Greg Clancy on Singing Freely

I mentioned in my first post about BABS Directors Academy last month that I had a pile of notes about Greg’s thoughts on freedom in singing that deserved a post of their own in due course. The moment has come to revisit these and reflect on them.

This theme emerged when Greg was talking about the importance of the warm-up (something on which our hearts beat as one). His goal is to get the chorus in a certain spot, ‘vocally, mentally, spiritually,’ and will often undertake this himself. If you do delegate the warm-up, he added, you need to be sure that it is someone who really understands what you’re aiming for in this.

What I find so interesting with how Greg talks about his processes is that he so often starts with very practical matters – in this case, the Vocal Majority’s approach to vocal production – but these always connect into more holistic questions. So his discussion of how they focus on a sense of lift, both physically (cheeks, soft palate), and psychologically (imagine the sound coming from your hairline) morphed straight into considering the chorus’s emotional state.

The Culture Code and Charismatic Social Structures

I spent a good deal of late 2019 and early 2020 thinking about Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code for various projects, none of which really accommodated a set of tangential thoughts the book sparked. So they’ve been sitting in a notebook waiting for the moment to be developed, which they signalled by waking me up in the middle of the night and demanding to be thought about. So apparently it’s time.

These thoughts were about some interesting resonances between the behaviours Coyle identifies as being common to successful groups and organisations, and those identified by Raymond Bradley in charismatic organisations. The comparison is interesting both for the overlaps and the differences.

As a quick refresher, Coyle’s three main elements to a sense of belonging are:

1. Build Safety
2. Share Vulnerability
3. Set Purpose

Gesture and Metaphor: Post-webinar Reflections

abcdsquareOn Saturday I presented a webinar for the Association of British Choral Directors on Gesture and Metaphor: How do Singers Know what we Mean? It was based on Part III of my choral conducting book and gave me a good reason to go back and re-engage with the nitty-gritty of concepts I’ve rather got used to taking for granted over the last decade. We had a great turnout, and, as usual when you get a room full of choral directors bringing their insights and experience together, some great thoughts emerging during the discussions.

Melting People’s Brains at Cheshire Chord Company

I didn't get a screen-shot but CCC sent me this one:: numbers games in action!I didn't get a screen-shot but CCC sent me this one:: numbers games in action!On Thursday evening I popped in for a while on Cheshire Chord Company for a session billed as ‘online musicianship games’. As I told them at the start, when people tell you to explain what you do in 10 words, I say, ‘People sing to me and I mess with their heads’. I have a large repertoire of silly things to do that get people feeling like their brains are gently sizzling in butter; the word for this sensation is ‘learning’.

The challenge in planning a session like this is not finding material – I have been borrowing, adapting and inventing this stuff for years – but in crafting it into a longer session. In a regular rehearsal or coaching session I’d use these as ice-breakers, or attention-refreshers: short, intense bursts of brain-stretching silliness as a change from regular skills-based or repertoire-based work.

BABS Directors Academy: Thoughts on Identity and Values

Having outlined some of the practical and philosophical discussions stimulated by all three educators at the recent BABS Directors Academy in my last post, I wanted to stop and mull over some of the thoughts I’ve been having in response in the days since. These have that classic character of a rich learning experience where you feel the value and usefulness of the ideas to your life but also want to argue back at them.

I keep coming back to a wonderful quote, ostensibly from Picasso, which I came across in Abraham Kaplan’s book on choral conducting. I have no idea if it is genuine, but the wisdom is real even if the attribution is spurious:

The goal of an artist is to draw a perfect circle. Since a perfect circle cannot be drawn, the deviations from the perfect circle will express the artist’s own personality. But if the artist tries to express his own personality by concentrating on the deviations, he will miss the whole point.

Changing Choral Expectations in the Covid Era

In my recent post about a set of wide-ranging questions from a reader, I deferred the question about how expectations of our singers have changed under covid, on the grounds that I needed to do some more thinking about it. This post is where I will do that thinking.

When someone asks you a question about a subject on which you know you have some knowledge, you look into your brain, and usually find, if not a ready-made answer, then some useful examples from which to start to derive one. On this occasion, that process revealed… not very much. For all I’ve spent a much larger proportion of my time than usual plugged into various choral community support networks this year, I’ve not seen very much discussion about this.

Socially Distanced Singing, and Other Practice Gadgets

Socially-distanced rehearsingSocially-distanced rehearsing

One of the responses to my recent post On Singing Solo Safely talked about how the rehearsal protocols we need for live rehearsing also affect the sense of safety singers experience in rehearsal:

Singing in masks and socially distanced is another example where the safety of the wall of sound disappears and singers can often only hear themselves.

To which I’d add singing outside and in smaller groups as other things that dilute the sonic envelope around us. Indeed, of all of these, singing in masks is the least of our problems; they may feel like they symbolically gag us, but their effects on the music are minimal compared to the effects of the inverse-square law of sound.

Road-Map Back to Choral Normality

Get a cuppa, this one is longer than usual.

With the news that we have multiple effective vaccines for Covid19, it is time to start envisaging how their protection will allow choirs to come back to something approaching normal. It’s easy to see the Before scenario (where we are now), and the After scenario (rehearsing and performing back in our regular venues, as we used to before March 2020). What is less easy is to envisage the process by which one becomes the other.

This post is intended to think through at least some of the questions our new situation poses. I’m writing with an eye for the specific circumstances of my chorus, but also with an awareness of the range of circumstances other groups find themselves in. The variables, and thus the answers people come to, will differ between choirs, but many of the types of variable we need to consider will be common across us all.

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