Thursday, October 13, 2011
BRIGADOON: Ensemble Singing
Frederick Loewe was not only a composer—he was also a skillful vocal arranger. So it isn’t surprising that Brigadoon is full of intricate ensemble singing as well as famous solos and duets. For the HSU production, Elisabeth Harrington is not only the musical director but the vocal coach. She comments here on that aspect of the show.
“The vocal style is incredibly rangy—there's everything from unison to six and seven part harmonies. It was written at a time when voices were expected to cover a really solid two octave range, and to sing in close, tight harmony and be really precise. The singing demands are big. But the music is gorgeous.”
“The vocal ensemble music is quite extensive, and often the unison singing and lush harmonies are heard in the same song, such as in "Down on MacConnachy Square," and "Jeannie's Packin' Up." In general, the style of singing can be described as "classical" music theater, implying beautifully shaped phrases and a clear, open vocal tone throughout an extensive range for each voice type. One challenge for the singers has been trying to maintain that open tone while bringing in elements of the Scottish dialect, which features some more closed-mouth vowel shapes.”
The mix of available singers required some additional adjustments. “The score assumes you have an even number of male and female singers for the chorus, but we have more female than male. So we’ve had to move some of the women down to tenor who would have been singing alto, at least in certain places. It gets tricky in the more intricate harmonies, when the women are in two parts and the men in four parts.”
“I’ve singled out a small ensemble of twelve singers who are able to do these tricky things, particularly the a cappella harmonies. But the richness of this music gives all the participants the opportunity to be part of a group that sings in beautiful harmony, and that’s been a joy to watch and see blossom.”
top photo: Camille Morgan as Meg