Gagòt is probably the most difficult Tenor/Bass audition piece we have seen in several years. In this post, we will suggest some strategies for learning and perfecting all of those meter changes, challenges with the language, and dynamics.
Haitian Creole was a language developed by lower class people and slaves during French and Spanish colonization in the 17th and 18th century. The majority of Haitian Creole is of French origin, however, the grammar and pronunciation of the languages have many differences. Today, both French and Haitian Creole are the national languages of Haiti.
One of the biggest differences between Haitian Creole and French is the use of double consonants (usually the ‘n’) that make the vowel nasal and the consonant pronounced.
Penn=Pehn (nasal vowel+n)
Desann=deh-sawn (nasal vowel+n)
These nasals in Haitian are very similar to French (Tip: French native speakers would not pronounce the consonant after a nasal vowel in these cases). When executing nasals, you should only include a little of nasality into the vowel. 100% nasal not appropriate in singing, and a balanced tone (between light and dark) is more important.
*The last page of your score includes IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). Look up a guide and double check that you are pronouncing every word accurately. The pronunciation track you have is also the same as listed on the composer’s website, and is a great resource as well.
How do you execute a foreign language in a piece with rapid meter changes at a fast speed? By chanting and not starting too fast.
Chanting your part seems like a no-brainer, but it is a commonly step skipped by anxious students who want to get straight to the singing. The only way you will truly master all of the meter changes, syncopation, and articulation is to chant the language slowly, gradually speeding up to the speed of the practice track. Use a metronome when practicing under tempo. Many instrumentalists practice with a metronome daily but it is not used as much in the vocal world. Choir nerds should utilize this tool as well!
Several of my voice students are also instrumentalists, and they often sing this piece over-separated, such as an instrumentalist would articulate. As singers, we are a legato instrument and we also have words to worry about. The notation in Gagòt is very syllabic in the faster sections, including many consecutive accents indicated by the composer. If you overdo these accents, the tone and musical line will be lost. Always try your best to imagine that the notes are still connected and point the phrase to the important parts in a line while separating as indicated in the score.
All of this being said, you should strive to have both a long vowel WITH energized consonants, especially on the accents/staccati. There are so many great opportunities to express the words by using the musical markings. To achieve this, first, try chanting a few times slowly with legato with light and quick consonants, focusing on lengthening each vowel. The third time you chant energize the consonants, especially on the accents and staccato, maintaining the same slow tempo. Then, gradually speed up your tempo with a metronome.
So much of tackling this piece is about perfecting the language, but let’s not forget about the dynamic markings that are throughout the score. It is sometimes easy to forget how loud you should be at a given point, so I suggest highlight/color code on all dynamic changes, and if there isn’t a marking for several measures, write one in!
- Listen to the pronunciation track and speak the words out of rhythm (as many times as it takes to feel comfortable)
- Chant slowly tapping or with metronome
- Chant slightly faster, working your way up to the track’s speed
- Chant with practice track at tempo
- Listen to Bass/Tenor track audiating (mouthing) on each section
- Sing 2-3 sections (A, B, etc) at a time (or even just one rehearsal letter) with track focusing on making articulations (stacatti, accents, crescendos) different than notes that have none.
- Repeat step 5 and 6 for each section and stop to chant/tap measures when necessary