There’s something very special about hearing tenor/bass choirs sing a piece as sensitive as Joshua Himes’ Ave Maria. The lush harmonies make this usually traditional piece updated to a contemporary take on Ave Maria.
So when did this text originate? A very long time ago in the 11th century, based on biblical texts from Luke. It is remarkable that a prayer that has been used for so long is still being set to music. The text from Ave Maria is an essential part of the Rosary, a prayer in the Roman Catholic Church. In the bible, Mary was the mother of Jesus and is a symbol of purity.
Here are some of the more traditional settings of Ave Maria for your listening pleasure by Bach and Schubert:
This Ave Maria is marked with many crescendos already in the score (thanks, Joshua!). The piece never goes fast at any point, so even if a crescendo seems like it only covers one measure, the crescendo should be subtle or gradual. Strive to not sing too soft at the ends of phrases, and make sure you get to a comfortable mezzo-forte on the loud part of the crescendo to show your dynamic range.
The score is filled with tempo markings and adjectives to bring the score to life. We cannot do anything to adjust the tempo but when there is a “motto” (movement/motion) marked in the score, you should be careful to stay on top of the beat and shape the moving notes (quarters/eighths) to the longer notes (half notes/whole notes).
Singers should focus on a very simple approach to the diction, along with pure vowels and subtle phrasing.
Things to do when you are practicing:
- Write in all counts when you are not singing (i.e. 1-2-3)
- Know what note you are singing when splits occur (ask your choir director for details)
- Chant in rhythm to practice long pure vowels
- Find and circle the most important syllable of each phrase to make sure that word is the peak of the phrase.
- Write in your translation so you can connect emotionally to the text (yes, judges will be able to know!)
When studying this piece, make sure you are not overdoing the diction. This piece should never be too loud or aggressive. We rarely see loud indicated in the score and the one time there is a forte in measure 9 it is accompanied by a dolce or “sweet.” Here’s what I am looking for when judging this piece:
- Controlled vibrato or clear and in-tune straight-tone
- Pure vowels with no diphthongs (the ‘ve’ in “Ave” should be VEH not VEHEE)
- Doing every crescendo as marked in the score
- Showing a difference between each individual dynamic
- Never singing too loud or aggressively
- Delicate releases on final consonants with a light shadow vowel (for example: tecum=TEH-COO-MUH
- Flipping r’s when they are between vowels, no American r’s
- Gratia pronounced GRAH-TSEE-AH (commonly mispronounced)