Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Daïnouri Choque – A Unique Singing Teacher

Yesterday, with the rest of the quartet, I went on a singing course, which was absolutely fascinating. The teacher, Daïnouri Choque, concentrated on the production and blending of the sound but not in a classical fashion. He didn't look for power, or placement of the voice, but worked by getting us to listen to the natural vocal harmonics and how they change with vowel sounds. 

In order to demonstrate, in a very dramatic way, what he meant about harmonics he sang one note and by changing something inside his mouth he produced a series of harmonics which formed part of "the Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's 9th. The harmonics were quite high pitched but, once you tuned yourself in to them, they were very clear. Then he got us producing them ourselves but obviously in a much less controlled manner. Each vowel has its characteristic natural harmonics and when you slowly change from one vowel to another you can hear the harmonics re-aligning themselves in the space between the fully formed vowel sounds.  His preferred sequence of French vowels was i, é, eu, o and the inverse.

So what was the objective here? When I was contemplating the course I have to admit that I had no idea what it was going to be like, or what we were expecting to achieve. Our bass had been before, but all that I could understand from his description was that Daïnouri taught singers how to listen and sing together better. It’s a truism that all musicians or singers working in any type of ensemble have to learn how to play in tune and in time with the others. Sometimes for amateurs this isn’t easy, but that’s usually a question of more practice. What Daïnouri teaches is much more.  He wants the sound to blend at a harmonic level so that individual voices truly enter into the combined sound of the group.  When it’s done correctly the sound has a clarity and unity that is heard in some professional groups like cathedral choirs and other ensembles singing sacred music. 

After a morning of individual exercises, in the afternoon we sang some pieces from our own repertoire and I complained that one of them was pitched too high for my voice. He offered to help me and he sang next to me.  He tuned his harmonics to mine resulting in an enormous change in the quality of the sound and a tremendously intimate connection at a musical level.  The sound was so coherent that it took on a character of its own.  It was like someone else singing inside you but using your own voice to produce the sound. That was a most remarkable and exceptional moment.  I have never experienced anything like it before.

When we sang with all four voices, since he has also been a choirmaster, he knew exactly how to balance the quartet, and how to get us to form the same vowel sounds, so that the result was better than we have ever sung before. We were already singing the chord that starts each piece to get the pitch right but he also taught us to form the same vowel sound so that the harmonics were aligned. The effect of this is similar to that which I describe in the paragraph above. The collective sound is reinforced by each voice and a greater degree of clarity and resonance is created even in a dry acoustic.  In some of the more vertical pieces we were able to sustain this throughout. 

All of this was done without the ego tripping displayed by some teachers and without being fixed on any one technique or method. His explanations were always clear and sensible and when it’s necessary he has the experience to adapt his teaching to the requirements of the individual.  His method is to work with the ear, the body and the voice.  He spent quite a long time with our Alto, getting her to reduce the muscular tension that she naturally has. This gets worse when she's nervous and prevents her from controlling her voice, especially when singing sustained long notes. She found his calmness in explaining diaphragm breathing and how to stand in a relaxed manner very effective. It allowed her for the first time to really understand what was happening with her body, not just whilst singing, and she was very impressed with the insights that she gained. 

His courses usually last a week but we were able to make a special arrangement with him to tack a day onto another course that he was leading near Villeneuve sur Lot and what an extraordinary day it was!

Daïnouri leads workshops all over France, Belgium and Switzerland.  He works with groups of individuals, choirs and choir masters.


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