ABCD Effigy

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Farnham Youth Choir in open rehearsalFarnham Youth Choir in open rehearsalThe August bank holiday weekend always has far more fun things going on than one could possibly go to, and this year I spent it in Winchester at the Association of British Choral Directors Convention. I was presenting on the Sunday morning, but had the rest of the time available to hear other people’s sessions, mooch about the Exhibition, go to the gala concert and generally have a fun time hanging out with a bunch of interesting people.

The convention itself rather suffered from the same problem in microcosm that the holiday weekend has – every session you went to forced you to miss something else that also sounded fascinating. Still, as I said to Eve Halsey who had led the organising team, if the only thing your delegates are complaining about are the clashes, that’s probably a sign of a great programme! There are a couple of sessions that I want to write specific posts on, but for now I’ll just share a collection of rather miscellaneous thoughts that the weekend has left me with.

Previous ABCD conventions I’ve attended have seemed quite strongly child-focused. A lot of ABCD members are working in schools, and it’s great that the organisation is supporting their work. But as someone who works more with adults than children, I found this convention a little more balanced. This is in part was a function of dedicated networking sessions targeted at directors with particular choral interests – youth choirs, adult choirs, church choirs – which meant that people had the opportunity to share ideas with people ploughing similar furrows. But I think there were also more sessions with broad applicability across different age groups: on planning, on vocal technique, on conductor-choir communication. There also seemed to be a growing interest among delegates in ‘third age’ choirs – not surprising, really given shape of the population as the baby boomers head towards retirement.

I also met a couple of people who had joined ABCD on the back of taking their conducting courses as a means to convert – or at least cross-task – from a background in instrumental conducting. It seems as if the association is serving this constituency very well; there was a real sense of excitement and discovery in some of these conversations. One of the ways that instrumental specialists were well-served at this convention was a collection of sessions on vocal technique. One long-standing member I spoke to thought that vocal health had tended to be something of a Cinderella area at these events in the past – it was certainly not the case this weekend. One of these sessions was the second presentation I have heard this summer about bel canto techniques in choral music, and I’m looking forward to collating and comparing my notes from the different presenters (expect a post about that in due course!).

One other fascinating moment to share with you was hearing composers talking of the toil and emotional strain of their work. When asked what inspires the act of composition, John Rutter said that he rather dreaded doing it, but it was nonetheless a compulsion. While he’s composing a piece, it’s rather like diving under water, disconnecting him from the rest of his daily life, and he’s always relieved to back up to air when the piece is done. Judith Bingham seemed rather less anguished about the process, and confessed to rather enjoying the planning stages of writing a piece. But actually getting down to composer the nitty-gritty, she said, was utter drudgery. There was an amazing frisson among the audience in response: the question had made all sorts of assumptions about the mythologies of creative work, and there were these composers, whom the mythology would have us regard as separate, special, not-like-us, dismantling our beliefs about inspiration and the exalted nature of art before our very eyes.

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