Interruption of Service: Advance Notice

I will have drastically reduced availability during December 2017. I won't be available by phone, and I'll be checking my email a couple of times a week at most. (I'll tell you what I'll be doing instead, in case you're wondering, after it's all done.)

So, if you were thinking about getting in touch to book some coaching or to discuss an arrangement commission or ask about any of my other services, you either need to do so during November or wait until January.

It seemed only fair to tell you in advance, rather than just disappear without warning!

I won't be publishing regular blog posts either, but I do have an extended piece on the spike that I'll leave you to be getting on with between all your holiday season singing.

In the meantime, normal service continues throughout November.

Moving on From Dixie Songs: the Negotiation Process

So, it’s a few months since Joey Minshall captured the feeling of a moment with her #donewithdixie post. In the time since, the hard work has started of negotiating with individual ensembles about why these songs, once so central to barbershop repertoire, are no longer being received quite so enthusiastically in all quarters as they once were.

You can understand singers who have put a lot of time and love into polishing performances feeling reluctant to let go of that investment, and they will often bring out arguments as to why they should continue singing these songs. This post takes a few of the frequently-heard points to consider outside of the context of any one conversation. Just so we can get our heads round them in a place where nobody has to take it personally right here right now.

Bristol A Cappella: Next Steps

And this is why I chose that warm-up pic for my last post...And this is why I chose that warm-up pic for my last post...

Last time I worked with Bristol A Cappella, they were preparing for the mixed barbershop chorus contest at BABS Convention in May. This performance went very well, and they were rewarded with significantly higher scores than their first attempt the previous year. Buoyed up by this success, they are striding purposefully into the future with plans to participate in several competitions over the next six months or so.

The first of these is the Nailsea Festival later this month, in which they are entering two classes. This visit we revisited briefly their material from BABS for the barbershop class, but focused most of our efforts on a set of two songs, arranged and directed respectively by their director Iain Hallam and their assistant director, James Horsburgh.

Exploring New Music with Signature

There is a reason I chose this warm-up pic...There is a reason I chose this warm-up pic...

A week after the extravaganza of new music that was the LABBS/European Barbershop Convention, I was off to start work on one of next year’s offerings. Signature Singers recently commissioned an arrangement from me to bring to contest in 2018, and Saturday was the first of several planned sessions to start work on it together.

Signature have been operating without a director since the start of 2017, and whilst they are still on the lookout for an appropriate person to take on that role (hint: if that’s you, get in touch with them), they have decided not to let the absence of a director stop them from making music now, and from making plans for music in the future. So, Plan A is to take this music to Convention next year with a director appointed in the interim; Plan B is to take this music to Convention without a director.

The Biggest Barbershop Bash in Europe

Last year's LABBS champions closing the monumental two-day chorus contestLast year's LABBS champions closing the monumental two-day chorus contest

Well, where to start on reflecting on the four days of Europe’s best barbershop that just took place in Bournemouth? I was very touched when several people during the event said they were looking forward to this write-up, but now of course I am all anxious about disappointing them! (Just trust the process, Liz – follow the thoughts where they lead you and some people will also be interested – the ones who aren’t will find their needs met elsewhere. Pep talk over.)

I have been looking forward to this event for months. LABBS Convention is my regular autumn party, the British women’s association being the organisation I joined when I first encountered barbershop, in which I was a contest judge for many years, and for whom I now serve as Chorus Director Development Specialist. I have a lot of friends there, and work with a good many groups to develop the performances they bring to the event.

Holland Harmony Education Weekend: Further Reflections

A drawing of what Adam was doingA drawing of what Adam was doingA few weeks on, and I’ve had time to untangle some of the notes in my thinking book about the Holland Harmony education weekend back in September. As I discussed in my main report on the event, both the teaching process and the interactions with other coaches offered manifold opportunities to grow. So here are some of the things I learned that are going to be useful in my ongoing quest to help people make good music.

Just Voices

JustVoices

Saturday brought me a day-trip to Bromley to work with Just Voices, a women’s a cappella group. There were a few familiar faces of people I’d met in other choruses – not least their director Cathy Davies who I’ve most recently seen in Strictly A Cappella and Frisson - but mostly these were new friends waiting to happen. So I was particularly pleased to receive the feedback that I ‘wasn’t as scary as some people’. If I need a new strapline, that one’s certainly on the shortlist.

The afternoon fell into two major themed areas. We started out with a music-focus, delving into the detail of the songs, and engaging with different elements in response to the needs of the moment.

On the Fear of Improvement

I have often quipped over the years that many people find increasing their skill levels to be an experience like the old song, ‘Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die’ – as in, everyone wants to get better, but nobody wants to change. But I have been reflecting recently on a phenomenon that lies behind this inertia: some people seem actively to fear getting better.

Phrase it like that, and it sounds bonkers. Why would anyone shy away from being more competent and assured at doing the thing they love? But it is an observable phenomenon, and one which I need to understand if I am to succeed in my life’s aim of helping people make music with more confidence, skill and joy.

You have to look quite carefully to make the observation, of course. People don’t come straight out and say that they’re not going to use a technique that will improve their breath control or range or expressive power because they’re scared of it. Rather, it emerges in various forms of blocking behaviour: self-sabotage, distraction, attacking the legitimacy of the technique or the person who’s teaching it, picking a fight over something completely unrelated.

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