Getting into the Flow with Bristol A Cappella

BACnov22I spent Saturday with my friends at Bristol A Cappella. It was my first visit since the pandemic, and it’s starting to feel like life is healing over the huge cut in our life narratives made by the covid hiatus. It wasn’t simply picking up where we left off in 2019 (though looking back there are some common themes), but having a shared history with a significant number of the group helped us find our way into working together again readily.

As a group, they specialise in arrangements of pop, rock and show songs, and our task was to work on two songs from musicals, which, while quite contrasting in mood and expressive impact, had some similar challenges. Both are very lyric-led, with the verses in particular being quite wordy, and the task was to find a way to capture the actorly approach to singing the source genre entails whilst supplying the musical flow that would be provided by the band in the original context. The words were absolutely essential to the expression, but we needed them also not to get in the way of the music.

BeinG with BinG! Youth Chorus

I was disappointed to discover that this didn't mean the room for singing tags: though people sang tags in there anywayI was disappointed to discover that this didn't mean the room for singing tags: though people sang tags in there anywaySome months ago, I was contacted by the BinG! Youth Chorus about doing a workshop with them while they were over in Birmingham, since they’d be singing one of my arrangements, and their event was right on my doorstep. Over time their plans changed, but we kept the date in the diary, and in the end, instead of them all travelling to the UK, I met with them in Münster; and instead of running just workshop I spent the full four days with them. And a very happy four days they were too.

It was a nicely varied long weekend. Every day involved significant chunks of chorus rehearsal/coaching time, but there was also the chance to explore the city on the Friday, a busking session in the city centre on Saturday, a Bunter Abend (open stage evening), and a couple of workshop sessions led by me and their MD Andrew Rembecki. The schedule thus combined the intensity of working together on the music every day with opportunities to refresh the attention and process the learning between sessions.

Thoughts on Choosing a Voice Instructor

I had an email recently asking me for some advice on sourcing singing lessons, and as is my wont I’ve decided to anonymise and answer publicly, as this person won’t be the only one in the world with these questions. There are some specifics to their circumstance that I’m obviously omitting from this post, but as they know what they are, they’ll be able to see how my general points come in response to their email.

The first question was: how much can and cannot be done over Zoom? My correspondent has been having some online coaching, and when she had a chance to meet her coach in person, they discovered a number of things that hadn’t been diagnosable remotely. I think here the questioner has largely answered their own question! My experience with online coaching, particularly as it relates to the use of the self (as opposed to matters of musical understanding, which survive the medium better), is that it can do quite a lot but will always have less depth than in-person work.

Humour in Rehearsals: Some Post-match Reflections

VHUlogoOn Tuesday evening I ran a session on Humour in Rehearsals: A How-to Guide for the Barbershop Harmony Society’s Virtual Harmony University. It was substantially the same in concept as the one I did last year, though of course these sessions never run the same way twice, both because rhe presenter changes and grows over time and because different groups of participants produce different collective insights.

One of the things that is both a great strength and slightly weird about VHU as an experience is that a large proportion of the people who sign up to a class may not attend in real time, but might choose to watch the recording afterwards. This is jolly useful for its international credentials – whilst the participant based in Australia was in great shape at 9 am her time, I had every sympathy with the European attendees who chose not to stay up until 10 pm or later for what was the first class slot in the day’s schedule. (If they could find a way to time-shift the experience for presenters too I might be tempted to offer more classes!)

Jubilation with LABBS

Thanks to LABBS social media team for the pic!Thanks to LABBS social media team for the pic!

Last weekend saw the Ladies Association of British Barbershop singers convene in Bournemouth for their first full in-person Convention since 2019. The theme for the event was Jubilation, and there was a lot of joy in evidence, both in the performances and in the social interactions around the venue. It was great to be back.

One of the features of the barbershop contest traditions in normal times is that the winner of the chorus contest each year does not compete in the year immediately following. This means they can spend their championship year focusing on performing as champions, and preparing something special to perform at the convention at the end of the year rather than leaping straight back into preparing for their next contest.

Arranging the Silver Lining

Yesterday saw the premiere of a version of my arrangement of ‘Look for the Silver Lining’ at the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers’ annual Convention. It is a chart that comes with a story, not least of how it turns up in two versions simultaneously, and whilst LABBS members have heard some of that story at its premiere, others who might be interested in the song might not

Besides, in addition to all the background stuff about context and relationships, there’s the story of how the backstory shaped the chart itself.

The arrangement commission was funded by the Jen Mills Award, of whom the 2021 recipients were the quartet SoundHouse. The award commemorates Jen Mills, who was a source of great musical energy and insight in LABBS, as Music Judge, coach, and arranger until her untimely death in 2019, and it provides funding for a LABBS quartet each year to commission a new arrangement.

On the Value of Stating the Obvious

The musical directors of BABS had the opportunity on Saturday to hear a presentation from vocal health expert Julian Nicholl at our periodic MDs forum. Julian has that combination of specialist knowledge and kindness that gives you confidence the voices he cares for are in good hands; I particularly liked the way he recognised that while we all have the same basic vocal mechanism, everybody’s life circumstances - and thus needs - are individual.

At this point, I realised that my original title, ‘On stating the obvious’ sounded a bit dismissive towards Julian’s presentation, so I’ve gone back and tweaked it to better capture the reflections that followed.

One of his key points was that the things you need to do to nurture vocal health are exactly the same things you need to nurture any other aspect of health: get enough sleep, exercise and hydration; eat nourishing foods in adequate but not excessive quantities; engage in activities that promote positive emotional states and reduce stress, etc. And this is, in one sense, kind of obvious: a healthy lifestyle gives you the best chance in anything you do.

Zoning in on Experiential States

zones

It’s many years now since I first wrote about the different zones of experience, and I recently had cause to explore these ideas with The Telfordaires’ Music Team. We are preparing to welcome a group of relative novices to join us for a 6-week Learn to Sing in Harmony Course, and this model was a really useful way to frame the way we look after our visitors.

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