Thoughts on Legato

I have been re-reading Joszef Gat’s The Technique of Piano Playing, which I last read in its entirety age 20. I have dipped it into it maybe a couple of times since, but it’s safe to say there’s a lot in there that I had completely forgotten about. It is that curious mixture of, ‘Oh, that’s interesting and insightful,’ and, ‘Really? You’re kidding me!’ that you often get in the writings of practical musicians, and as such is a very rich reading experience.

Anyway, as you’d expect in a book on this subject, he talks about legato, which is a notorious challenge for pianists. In common with many writers, he holds up singing as the ideal model for this, contending that even string instruments can only achieve a partial legato. Whilst on the one hand (literally!) the bow offers continuity, on the other, the act of forming pitches by stopping strings means you are effectively playing a different string for every note, as each is a different length.

Getting into the detail with abcd

Analysis of one of the MD's four roles: the others are leader, musician, and teacherAnalysis of one of the MD's four roles: the others are leader, musician, and teacher

I spent Saturday up in Manchester leading a day course for the Association of British Choral Directors entitled, ‘Choral Conducting: A Beginner’s Guide’. As the title implies, the participants were mostly conductors in the early stages of their journey – all already good musicians, but with varying amounts of experience leading choirs, and little or no prior formal training in technique.

There is of course far more to choral conducting than you can cover in a day (opportunities here to plug the longer abcd Initial Course which does a great job of laying solid foundations for onward growth!), but you can get people up to the point where they can be confident they can get a group of singers safely into the music and out again, which is the heart of the job.

On Recordings, Post-COVID Vulnerability, and Overcoming the Fear of Being Heard

This is a long title, and it’s going to be a longer than usual post. But I felt it all belonged together rather than being chunked up, as all the different elements are related to each other. It’s partly about coping with human beings, and partly about the nitty-gritty of learning activities, but as we experience the two things simultaneously it seemed best to consider them together.

Conversations with a number of chorus directors at LABBS Harmony College revealed a pattern of common experiences of chorus members having unexpectedly strong negative reactions to things that in the past might have seemed perfectly routine. These often revolved around being asked to record themselves to check on their note-accuracy, and part of this post will be about managing that specific issue.

Prioritising Connection at LABBS Harmony College

Leading a vocal development session with a laughLeading a vocal development session with a laughThe weekend saw the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers holding their first full Harmony College since 2019. It was fully booked before the closing date for registrations, confounding our expectations that numbers might still be a bit down, as they were for last year’s education events. It was superbly masterminded by its Dean, Debi Cox, who brought her deep understanding of both educational needs and logistical realities to the task. If you see her, tell her thank you again from us all.

Our guest educator this year was Kim Newcomb, and whoever had the idea to invite her also needs to feel pleased with themselves. Kim is not only highly skilled as a singer (most famous at the moment for being a reigning Sweet Adelines International quartet champion), she is also a professional educator, and, it turns out, profoundly encouraging as a human being. One has the sense that she has always been nice, but she has also developed a deep moral commitment to being kind and supportive that underpins her praxis.

Thoughts on Belonging: an Addendum

My three recent posts about belonging, and specifically the experience of feeling disconnected at a belonging-inducing event (and also sometimes being rescued from that state), have produced far more response than my posts normally get. Much of the ensuing discussion took place either in Facebook threads or in private messages rather than in the comments on the post itself, so I thought it might be useful to reflect some of the points in a follow-up post to share the extra insight they generated.

There was a fair bit of sharing of good practice, much of which resonated with the approaches Daniel Coyle makes in The Culture Code. A useful comparison was with making things accessible for people with disability: rather than focusing on the needs of specific individuals, you aim to make your building/institution/process accessible to everyone.

How to Practise when you Haven’t got any Time

Tl;dr for the time-poor

  • Listen to the music whenever you might normally have the radio on
  • Look at the music whenever you might normally read the newspaper
  • Sing in the shower

I recently started a conversation in the Barbershop Chorus Directors Facebook group, in the belief (correct, it turned out) that there would be a lot of wisdom collected there on this subject. Some choirs work on the principle that you can just rock up whenever you can make it and everyone will learn the music together in rehearsal. But many, particularly those that aspire to more (and more complex) repertoire than you can handle in that scenario, expect their members to do a lot of the groundwork in learning notes and words at home between rehearsals.

Thoughts on Belonging, Part 3

In my previous post on this subject, we arrived at a clearer understanding of when someone attending an event is most at risk of not experiencing the sense of belonging events usually aspire to offer, and of feeling isolated and left out instead. Before we move onto the practical strategies we can develop to minimise the chance of this happening, it may be worth reflecting on what’s going on when someone is heading into that state but is rescued from it and ends up feeling like part of the community after all.

I use the word ‘rescued’ because that it a word I’ve heard people use to describe what this felt like. And it aptly describes how I have felt in such situations too. And that itself says something about how quietly desperate the feeling is when you feel alone in a situation where everyone else seems to feel connected.

The tales of these experiences I have heard have a few traits in common:

Thoughts on Belonging, Part 2

In my previous post I reflected on the problematics of creating a sense of belonging at events. Why do some people sometimes feel horribly left out at an occasion when most people are feeling happily connected? What can we do, when organising events, to make that less likely to happen?

Finding some common patterns in my own and friends’ experiences of alienation (Scenario 2 experiences as classified in my last post) seems like the best place to start to increase our understanding of what’s going on. I’m intending to anonymise both the sources of these tales, and the events at which they took place, which risks making it all rather abstract. Of course, I’ll know the details of what I’m inducing from, so I’ll be able to learn effectively from the experience. I just hope I can present it in a way that isn’t too unhelpfully vague for everyone else!

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