To Blend or Not to Blend
To blend or not to blend, that is the question. With apologies to Shakespeare, there really shouldn’t even be a question here. Most of us involved in choruses, either as singers or conductors, would say that of course we should blend. Therefore, why is it that so many choirs fail to achieve a good blend? A possible reason is that it requires a high level of concentration and commitment from both singer and conductor. It doesn’t just happen. So, what is blend? One definition suggests that blend means “to mix smoothly and inseparably together.” I think that definition works very well as a starting point in considering choral blend. First, let’s differentiate between choral balance and choral blend. Try to think of choral balance as being something that occurs primarily between voice sections, e.g., balance between the sopranos and basses, and choral blend as something that occurs within a section, e.g., all the tenors singing in such a way as to unify their sound and sound like one voice (this is something, by the way, that is almost impossible for tenors to achieve!). Obviously, there can still be blend between sections and balance within sections, but for the time being I’ll ask you to accept my generalized descriptions of each.
My concept of blend includes several key points: correct pitches and rhythms, unified and well produced vowels and consonants, and proper breathing and support. Add to this a real desire on the part of the singer to truly have his or her voice become part of the choral sound, and be willing to be a “part of the whole.” I mention this because we live in such a self-absorbed society today that being the “center of attention” often seems to be more attractive than being a small, though integral, “part of the whole.” While I don’t necessarily believe that choral music holds all the answers to the ills of our world, I do consider it to be a good start! So, as a conductor, I pledge to concentrate this year on achieving a beautiful choral blend, expecting that my singers will supply (with my help) the pitches, rhythms, vowels, consonants, breathing, and support that will make it possible.
So, what have been your experiences with choral blend?