Learning

Tuning in to BABS Directors Academy

Jay's selfie captures to joy in the roomJay's selfie captures to joy in the room

The weekend saw the first in-person BABS Directors Academy since 2020 (and my first since 2019, as I missed the last one). We had Dr Jay Dougherty as our guest educator, who brings with him a deep and abiding understanding of the barbershop style along with higher degrees and HE teaching experience in choral conducting. He is probably most known in the barbershop world for having taken over Joe Liles’s ‘Tune it or Die’ course at Harmony University, which he has made his own by drawing on research undertaken in his doctoral studies. He led front and centre with this material, dedicating three consecutive sessions on Saturday to it.

Top Tips for the Older Voice

Today’s title is the subject line of an email I received recently from LABBS Chair, Natalie Feddon. She had been out and about visiting choruses, as is her wont, and had met with a group of ladies whose average age is a shade over 80, and asked me on their behalf if I had any technical advice for their singers, with an eye also to supporting the many other association members round the country who are singing joyfully into their later years.

So, the first and most important thing, they are already doing: keep singing! Singing is like any other skill: the best way to maintain it is to use it regularly. That said, both physical and cognitive capacities do become more fragile with advancing years, so things we once took for granted might over time need a little more care.

So, I’ll start with a general principle, and then make some specific practical suggestions.

An Anatomy of Errors

One of my favourite phrases when rehearsing or coaching is ‘if nobody is making mistakes, nobody is learning’. Of course, it’s not the making of mistakes per se that constitutes the learning process, it’s the process of putting them right. Another phrase I over-use is ‘self-correction is my favourite sound in rehearsal’.

Anyhow, as I have mentioned periodically, I’m practising the piano regularly these days for the first time in years (decades) and as such am making a shed-load of mistakes of my own. They fall into a number of discrete and identifiable categories, and it would help my learning to enumerate them. And as this blog is where I do my learning in public, you can join in. You may recognise some as ones you make, or perhaps you make other, different types that I should aspire to.

(Another over-used phrase: ‘The goal is to avoid making the same old mistakes, but to strive to make new, more interesting ones.’)

New Technical Term: Canute Passages

There are those who attempt to make music theory into a fully-rational and systematic endeavour, but those of use working at the sharp end of music-making* know that it is messier than that. Yes, you can organise a lot of it into logical patterns that help you generalise and draw inferences, but a lot of music theory is about finding ways to identify and make sense of stuff that happens in real life.

So, from the Concrete-Experiential school of music theory that brought you the Icicle 7th (Karri Quan), the Phnert (Lori Lyford) and Swooshythroughiness (me), I bring you the concept of Canute passages.

On Milestones and Skill Level

I noticed as I entered my most recent arrangement into my master list spreadsheet that the one I’m working on next will be the 250th row. I’d not been consciously counting charts, not least because it’s always a little ambiguous which ones to count. My master list doesn’t include some of my earliest efforts, nor a handful of throw-away pieces done for specific occasions (though it does include others throw-aways, such as the ones NoteOrious sang on Radio 1). And of course it doesn’t mention all the ones I started and never got round to finishing. But it does include quite a few that I don’t make available for various reasons (copyright complications, or simply that I don’t like them any more.)

But anyway, now that I’ve noticed the milestone, it sounds like quite a big number. I guess that’s what happens when you keep doing something for a lot of years.

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!)

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