in contest situations. Enjoy the camaraderie and fun, and have a great day!

++ Ask yourself, what kind of chorus would this be if all of the members where just like me?

If you don't like the answer, think of ways that you can behave like the member you want to be. If you like the answer, keep pouring it on.

We love it!

LET'S GET FAMOUS!
Brian Lynch, SPEBSQSA Public Relations Director
6315 Third Avenue
Kenosha, WI 53143
800-876-SING x 8554 fax 414-654-4048
mailto:pr@spebsqsa.org http://www.spebsqsa.org





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