Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Cough-ey Chorale

After Monday's fine Hartford Chorale rehearsal, D and I agreed that we have never heard a single group of people cough so much and so continuously and so predictably! It seems that every time Mr. Coffey stops our singing so that he may comment, about a third of the 170-voice choir immediately begins to cough.

When about 50 people cough, it sure is hard to hear what Mr. Coffey has to say to us. Occasionally when the coughing is particularly prolonged, he might wait, but most of the time (naturally) when he stops our singing, he expects us to be quiet, so he begins to speak almost immediately. I sometimes can’t hear what he says. I need his instruction, of course, but I also regret missing his jokes and anecdotes and, especially, his insights about the music at hand.

And all that coughing and hacking must be bad for our voices! When one coughs, the vocal folds (commonly called “cords”) slam together, causing irritation and swelling, which produces mucus, which leads to…more coughing! I wonder, too, whether the Chorale in its enthusiasm sometimes oversings, which might also lead to vocal trauma and excess mucus and…more coughing. (I differentiate, of course, between oversinging and singing loudly with correct technique.) (Ironically, I just came down with a bad cold yesterday which has manifested itself primarily in a nasty, painful cough. Coughing makes my voice tired and sore. Hope it clears up before Monday!)

(As an aside -- Does our occasional oversinging have anything to do with the intonation problems in the soprano section? We know from Mr. Coffey’s work with us that when we sing more lightly our intonation improves markedly. What would happen if we sang more lightly all the time? Better sound, less coughing?)

Most important of all -- I notice that we don't cough nearly as much during orchestra rehearsals or concerts, even at the close of choral passages or movements. It seems that our coughing is a conditioned response to the start-and-stop patterns of rehearsals. Our rehearsal room is sometimes too cold, or too warm, and often dry. But we’re encouraged to use cough drops (provided by the Chorale!) and drink plenty of water.

Commentary below...just for fun.

Anyway, The Chorale is wonderful and I love being part of it. Do come to hear us sing the Brahms Requiem with The Hartford Symphony Orchestra. I’ll write more about the music, and our learning of it, as we get closer to the concert.

The Hartford Chorale
with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra
Constantine Kitsopoulos, Conductor
Bushnell Center for Performing Arts
November 12, 13 & 14, 2009 at 8PM
November 15, 2009 at 3PM
More info at


The Cough-ey Chorale

A special group meets on Monday night
in West Hartford, at Saint James:
One hundred and seventy voices unite,
inspir’d by identical aims.

We do everything together:
warm-ups, stretches, and hums;
nothing stops us (not even bad weather)
from singing with all of our chums.

Mr. Coffey teaches us well;
we follow his every instruction.
We work hard so that he won’t yell.
We use our best voice production.

Now, we’ve learned a trick without his aid:
It’s the “choral cough,” done together.
You never heard such a serenade.
We do it in all sorts of weather.

Whenever Rick ‘pauses’ the group,
we all start to clear our throats!
It’s as if we’ve come down with croup
and might not sing any more notes!

Even during music divine,
whatever the type of ‘cut-off,’
as soon as he gives the ‘stop’ sign,
we all start to cough, cough, cough, cough!

What gives? Is everyone ill?
They seemed fine when they came in!
Has everyone caught a bad chill?
When did this sickness begin?

Cough! Hack! Cough! Cough!! Hem!
Sniff sniff, hack, hack, hack!

The singers sure make lots of phlegm.
It sounds like an asthma attack.

“Free cough drops!” cries Mr. Coffey,
“Gift from The Hartford Chorale!”
Try lemon drops! honey! or toffee!
This coughing is hurting morale!

For when a third of the folks
begins to cough right away,
we miss Mr. Coffey’s good jokes!
(Oh, and anything else he might say.)

Now, if each singer took a free cough drop
as soon as he (or she) came in,
I’m sure we’d be able to stop
the coughing that makes such a din.

A few years ago (weren't we proud!)
the neighbors called the police,
complaining, “The Chorale is too loud!
Make them stop! They’re disturbing the peace!”

Well, that was for singing! Would they call the cops
for excessive clearing of throats?
Please, take the soothing cough drops!
Let’s stick to musical notes.

It's funny – the unison coughing trick
happens only when we rehearse.
(Perhaps in addition to Maestro Rick,
we ought to employ a nice nurse.)

For when we meet in the concert hall,
there must be cough drops a-plenty:
once there, our coughs seem to stall:
Decrescendo, sempre al niente.

The Hartford Chorale’s the best large group
around Greater Hartford’s locale;
but unless we cure our choral croup,
we’ll be known as The Cough-ey Chorale.
© 2011 Quodlibet. Dissemination, re-use, or duplication prohibited except by express permission of the author.I pay attention and I will find you if you cite, republish, or use my work without credit or without attribution.

More of my essays on the life of a chorister, and more about choral rehearsals and choral music, may be found here:

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