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Most people seemed to have appreciated my thoughts about note giving, but I did have one email from someone who clearly didn’t understand what I meant. Of  course you can’t just start without any note at all – my main point is that you shouldn’t be sharing the note-giving with the audience.  This means that for the first piece, you get the note before you come on stage (and similarly with the second half) – and you don’t come  on stage till you’ve really got it! Then going from piece to piece you take the note for the next piece from the last chord of the previous one.

Going for it

The difficult bit is sometimes having the confidence to try it in the first place, but it’s not something you do without preparation and thought. You have to practice it, just like anything else. But once you’ve tried it a few times you eventually discover that the ground doesn’t open up and swallow you, and your audience thinks you’re miracle workers.


There may well be times when you still need to take a new note between pieces – if there’s been lots of applause or if you need a bit of a rest and may forget the previous chord, for instance. That’s fine of course, and you just need to make sure you leave a long enough gap for the audience to forget the last chord too, in case you’ve gone out of tune.  That’s one of the reasons to try to avoid a new note when you can: if you’ve started a piece in G and you’ve sunk to G flat, taking a new note will tell the audience you’ve gone out of tune. It not only breaks the atmosphere, but it makes them conscious of the pitch.  You don’t really want the audience to be thinking about the mechanics of the performance at all – just about how wonderful and mysterious it is.  If you’ve sunk in pitch it could be for all sorts of perfectly understandable reasons – sometimes pieces just won’t stay up. In that case, what often happens is that you sink into a new ‘slot’ – a pitch that’s consist with itself but a bit lower than the concert pitch you were aiming for. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s much better to sing at a comfortable pitch that you can maintain more easily – there’s nothing absolute about a 440 A.  So you don’t need to correct the pitch between pieces, just stay in the slot. Of course there will be times when this won’t work either – if you’ve sunk so low that the basses can’t manage the next piece… But then you just take a new note.

The Note itself…

When you do have to give a note, be careful that it doesn’t become a performance in itself. Be discreet…Singers don’t need to tune every single string like a violinist does (or worse still, early music ensembles some of whom are notorious for the amount of time they spend tuning). We also don’t want to give away the start of the piece to the audience, so try if possible to give only the key note. This again is just a matter of practice and familiarity. It might take a little longer to work out your own note within the chord, but that’s just part of your own personal responsibility: it’s not something you need to rely on a conductor or leader to do for you.

None of this is very complicated or difficult – it just needs a bit of thought, but sometimes quite a bit of courage…


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