A Cappella

Continuing the Journey with Bristol A Cappella

Warm-up pic with hats and coatsWarm-up pic with hats and coats

After my visit to Signature last week, I took the train across to Bristol for another session with my friends at Bristol A Cappella on the Sunday. They had spent the Saturday working with performance coach Sandra Lea-Riley, so I came prepared to spend at least some of the time helping them process and consolidate what they had covered with a coach they had just worked with for the first time. It’s great to get input from different people, but it’s important that we don’t stand in each other’s light.

Sandra had done a great job with them – really transformed their levels of individual expressiveness – and we had some useful discussions reflecting on how she had achieved it, and how they could continue to develop these skills and transfer them into the rest of the repertoire. She had also identified a need to develop their techniques of articulation/enunciation, which chimed with their feedback from the Nailsea Festival in the autumn, and so helping with that became my primary task for the day.

Developing New Music with Signature

Name that tune...Name that tune...

Saturday was the second of a series of visits to Signature Singers to work with them on a new arrangement they are preparing for LABBS Convention in October. Last time I saw them, they had only just wrapped themselves round the notes and words, so we were doing deep groundwork, building the vocal and musical foundations for the song to be built on.

Two months on, and things were, unsurprisingly, much more developed. We still had a little undergrowth clearing to do in places, especially coordinating parts at structural boundaries and tempo changes. But in general we were getting much more into the expressive detail.

Gesture is a well-documented rehearsal technique to help singers feel musical shape, for purposes of both accuracy and expression. (Ramona Wis, for instance, wrote a splendid PhD dissertation on this, using Lakoff and Johnsons’ theory of metaphor.) It has all kinds of benefits – helping the singers get inside the musical effects, helping them coordinate to each other, allowing the coach to identify who needs extra help to find their way into it.

On Doubling 3rds

doubled3rdIf you were brought up in a classical harmonic world, you will have been taught that, whilst you may double a minor third, you should never double a major 3rd. Then you go out into the world of real music and meet doubled major 3rds in repertoire by composers you were led to believe knew what they were doing. The story kind of changes then: well, yes you can double major 3rds if you really have to, but we don’t really want you to.

It feels confusingly like doubling 3rds is one of those adult activities surrounded by double standards, like drinking or sex. Grown ups can do it, but the circumstances in which it’s okay are shrouded in mystery, and children are encouraged not even to think about it. It’s no wonder we all go off the rails in our teens, as we try to figure out how we can do these strange adult things in the absence of a clear understanding of the rules.

Coaching The Venus Effect

VenusEffectMy last coaching commitment before fleeing the country at the end of November was a coaching session with The Venus Effect. I didn’t have time to blog about it at the time, so this post doubles as a coaching report and a test of the comprehensibility of my notes made in haste at the time.

We had talked at the European Barbershop Convention in October about working together, and I was eager to start before my big trip as there were some specific techniques I wanted to share that were the kinds of things that yield results by regular use. So the earlier we got them into their practice routines, the better.

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.

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