Coaching

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.

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.

Coaching Conductorless Rubato

The main benefit of online coaching: good screenshots of people laughingThe main benefit of online coaching: good screenshots of people laughing

I spent a rewarding afternoon on Thursday with a quartet who had contacted me for advice about how to manage rubato in an ensemble without a conductor. They formed from within a choir they all sing in so are accustomed to using the visual signals from their musical director to coordinate them, and were finding the lack of this external guide one of the major challenges of singing in quartet, especially in music that isn’t strictly in rhythm.

We split the process into two distinct stages: how to rehearse, and how to perform. The former is where the group develops a shared understanding of musical shape and a shared awareness of each other in the ensemble. The latter needs a repertoire of interpersonal cues to transfer those understandings into the performance situation.

Exploring Arrangement Choices with Amersham A Cappella

A topically sports-themed warm-upA topically sports-themed warm-up

Tuesday evening took me back to coach my friends at Amersham A Cappella on some of the new songs they’re working on. They seem to be in a particularly up-for-it and life-affirming mood right now in their repertoire choices, with anthems from Erasure and Aretha Franklin on the go as well as an exuberant number I arranged some years ago for Finesse quartet.

A recurrent theme of the evening was exploring the impact of who the music was arranged for on the arrangement choices. A fair number of the chorus had known Finesse, either in terms of hearing them perform, or knowing the individual singers personally. So it was useful for them to know that this was one of those charts where I’d been thinking not of the tenor, lead, bari and bass lines, but of the Helen, Beth, Tanya and Nicky lines. Handing round the melody wasn’t just a matter of seeing where the range fit best, but also of thinking about the personality and vocal colour of those individuals.

Getting Connected with Main Street Sound

MainStSoundJun22

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!

Next Step of the Journey with Welwyn Harmony

Same warm-up location, now with more peopleSame warm-up location, now with more people

There are many nice things about repeat visits to a group over a relatively short time frame. You get to build relationships, developing trust and mutual understanding, both of which facilitate productive work together. And you also get to see progress.

Three months on from my last visit,Welwyn Harmony feels perceptibly stronger. They’ve not had an entirely easy ride of things in the interim – the back end of the Omicron wave was quite disruptive for them – but there were noticeably more people in the room than earlier in the year. Some are returning members, some are new, and both bring a sense of energy to the whole chorus that is audible in the voices.

Introducing the Vocal Freedom Project

VFPlogoToday tickets have gone on sale for the first of what will probably become a series of workshops called the Vocal Freedom Project. We’ve got quite detailed info about the VFP’s rationale and aims over on the project page, but I thought it might also be useful to give a little background into its genesis.

The project was born in a conversation back in early December with my friend Myra, who sang with me in Magenta for ten years. I can’t remember exactly how she phrased her expression of her need to sing, but she crystallized a lot of the observations I had been making over the months since live singing had restarted in the UK about what the lockdown experience had done to people’s voices.

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