On Singing Latin, and Other Uncomfortable Things

Well, as most of you know, I moved to Pennsylvania and am settling in. I joined the Pike County Choral Society because my mother and sister are altos there and I thought it would be fun to sing again. I haven’t sung in a choir since high school. Seriously. I am so out of practice it isn’t funny.

You learn, in a good high school chorus, how to sing a little Latin, a little French, perhaps some German. You don’t really learn enough, of course, but you can get the gist of how each language is supposed to sound while being sung by a group of people who can or cannot really sing well.

Having forgotten that you’re supposed to drop the H and that I is “ee”, I found myself mispronouncing all this gorgeous Latin stuff that Dvorak wrote in his Mass in D. As for learning German, I never learned it, so all I can say is that singing Bach in chorus is a hell of a lot harder than learning Bach on the piano. And I happen to be a smoker, so instead of being a high soprano or a soprano or even an alto (which is how I progressed in high school over the course of two years), I am now a tenor. And the Pike County Choral Society only had two other tenors, before I showed up. So now I’m singing some wrong notes AND mispronouncing my Latin and German whilst singing the tenor part with only two other people.


After two very uncomfortable rehearsals wherein I felt I was in WAY over my head, I got a CD from my sister which features some other chorus singing the songs we are practicing, and I also was led to a handy little website called Cyberbass.com. I can now practice at home, which is a good thing because having one two-hour rehearsal once a week just won’t cut it. I also looked up “How to sing Latin in Chorus” and got some great tips on the internet. Lastly, I transferred the CD my sister made onto my iPod so that I can go to bed each night listening to all the songs we’re featuring in our concert. It helps just to listen to it, without singing, so that it ‘sinks in’. I’m finally feeling like I can get these songs ready by the Holiday Concert coming up next month. I’m also having some really good dreams lately, too, which was unexpected.

It would be really cool if someone will come and videotape us so that we can stick the concert up on YouTube, but then again, I’d be scared silly if they did. I just think it would be kinda cute to sing Latin for my good friend Dick Day, LOL…

Anyway, if you ever find yourself in a choral society and you’re singing Latin, here’s some pointers: A is “ah” as in “Father”. E is “eh” as in “Fed”. I is “EE”. Period. O is “aw” as in “Fought”. U is “ooh”. Period. Y is I which is “EE”.

Make light of your consonants and concentrate on your vowels. Breathe in deeply without moving your chest or shoulders, and only breathe when you can sneak in a breath. Which isn’t often. Always look at your director except when you’re busy looking at the music. Always follow the music except when you’re busy looking at the director. Um. De-um.

De-e-e-um. Daylight comin’ and me wanna go home…

8 thoughts on “On Singing Latin, and Other Uncomfortable Things

  1. Don’t forget when you are doing warm ups to let those vowels vibrate through you nasal passages and push through your diaphragm. In other words let your tummy go up and down, not your chest, then pretend you are Tami Wynette. It will take a while to get your range back. I took voice lessons when I was a kid until I lost interest in my early 20’s. I guess that is why I never smoked. I was a lyric soprano. Always on right end first row. I couldn’t hide. I am glad you are getting out among people.

  2. Thanks, Momoe! Yes, I remember my high school choral director teaching us about good breathing techniques.

    Once we got over the laughter on his use of the word “diaphragm” (how silly we were!) we learned a lot from his imaginative exercise he’d make us do before every rehearsal: He’d make us hold our arms out in front of us as if we were hugging a beer keg, and he’d make us push our stomach muscles out while breathing in….filling up the “keg”, or “barrel” with air. In this way, we learned not to “chest breathe”, and could hold our notes longer, and sing with more strength.

    Thanks for the encouragement. I’d love to hear you sing, sometime.

  3. Of course I love this blog. I already told you so at Dag. hahahaha

    I grew up with THE MASS and I would be so sad when I found it was THE HIGH MASS as a kid because it took so goddamn long to complete. hahahah

    Now it is only the remnants of the Latin High Mass that mean anything to me.

    1. cmaukonen

      yeah. But I think I may have offended Lis with the comment. She has been absent from FB and chat.

      Either that of she is now practicing to sing at the Met.

      1. Hahahaha! NO, you didn’t offend me, silly!! I always get a kick out of Monty Python. :p

        No, I just haven’t been able to get to Chat on weekends anymore (or any other time, lately). And I’m only at Facebook sporadically these days. I try to log in there a few times a day to keep up with everybody, but I don’t have time for chats right now. Things are getting busier with holiday planning, family visits, and choral rehearsal. Crunch time, I guess you could say. I’m pushing myself harder and harder with the choral practice because I don’t always feel as comfortable with the music as I wish I could feel. Once the concert is over, maybe I’ll get back to normal. 🙂

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