Learning

On Trouble-shooting in Practice and Rehearsal

I mentioned a while back that I’ve been practising the piano regularly in 2022 for the first time in years. This has entailed a combination of reconnecting with past pianistic past skills gone rusty and developing skills in new ways that weren’t accessible to the younger me at previous stages in my musical journey.

It has also involved a parallel process of rediscovery and development in regard to the processes of practising. Last time I worked in any kind of structured way at the piano (as opposed to just playing the instrument every so often…and less and less often over the years…) I didn’t have the years of teaching and rehearsal experience I do now. So, I’m finding all kinds of interesting interchanges between my life helping others grow as musicians and my own efforts to re-establish some level of competence.

On Metaphors and Messing with People’s Heads

[On executing a vocable using the syllable ‘ha’ without making the tone breathy]

Don’t let the h invade the vowel. You want to keep the salt on the edge of the margharita glass, not put it into the drink.

The coaching process produces all kinds of metaphors for different aspects of musical performance, many of them emerging spontaneously from the needs of the moment. One of the things, I am told, that Amersham A Cappella appreciate about my coaching is the vividness and idiosyncrasy of some of the metaphors that pop out during the process. One of the things I appreciate about working with them is knowing that they’ll go with whatever wild imagery comes to hand: not needing to filter insights for sensibleness on the way gives an incredible sense of creative freedom.

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.

Helping People Back to Choir

VFPlogoI don’t know if there has been any attempt to gather data about the overall state of choral singing since covid, but all the anecdotal information I’m coming across suggests that choirs are mostly back up and going, but depleted. A few groups didn’t make it through and disbanded – not necessarily directly because of the pandemic, but the stresses of the situation brought underlying problems to breaking point. A few groups, meanwhile, have come back with increased numbers and are facing the enviable challenge of integrating a high proportion of new singers all at once.

Most, however, seem to be reporting a drop in numbers of about 30% from pre-covid levels. The first ones lost were those who opted out during the zoom era, either finding the whole online rehearsing thing presented too many obstacles for them, or dropping out after a while because they found the experience unsatisfactory. Some of these singers have come back on return to live singing, but not all.

Understanding Overwhelm

Before I start reflecting on my second barbershop Convention of the month, I’d like to share some of the thoughts I had while trying to understand the impact the first one had on me. Not having the stamina to do either as much listening or socialising as I would normally expect is quite easily explained by the phrase ‘out of practice’ – but what does this mean in this context? Why have activities that don’t require a huge amount of exertion become cognitively demanding?

According to Lisa Feldman Barrett, the process by which we handle input from our senses as we live in the world is one of prediction and verification. That is, we don’t just wait for sights and sounds to come in through our eyes and ears and then try to make sense of them, we carry round a model of how we understand the world to be, and just check the incoming sensory data against it to see if we were right. Most of the time it is: I turn my head and my coffee cup is still where I left it, and thus requires no new cognitive resources dedicated to it.

Overwhelmed to be Back at BABS Convention

Pic courtesy of BABS facebook feedPic courtesy of BABS facebook feedThis last weekend saw the first in-person barbershop Convention in the UK since before Covid. If the British Association of Barbershop Singers' Convention had fallen in its more usual spot in the calendar a month later, that honour would have fallen to Sweet Adelines Region 31, but that’s just how things worked out with public holidays this year.

Sing2022 was a smaller event than we have been used to in recent years. Both in terms of its duration – starting a bit later on the Friday, ending on the Sunday night rather than going into the Monday – and in terms of number of delegates. There were fewer competing choruses than usual, and many if not most of the choruses were visibly depleted in number since before the pandemic. This is a common experience amongst choirs across the country, not just barbershop, though people are starting to report a new uptick in interest as people feel more confident to go out do things again and are looking for new pastimes.

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.

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.

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