Too often, vocal groups (especially a capella groups) and choirs equate blending with an extremely straight, light tone. That can be lovely, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ways to blend. To blend you need to be in tune, you need matching vowels, you need to use the same vocal placement (forward? Back room? Head? Nasal? Some combination?). Above all, you need to listen to your collegues and try to match their sound; sing with the voice of the group.
Here are some examples of great blend, wildly different, all excellent.
To start, a group who are emblematic of the straight tone in classical ensemble, the Tallis Scholars. But even they include a lot of colour and variation. Here they are singing Allegri’s Misere, famous not only for its beauty, but for the fact that it was kept for the church in Rome, and no one was allowed to transcribe it. This ban was only lifted after 14 year old Mozart visited the Sistine Chapel, heard it, and later that day wrote it down in its entirety.
Il Divo – Adagio
A huge vibrato sound, and quite different vocal qualities, yet they blend amazingly well. Admittedly this recording has seen a long spell in the studio, and yet, still great. Somehow they remind me of glam rock. Oh, and massive bonus points for fireworks at the truck driver’s gear change key change, brilliantly gaudy!
Here’s the Brockington Ensemble singing “It’s a me”. Full on gospel, extremely forward, front of face sound. Awesome blend.
Now a study in the vocal back room, here’s “Bogoroditse Dyevo”, from Rachmaninov’s Vespers. I’m not totally happy with this recording as an example, you could go a lot deeper and bassier and, well, damn it, more Russian. It’s lovely though.
Update: here’s a better one, sublime. These are Russians. Jodie notes that perhaps we are better to sing the music of our culture, there is a deep foundation which is missing when we sing other peoples’ music. I think that’s a little harsh, but it is true that the best examples of a piece of music are usually by cultural natives. Back to this piece, the highlights for me are the soloist (no youtube commenters, she isn’t out of tune, they’re just not using even tempered tuning), and the basses (!)
How about Crosby Stills & Nash, for some 60s/70s folk blending? A bit forward, but mostly fairly understated, not too much emphasis on production in any particular location: