Getting Connected with Main Street Sound

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I spent Saturday up in York coaching Main Street Sound. We set the date almost 6 months ago, in the early stages of the UK's first Omicron wave, and looking back at the email thread, it was full of finger-crossing and hope. The capacity to make plans and feel confident you’ll be able to carry them out is something I never fully appreciated prior to Covid!

We were working on two songs at the ‘we basically know the music but have done limited polishing’ stage, which is a lovely moment in the development of a performance to have coaching. The music is familiar enough that people have capacity to absorb new input, but not so ingrained that habit becomes an obstacle to development. It was a satisfyingly holistic day, exploring the needs of both music and singers and figuring out how best to meet them.

A recurrent theme emerged as connecting up the sense of musical line. This is one of those challenges that is partly technical and partly musical, and we found ourselves circling in on it from a number of different directions:

  • Bubbling. Great for continuity of connection with the breath, as well as for diagnosing if people are thinking about the music in pulses instead of lines. By taking the words out, it helps people think melodically.
  • Reducing jaw movement through the metaphors of ventriloquism and holding an imaginary button between the back molars. This maintains integrity of the resonant space and moderates the consonants’ interruption of the line.
  • Rooting the stance. Getting the lower body securely connected to the ground facilitates continuity of support, which in turn facilitates continuity of line
  • Identifying the focal word in each phrase to get people thinking (and thus singing) in sentences rather than in strings of individual words. Speaking phrases to find the natural accent points helps smooth them together, then transferring that to a monotone provided an intermediate step to transfer speech into song.
  • Transferring final consonants to the start of the next word where specific words were tending to get closed down particularly early: ‘that were’ becomes ‘tha twere’
  • Using a physical metaphor of gripping a water bottle to explore intermittency verses continuity of engagement
  • Tweaking conductor gesture to facilitate flow

This last point intersects with another theme of the day – picking up on the central question from the LABBS Directors Day back in March: what I can do with my self to meet the music’s needs? Main Street Sounds’ director Peter Bryant already has a voice-friendly and musically-nuanced conducting technique, and has the flexibility and self-awareness to make subtle adjustments and perceive the difference they make. I first coached him directing about a decade ago at Hallmark of Harmony, and it’s lovely to see how he’s developed in the interim.

Our biggest win for him was bringing his gesture level closer to the seat of his breath, which immediately brought more focus and clarity to the sound. It was particularly pleasing because it brought qualities to the sound he’d been aiming for in his vocal work with the chorus. There was a beautiful look of recognition in his eyes: yes that is what we were after.

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