Lather, Rinse, Repeat… Memorizing Music

by on November 23, 2011 » Add more comments.
David Giusti leads the Revels men in Abinu Malkeinu

David Giusti leads the Revels men in Abinu Malkeinu... notice how many of them have this piece memorized. Photo by Elizabeth Fulford Miller

Each year, our amazing Washington Revels Chorus (adults and teen) and Children have to memorize their music. The process begins in September, as we learn each piece, but the actual memory crunch tends to occur sometime in November (like… now!).  Some years our job is easier than others… like last year, when the music was almost all in English.  But, this year, we are singing in Arabic, Latin, Hebrew, Judeo-Espagnol (also known as Ladino), Galician Portuguese, Castilian Spanish, and Catalan — this definitely makes the process of learning and memorizing more challenging!

With the exception of a few lucky folks (and yes, Greg Lewis, Washington Revels ED and song leader, is one of them), the memorizing process can be the most frustrating last step on the learning to performance continuum.

Have you ever had to memorize a poem, or some lines of text to repeat in front of an audience, or a class?  This form of memorization only involves words… and, that alone can difficult.  When you memorize music, there are many more details that become part of the process:

  • pitches (the actual notes that you sing)
  • rhythms (the amount of time each note gets)
  • expression (loud, soft, smooth, bouncy, etc.)
  • tuning and harmony (how does your part fit in with the other parts)
  • timing and rests (when do you sing? when do you breathe?)
  • text and pronunciation (what syllables go with what notes, and how do they sound)

As you see, this is a pretty complex set of variables to put together.  And you have to do all of this while walking, interacting, dancing, carrying things, going up and down stairs, spinning around, messing with your costume, ringing bells, gathering children, etc. (and not standing next to someone who is singing the same part that you are singing). We spend a lot of rehearsal time really learning the music, and then each singer has to “lather, rinse and repeat” on their own, in order to develop the muscle memory needed to be able to perform all of this music in a typical Christmas Revels production!   You are memorizing not only what the music sounds like, but what it feels like to perform it.

Here is a list of all of the songs that the chorus has to memorize for this year’s show (including the languages that each song is in):

1. Tan buen ganadico (Castilian Spanish)
2. A vint-i-cinc de desembre (Catalan)
3. Lamma bada yatathanna (Arabic)
4. Quando el rey Nimrod (Ladino)
5. Children’s Songs: Gatatumba (Spanish); Matesha, matesha (Ladino); Tafta Hindi (Arabic)
6. Pues que tanto bien tenemos (Spanish)
7. New Year’s Prayer (Ladino)
8. Rodrigo Martinez (Castilian Spanish)
9 Bain el bareh we’el youm (Arabic)
10. El desembre congelat (Catalan)
11. Riu Riu Chiu (Castilian Spanish)
12. Ay luna que reluces (Castilian Spanish)
13. Cantiga 185: Poder a Santa Maria (Galician Portuguese)
14. Abinu Malkenu (Judeo Espagnol)
15. Hanuka (Ladino)
16. Ocho Kandelikas (Ladino)
17. Shalom Chaverim/Assalam wa aleikum (Hebrew and Arabic)
18. Qum Tara (Arabaic)
19. Siete modos de guisar las berenjenas (Ladino)
20. Hoy comamos y bebamos (Castilian Spanish)
21. Convidando esta la noche (Spanish)

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