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Volume 16, Issue 5: Musica

The Developed Mouth

Kim Schuler

When the news came down from above that articles for this issue of Credenda should attempt to be on theme and that the theme was cheese, we went into a dark despair. Music and wine, yes, but music and cheese? My husband refused to deal with it, so I began to work on an angle. One of my earliest encounters with "cheese" sprang to mind: Velveeta. Hmm. Parallels between commercial, super-processed music and Velveeta? No, too obvious. How about great cheeses I have known? How about the fourteen inch brie wheel at Aunt Karen's wedding? That was a cheese to remember, encased in a flaky croissant-like bread, still slightly warm when we ate it. After the reception I watched the caterers dismantling huge arrangements of exotic flowers and throwing them into a cardboard box.

"What happens to them?" I inquired.
"We throw them away."
I watched in fascination, thinking of all that beauty decaying in some dumpster behind their shop. Then I watched as they started tossing canapes and fruit in the trash. I was sad. We were poor doctoral students. We could have eaten on all this for two weeks. But when they picked up the brie, I couldn't take it anymore. It was only about a third of the way eaten. "Could I have it?" I heard myself asking faintly. We were staying in a hotel and not flying home until late the next day. "I guess, if you really want it," came the answer. They wrapped it up for me, and I tried to hide it behind my purse. Should I pack it in my suitcase or take it as a carry on?
Now you're saying, "I thought this was about music, not the inner workings of the mind of a starving student." And that's exactly what I'm wondering about too. Is there a parallel here with the fact that one of Bach's sons threw away a hundred or so of his dad's cantatas? No, there's not enough glorious weight in the brie wheel. OK, not Velveeta, not the cheese wheel. "Cheesy music" as my daughter, who hears a lot of it at ballet, suggested? How about cheese puns which would convey little known facts of music history? I got out the twenty-volume New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and discovered that Marcantonio Romano worked in Split cathedral in the seventeenth century. How many of us church musicians since have worked in Split churches? Also, J. J. B. Muenster (1694—after 1751) wrote psalms for parish choirs in what he called a "comico-ecclesiastical" style (I'm not making this up). It is said of him that he had "little talent either for musical organization—most of his psalm settings are rather shapeless—or for writing good tunes." I guess you could say that the feta that he couldn't compose very well cheddar deterred him from edam trying. And if I didn't love Claude Goudimel so much, I could even speculate about the French Huguenot open-faced sandwich with crab and melted Dutch cheese_the Clawed Goudamelt.
Then real inspiration came in a flash as we were indulging in a Wallace & Gromit festival in our living room. We were listening to Nick Park's commentary on the first Wallace & Gromit film when he said, "Nothing was planned really, and cheese, I mean, that was just a nice word to say really, and it developed Wallace's mouth when he said the word cheese. . . and that certainly gave Wallace this coat hanger mouth. . ." There it was. How to improve congregational singing in any church in one easy lesson—the developed mouth.
The shape of a singer's mouth, inside and out, has a lot to do with the sound he produces. You can prove this to yourself by standing in front of your bathroom mirror, when no one else is home, and singing. Say a sentence and then sing it with the same mouth shapes. The tone will probably be somewhat thin. Now sing again, this time dropping your jaw, a lot for a word like jaw, less for wider vowels like cheese. You should hear a remarkable difference, if just in volume. Next try lifting your soft palate into an arch like a Gothic cathedral window, as you drop your jaw and sing. If you feel like Gomer Pyle turning into Jim Nabors, you're well on your way.
You may object that this doesn't seem natural. How can I praise God when I'm having to concentrate on lifting this and dropping that? Practice, practice, practice. It will become natural and you will have to try to do it wrong.
Dropping your jaw and lifting your soft palate actually doubles the size of the resonating chamber of your voice. Think of yourself as going from a one-eighth size violin to a full-size violin. Most of us will never be a Stradivarius, but we can stop sounding like a beginning Suzuki student.

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