Rehearsing

Zoning in on Experiential States

zones

It’s many years now since I first wrote about the different zones of experience, and I recently had cause to explore these ideas with The Telfordaires’ Music Team. We are preparing to welcome a group of relative novices to join us for a 6-week Learn to Sing in Harmony Course, and this model was a really useful way to frame the way we look after our visitors.

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.

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.

The Performer’s Inner Family

bodykeepsthescoreI’ve recently finished reading The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk. Its primary focus is the treatment of trauma, a specialised pursuit that has no direct relevance to my personal or professional lives. But in the process of explaining the difficulties experienced by people who have been damaged by shock, tragedy or abuse, he gives many and varied insights into how our internal landscapes - our memories, our sense of self - work.

One chapter particularly resonated with an experience of musicianship I have observed in both others and myself and called out for some reflection. Chapter 17 deals with a form of treatment called Internal Family Systems therapy, and is predicated on the idea that the self isn’t a single, unitary entity, but rather a mosaic of different parts.

More on Breath

In my last post I considered one specific way that James Nestor’s book Breath has got me rethinking how I train singers (and indeed, how I sing myself), today I will romp through a number of his other points that suggest our craft’s claim to healthfulness is more well-founded.

  1. Exhale. Many of us, Nestor contends, spend much of our lives breathing in shallowly on top of air that we’ve not fully exhaled. Emptying the lungs thoroughly between breaths gives us better gas exchange in the lungs (and thus better blood chemistry and thence better-functioning organs).

    Anyone I have directed, and many I have coached will know that I recommend people exhale completely before taking their first breath to sing. As a conductor I exhale too, and so can feel the natural timing for the coordinated intake to start singing. I observe that people who empty their lungs prior to singing take more deep-set, relaxed breaths and thus produce a more resonant tone. They also find it easier to sing complete phrases.

Remediation vs Growth

While we’re thinking about balance, here is another example of dynamically-connected opposites we need to keep in equilibrium in the rehearsal process. To what extent should we be focused on remedial work, fixing problems, correcting technique, bringing people up to the standards we currently expect, and to what extent should we be stretching them into new areas of skill development and artistic ambition?

This is a perennial question for the choral director – it brings to mind Jim Clancy’s ‘type 1 and type 2’ rehearsing, but it is particularly salient now as people are gradually returning to live rehearsing after, in some cases, nearly 18 months of no rehearsing, or only being able to meet online. A lot of choirs find themselves out of practice in various ways; there’s a lot more remediation to be done than usual.

In these circumstances, the instinct is to focus on the basics. We need to get the voices connected back with the bodies and the breath, we need to retrain the ears to connect with the rest of the sound and the eyes to connect with conductor gesture. (And, indeed, the conductor needs to get their hands and ears connected back up to make that gesture effective again.)

Humour in Rehearsals: Analysing the Prequel

VHUlogo

I’m Liz, and my tragic flaw is that I can’t walk past a cheap joke.

This is how I introduced myself at the start of my session on ‘Humour in Rehearsals: A How-to Guide’ for the Barbershop Harmony Society’s Virtual Harmony University on Saturday. In fact, I had – only minutes before – transcended my tragic flaw to walk past a cheap joke, and it occurred to me afterwards that the one that got away would be quite a good case study for discussing one of the questions that came up in the session.

(Before we go any further, just to manage your expectations about how much this post might make you laugh: probably not much. Jokes are like frogs: once you cut them open on the dissecting table they tend to die.)

...found this helpful?

I provide this content free of charge, because I like to be helpful. If you have found it useful, you may wish to make a donation to the causes I support to say thank you.


Archive by date

Syndicate content Syndicate content