I love the way certain words just sound like their meaning… like muffin. When I see the word, and say the word, I can almost smell the warm, freshly baked goodness wafting from the kitchen. Mmuffin… It’s the ‘m’ that does that, the initial consonant; the same ‘Mm’ that goes with ‘Mm-mm’ good!
The literary term for this is onomatopoeia, and lots of English words lend beautifully to picturesque speech because of this property. When singers capture the special essence of such words in their delivery, the meaning and impact of the musical phrase is lifted dramatically.
For an example, consider the onomatopoeic quality of words like ‘swing’ or ‘sweet’ as included in the first line of the spiritual, Swing low sweet chariot. (Listen to the track we’ve included with this arrangement.) To heighten the onomatopoeic quality of these words and make them come alive we need to gently elongate the ‘s’ and sing through the ‘w’… slowing down the perfunctory mental process… so that those letters almost become a sung syllable of its own; suu-wing or suu-weet.
Find the picturesque words in your text and find a way to unlock the onomatopoeic quality in your rendering. If this principle is followed, your choir and your singing will be much tastier!