Thoughts on Phnerting

swipeYou know when you wake up before your alarm, and it’s not really worth going back to sleep again but neither can you be bothered to get up just yet? That’s when thoughts turn to the curious expressive power of the phnert.

Regular readers may remember that phnert is the term coined by Lori Lyford to mean the sonority of a major 2nd and the particular effect it has on harmonic direction. It is useful to know as a singer, as it tells you how to relate to the other note in the phnert: you need to lean into it, and collaborate to make sure it’s balanced. It’s like squirting a lemon pip out between thumb and forefinger: both digits need to be equally and actively involved if you are to get any real propulsion.

My morning musings covered the following miscellaneous areas:

Playlist 2017: 8th Commentary

The next instalment of thoughts on my listening project for 2017. 87 items in, and I’ve not yet repeated a composer. Well, by this stage I’m not going to, am I? The full list and links to previous commentaries can be found here. Happy listening!

  • Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Concerto Romantico for viola and chamber orchestra (1956). Another interesting exercise in confronting my own prejudices: I have a hunch I came across some pieces for children by Peggy Glanville-Hicks in a pile of music being discarded from Southampton University Music Department from which students were invited to help themselves. I thus had her implicitly stereotyped as (a) a writer of simple things and (b) not worth keeping. Would I have assumed that music for children by a man represented the sum of his ambition? Not that I articulated this thought consciously, you realise, I just notice it when coming across major works and thinking, ‘Oh I didn’t know she wrote this stuff!’
  • Claudia Rusca, 'Jubilate Deo Omnis Terra' from I Sacri Concerti (1630). Ensemble Frottola have recorded quite a few of Rusca’s Sacri Concerti, so it’s worth a listen around.

West Country Double

Remembered to take a pic on the second leg of the trip...Remembered to take a pic on the second leg of the trip...

I’ve been down West a fair bit this month already, and on reading the blog posts after those trips, Samphire quartet got in touch to ask if perchance I was down that way again at all in the run up to the LABBS/European barbershop convention. As it happens, I had one more trip planned, this time to Riviera Sound, and so we extended the trip to get extra use from the train fare, and I took a diversion to Bodmin for the Friday afternoon before heading back to Torquay.

With less than a month to go before contest, the agenda for Samphire was all about moving on from technique and into artistry. By this stage in the preparation cycle, the last thing you need is for singers to be concentrating on managing their voices, or making changes to notes or words. Fortunately, Samphire had clearly been putting in the graft to get the technical dimensions of their performance under control, so it was safe to tell them to trust that work and focus on the meaning of the songs.

Coaching on Cloud9

Cloud9The final adventure of my trip to the Netherlands was to go and work with Cloud9 quartet. They had already had a good deal of coaching over the education weekend (rather more than they had anticipated when we set up our session), so we went into the main song they wanted to work on having had it already significantly deconstructed over the previous two days.

We agreed up front that we would therefore work with the understanding that if there was anything that so in flux to be confusing, we had the choice of using me to facilitate decisions or just parking that question for them to think about when they’d had a bit more time to process their recent experiences.

Peer Learning with Holland Harmony

The weekend's final masterclass, with the New Harvest SingersThe weekend's final masterclass, with the New Harvest Singers

My trip to the Netherlands was precipitated by an invitation to serve on the faculty for an education weekend for Holland Harmony's quartets and musical leaders. It was thus a smaller event, in terms of numbers, than last year’s Harmony College, but it was commensurately more focused. Once again we had an all-star international faculty, delivering a programme of workshops that made all of us wish we had time to go and hear each other’s offerings.

As usual after this kind of intensive weekend, I have a notebook-full of thoughts and reflections stimulated by the experience, some of which will work their way into blog posts over the coming weeks and months as I process them. In the first instance, though, it’s the nature of learning experience itself, rather than the musical content of that learning, that holds my attention.

From Dutch Pride to Route Sixteen

dutchpride
Route16
I am just back from a full-on week of barbershop adventures in the Netherlands – an education weekend for Holland Harmony, framed by three coaching visits. There will be plenty to be blogged about as I process the experiences, so for today I am combining reports of my first two days’ coaching, with Dutch Pride in IJsselstein and Route Sixteen in Dordrecht.

Coaching sessions always cover far more musical details and technical achievements than you could possibly write about in a blog post, and I sometimes come out wondering what should be the focus of a coaching report. On Wednesday night, though, my brain woke me up in the middle of the night to inform me that I should write about a conversation we had about pitch retention after a key change. I have learned that I need to accept my brain’s suggestions if I hope to get any more sleep, so here goes.

Coaching The Chaos Theory

The Chaos Theory, with Floddy the HippoThe Chaos Theory, with Floddy the HippoSunday brought the delightfully-named quartet The Chaos Theory to Birmingham for a day’s coaching. Like several of the groups I am seeing in September, they’re preparing for the LABBS/European Convention in Bournemouth next month, and what looks set to be a tightly-contested (and thus – speaking as an audience member – very enjoyable) quartet contest.

Given the point in the performance-preparation cycle, we were focusing on similar themes to other groups aiming for that event – moving beyond the technical into artistry.

One of the things that most struck me when I was new to barbershop was the astonishing stylistic consistency of contest material – and of course that was one of the points of contest-grade barbershop, to preserve and specialise in certain stylistic thumbprints. The downside of this consistency is the risk that it all starts to sound much the same. The upside is that when an arranger who understands that harmonic language in great depth works with a song that defies those expectations, you can find yourself with a musical narrative that has immense power to engage that specialist audience.

Refining Delivery with Red Rock Harmony

Enjoying the power of the Power PoseEnjoying the power of the Power PoseSaturday took me to Teignmouth to work with my friends from Red Rock Harmony on the songs they are preparing for next months LABBS/European Convention in Bournemouth in Bournemouth. This included the ballad I had worked on intensively during my last visit in July, plus an up-tempo number. With six weeks to go the focus was on refining performances from both technical and artistic perspectives, and on getting the handover from Manager to Communicator well underway.

One theme we explored was the distinction between local and global shaping, between the nuances of delivery within the phrase, and the sculpting of the various expressive worlds at different stages of a song’s form. The chorus was already producing the former intuitively as they responded to lyric and melody, but they needed more of a large-scale structure for these to work within.

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