Coaching

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.

Strictly/Frisson Double-Bill

Warm-up pic snapped at a particularly invigorating momentWarm-up pic snapped at a particularly invigorating moment

Last Thursday evening saw me coaching Strictly A Cappella, having spent the afternoon coaching Frisson quartet. Both ensembles are preparing for a concert coming up next week – and if you think the timing of the coaching is surprisingly close to the performance, you’d be right. Our plan had been to work together the week before, but Covid had other ideas.

Still, when you are working that close to a performance you get a very distinctive kind of energy and impetus to the experience. With both groups we romped through far more music than you would when digging deep at an earlier stage of preparation, with all attention focused on how to enhance the impact of music that is already essentially well under control.

LABBS Directors Day: Reflections on the Coaching Model

Rita Hulands has a genius for capturing pics of people immersed in what they're doingRita Hulands has a genius for capturing pics of people immersed in what they're doing

One of the features of last weekend’s Directors Day was hands-on practical work for all delegates. Faculty-led classes are a useful part of director training, but for skills-based learning you actually need to do the thing to get better at it. I had actually lined the model we used up to deliver in 2020, but we didn’t get to use it then. But it was ideal for our needs in 2022, as it all about connecting ear to gesture – that central driver of effective conducting that had been absent through the Zoom era.

The faculty met together the night before to do our own practical work. This doubles as both our opportunity to experience some input on our own directing before spending the main event helping everyone else, and the chance to work through the model so we’re all confident to deliver it to others.

More Director Coaching with Welwyn Harmony

All warm-ups should have a big mirror to help you get more people in the picAll warm-ups should have a big mirror to help you get more people in the pic

On Tuesday I was back with my friends in Welwyn to continue supporting their director development plan. This time I spent a good chunk of the evening working with each of their two Assistant MDs as well as doing some more work on their contest ballad with their front-line director. I do like teaching models that give people the chance to both do the thing and observe others doing it; the combination of direct experience and having the space to observe the effects of changes seems to help people acquire skills more efficiently than either in isolation.

Some of our work was refining technique: stabilising stance to make less of a moving target, connecting gesture level to the seat of the breath (or the ‘yo-ho-ho’ region to refer back to a pirate-themed warm-up exercise). Becoming more purposeful about the role of the non-dominant hand was a useful development for both AMDs: by giving it less to do as default, and only using it (either as momentary mirror to the dominant hand or to do something different) when you have a particular musical reason drastically increases your expressive range. As I say about writing: some days you measure progress in how much you write, some days in how much you delete.

Harmonic Explorations with Amersham A Cappella

AACfeb22

I spent a happy Tuesday evening with my friends at Amersham A Cappella, working on the music they are preparing to compete with at the European Barbershop Convention in Helsingborg in May. It was probably the closest to a ‘normal’ experience I’d had this side of the pandemic. Aside from the open door for ventilation, and the need to wear a mic so those unable to be there in person could watch via livestream, it felt just like old times.

Familiar faces helped this feeling of course – we have a long-standing relationship that made it easy to slot straight back into the kind of work we do together. And the nature of the work – diving deep into musical detail - slotted us back into a familiar context of how the major contest of events of the barbershop world organise the experience of their participants over the course of months.

Chorus and Director Coaching with Welwyn Harmony

Warm-up pic: with coats, as the room is well-ventilated and it's January!Warm-up pic: with coats, as the room is well-ventilated and it's January!

Tuesday evening took me to Welwyn Garden City for the first of a series of sessions with Welwyn Harmony working with the chorus and their directing team together. There are all kinds of reasons why this kind of combined approach is useful, beyond the fact that both areas of focus are of value in themselves.

As a learning experience, a double focus gives both director and singers space to digest things, to work with a new idea or technique for a while without direct scrutiny. You actually get more total learning in this way: people are going to need some time to absorb and integrate the input anyway, so you can spend some of that processing time offering input to someone else, who will then have space to do their own processing when you switch focus back.

And seeing other people learn things is itself a powerful learning experience. It’s why putting two quartets in with one coach is a successful model, and why I like to do individual voice coaching with my chorus with two singers at a time. What you learn from doing can be different from what you learn by seeing and hearing others do.

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