Schubert’s Psalm 23 – Part II

In this post, we will talk a little bit about the form of the piece. Usually, we tackle this later on, but this time around we thought it would be beneficial information to have early on in the learning process.

Whenever an editor gives you rehearsal letters or numbers, it’s not an accident. It’s normally a big clue as to the form of the piece, outlining where sections begin and end. It’s also helpful to use these to divide up your practice time. If you find that your practicing is without direction and you tend to “sing through” pieces instead of having concentrated, fruitful practice sessions, focusing on small sections, you can use these letters to plan your practice time.

Let’s talk about each section individually, using the letters in the score.

A: The opening statement is a sort of repeat. The rhythm and words repeat and the second section is very similar, but with a more gratifying cadence.

B: The second section introduces some jaunty rhythms, increasing in energy and once again, we see a repeat off the start. The Sopranos take off at the beginning of the section and the altos first interject, then join in.

C: We shift to a homophonic (all parts singing the same words and rhythm at the same time) and almost hymn-like texture and also begin to shift toward a minor mode. The end of the section ends with a huge shift in harmony.  It’s probably frustrating to attempt solfege at this point!

D: You will find that section D in itself is a repeat, but in two different tonalities.

E: Begins our shift back to the material of the beginning of the piece by presenting a new, beautiful lyrical moment.

F: Is almost identical to letter B! More on this in a moment.

G: Is almost identical to the beginning of the piece. You will notice that there is a final section at the end which we would label a “coda” which wraps up the song.

How is this going to help me?

As a judge, I know that ignoring the form of the piece is going to disqualify some really great singers. Seems weird, right? But here’s what I mean.

We all know the dangers of “going on auto-pilot” when we aren’t paying attention. But did you know that when we are nervous fight or flight response can also activate a sort of “auto-pilot”. You know the feeling, you’re shaking, there’s a ringing in your ears, you have no idea what happened when you walk out of the room! So what did you sing? What happened?! When you’re practicing, you’ll find that you often make mistakes in these sections and you’ll wonder why.

So, when you are beginning to learn this piece it’s important to pay attention to, from the start, the slight differences between similar sections. Here’s how:

  1. Learn Section A using your favorite neutral syllable or solfege.
  2. Learn Section G using your favorite neutral syllable or solfege.
  3. Alternate back and forth between these sections, notating the slight differences between them. ie: S1: in measure 6 there is an 8th rest on beat 3. However, in measure 66, there is no rest. What are the implications of this? We have an extra word, an extra note, we have to move our breath, etc. Pay attention and notate!

Repeat with Section B and F. Ask yourself and notate, what are the differences?

Finally, since these sections are so similar, how can you make them sound different? It’s unlikely that your audition cut will be long enough to encompass both sections in one. However, the specificity that you will gain in your singing and performance will make your audition absolutely divine!

Happy practicing!


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