For the past few weeks my Male Voice Choir in Cirencester have been learning “There Is Nothing Like a Dame“. This song is from the musical and was written by Richard Rodgers with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.
In the context of the musical, it is sung by the sailors (e.g. Sven Larsen) because they all long for women in their lives. The song is broken up in the middle when the nurses run by, and Billis gives Nurse Nellie Forbush her laundry. The song also has a sung recitative between the verses and the Chorus.
A comic version of this song was performed in the 1977 Christmas edition of the BBC’s Morecambe and Wise Show, as well as being performed in another Morecambe and Wise Show — one of their shows featured Cliff Richard in the song. The parts of the sailors were all played by BBC newsreaders of the time with Peter Woods getting to sing the distinctive last line.
It’s the sort of song which lends itself to a bit of comedy and some of the best performances are ones where the singers get involved and bring the song alive with a few actions. It doesn’t have to be much but a little movement and choreography goes a long way bringing out the comedy element of the song.
However, this causes a problem when you are recording. If you keep all the actions in and they involve quite a lot of movement then this will all be picked up by the microphones. Also if your choir starts moving around too much then the sound will sometimes be closer to the microphones than others which will create an odd sound when mixed down. Technically this can be dealt with in post production but it becomes very time consuming and therefore expensive.
Even clapping during a song has the potential to cause problems. Firstly a choir of 100 people all clapping mid way through a recording has the potential to upset all the levels on the mics and this in turn will lead to the clap actually becoming distorted.
If a choir normally moves around or waves their arms about during a concert performance of a piece we usually suggest they try to remain still when recording. This is sometimes harder when we are dealing with Primary School children – some of their songs involve them all jumping up and down at a particular point. Some would argue this is part of the song and ultimately it’s for the choir leader to decide what they want included. It doesn’t matter particularly to us whether there is noise of people jumping in a song, but you do need to consider the audience.
If you are listening to an audio track and then suddenly there is a loud ‘muffled’ thud because everyone jumps up and down, this might sound odd because you were not expecting it. Personally I prefer a clean audio recording of a song because the ‘sound’ of actions often just doesn’t translate into an audio recording. The only danger here is that you still need the same energy you get from a performance with choreography. This is perhaps the biggest challenge for choirs. Ironically the microphones can also pick up the sound of people smiling. That is because you tend to end up with a brighter sound when singers smile and therefore are more engaged with the music.
So what we are basically saying is you need to give your best and most energised performance but ideally with as little movement as possible!