July 2011

Developing the Deputy

I had an email recently from some who is currently the assistant musical director of her chorus, asking about how people in her position should best go about developing themselves. She is already taking up opportunities to go to training events, but it was more a case of what happens in between – how does the front-line director develop their team? She finishes her mail:

Having said all that, I do think that some sort of guide for MDs on how to develop their section leaders/assistant MDs would be a useful document. As you know, being able to direct doesn't necessarily mean that you know how to 'teach' directors.

On Tune-Up Chords

tune-upI had an email from my friend Annie from Bristol Fashion last week with one of those questions that looks at first like a small, specific question, but actually opens up to not a quick a answer when you start to look at it. She said:

Why don't choruses use a two note tune up at the beginning of a song? It's done in most 4tet's, so is it frowned on in barbershop circles/competition for a chorus to do it, if so, why? If it means that the first chord is true and sets the rest of the song up then isn't that a plus?

So, there are several things to talk about here: (a) what is a tune-up, and what is it for? (b) is it to be approved of or frowned upon? (c) what’s with the difference between chorus and quartet?


The Spooky Men's Chorale in performance at the end of the workshopThe Spooky Men's Chorale in performance at the end of the workshop
I spent last Saturday morning at a workshop by the Spooky Men’s Chorale entitled ‘Sing Like a Bloke’. It was hosted by Sounds Allowed, and had been preceded the night before by a concert (which I’d missed through trying to book tickets after it had already sold out). Birmingham was the first stop in a tour of the UK, which continues right through into September.

As it turned out, the gender implications of the workshop’s title didn’t play a major part. It was more a case of learning to sing in the style that this particular set of people, who happen to be blokes, do. This style draws heavily on the vocal production of the Georgian choral tradition; indeed apparently they referred to themselves as ‘post-Georgian’ in the concert, which opened up all kinds of interesting conversations about being post-a place. I think I may take to being post-English on the same principle.

The 5-30 Practice Programme: The Results, Part 2

On Sunday I reported on how the participants in the June singing practice experiment wrote about their experience of maintaining the habit of five minutes singing practice a day.

Feedback on the effects of the practice regime

By definition there’s less of this, since only those who did much practice were able to feed back on it.

The headline result is that, yes, five minutes a day does seem to make a difference. And the difference is discernible after a week. One respondent who fell by the wayside towards the end of week 2 reported that she was ‘starting to think it was all very helpful’ at the end of the first week. Another noted at the 1-week mark that she:

Noticed at rehearsal that I'd retained odds and ends we worked on the week before (correcting notes, where to breathe etc) because I'd practised it several times. I felt quite virtuous!

The 5-30 Practice Programme: The Results, Part 1

So, here are the outcomes from the reports sent in by participants in June’s singing practice experiment. There are a few notable (and gratifying!) overlaps with my predictions, but also some interesting things I wouldn’t have guessed. Which is why it is worth asking people about their experience of course - so as not to fall down the hole between theory and real life!

The first striking thing was actually how few people did send in reports. I don’t think this was because nobody knew about it. For one thing my website stats reassure me that people are at least visiting the site in some numbers, and 154 of those visits were straight to one or other of the two posts about the experiment. For another, I had quite a few people tell me that they were forwarding the links to other people they sang with. This latter point also suggests that at least some people thought the idea worth engaging with.

The Magnets at the MAC

A cappella group the Magnets performed at the Midlands Arts Centre on Friday night in a show in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust. I hadn’t heard them since 2002 or so, and was surprised to recognise many of the faces – apparently they’ve only had one permanent change of line-up in all that time (though they have had one temporary dep recently to cover a paternity leave).

It was an entertaining evening. All the singers create an easy and personably rapport with their audience from the opening, giving you the feeling you are being sung to, not just performed at. The show was also very well crafted, with a pleasing variety of pace, mood and visual impact. Each half of the show built to and away from a major focal point – the beat-box solo in the first half, an A-Z compilation for a game of name-that-band in the second – with fluent transitions throughout. It was striking how little talking they did (note: they didn’t need the padding to fill the programme) and that the few spoken interludes were well-placed and efficient.

The 5-30 Practice Programme: My Predictions

This is a post I wrote at the start of June to record in advance what I expected participants to experience. I am publishing it on the day I start analysing results so that everyone who has reported can see just how right or wrong they think my predictions are before I do!

Five minutes is not a significant amount of practice time (polite British understatement there). For context, when I was six years old, I was doing 15 minutes piano practice per day. Of course, when I was six, I had the benefit of a mother who would sit me down and make sure I did the practice. (I still have a mother, but she expects me to be a bit more independent these days.)

So, in answer to my fundamental question of ‘How much difference does ‘just a few minutes’ a day actually make?’, here is what I expect us to discover:

Interruption of service...

Quick apology to regular blog readers for the absence of yesterday's post. I am just recovering from a 48-hour loss of internet connection. All is fixed now, but I'm all booked up over the weekend so will not be posting again until Monday.

Thanks for your patience, and have a nice weekend!

The 5-30 Practice Programme: Time to Report

Quick reminder to those who have been participating in June’s singing practice experiment: please let me have your feedback on how it has gone for you.

What you need to send in are three things:

  1. A list of days you did/did not actually do the practice routine
  2. Your notes from the end of each week on how you found it as you went through
  3. Your final notes on the overall experience

Having said that, if you don’t have all of those, just send in what you do have.

Welwyn Well in Harmony

I had a fun evening on Tuesday coaching Welwyn Harmony. Earlier in the year they had commissioned an arrangement from me of ‘When I Fall in Love’, and part of our agenda on Tuesday was to work on this. I never lose the thrill of the first time I hear an arrangement sung – it’s like being in two places at once to hear something that used to just exist inside my head becoming physically audible!

And of course the possibility that I might be asked to coach a group I’ve arranged for is an important force to keep me honest as an arranger. It’s so easy, when you’re sitting at home by yourself to think, ‘Well it’s a bit awkward, but I’m sure the baritones will manage it.’ But if you know you’re going to have to face them, and indeed help them round the obstacle course you’ve constructed for them, it’s a great motivation to make the effort to make the lines singable.

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