September 2011

Jackie Roxborourgh on Types of Choir

Another session from August’s ABCD Convention that deserves individual comment is Jackie Roxborourgh’s session on community choirs. Jackie works in the world of natural voice practitioners, and so probably spends a lot time helping the people ABCD delegates were referring to as the ‘generation lost to singing’.

One of the (many) things I liked about her approach is that her focus is in helping people over the obstacles they have had with singing, whether that be childhood discouragement or exclusion in adulthood due to a lack of music literacy. So she sees it as a badge of success when people move on into other choirs – such a refreshing difference in attitude from the hoarding of members and jealousy if they ‘defect’ that you so often see.

Anyway, part of her discussion involved a compare/contrast exercise of the ‘traditional’ choir versus the ‘community’ choir.

Happy Birthday to Magenta

Magenta at MozFest, July 2011Magenta at MozFest, July 2011Tomorrow, my choir will be five years old. I will do my best not to be too self-indulgent in this moment of celebration, but anyone who has ever started anything from scratch will understand that combination of astonishment and gratitude that arises from the discovery that other people are not just willing, but happy to join in your project and make it happen.

I shouldn’t be surprised of course. People like to sing; choirs are popping up all the time. But this was the first time it was my fault the choir existed. Scary.

Singing Out for Cancer Relief

Marie Curie Cancer Care asked me to help publicise their Sing Out campaign. They’re asking singing groups, whether regularly constituted or put together specially for the occasion, to help them in their fund-raising with a carol-singing event during November or December.

They also have a carol specially-written by Alan Bullard available for sale, with a proportion of proceeds going to the charity.

Re-visiting Fascinating Rhythm

fascrhysep11Saturday took me back to Bristol to work once again with my friends in Fascinating Rhythm. They are in the final lap of their preparation for LABBS Convention next month, and sounding considerably more solid and confident in their songs than back in May.

The challenge for a coaching session at this stage of the performance preparation process is how to make changes that are significant enough to be major enhancements without disrupting the security developed in the rehearsals so far. In terms of Kotter’s model of change, you need to unfreeze to transform, but you don’t want to unfreeze too much at this stage, when most of the rehearsal focus is on re-freezing – i.e. locking in the skills and performance decisions so they can be delivered consistently at will.

Eric Whitacre with the National Youth Choir of Great Britain

whitacreA session at last month’s ABCD Convention that deserves a post of its own was the one in which Eric Whitacre rehearsed the National Youth Choir of Great Britain in his new piece ‘Alleluia’, in anticipation of its performance in the Gala Concert that evening. Whitacre is a composer that a few years ago would have been described as ‘definitely flavour of the month’, but is now reaching the level of popularity that Kathy Sierra characterised as the ‘koolaid point’.

That is, he is sufficiently successful that you get people reacting against him, dismissing him as some combination of too groomed in his presentation, formulaic in composition, or just plain over-sung. While some people swoon at the thought of meeting him, others grumble that you have to look like a film star to be a composer these days. So, it was interesting to see him in action.

Arrangers’ Mutual Mentoring Scheme

It’s time to start the 3rd annual cycle of the Mutual Mentoring Scheme for Arrangers. For those who haven’t participated before (and indeed those who have but who want to refresh their memories of how it works) there’s an overview here.

For now, I just need to say two things.

Welwyn Once Again

welwynsep11On Tuesday evening I returned to work with Welwyn Harmony, whom I had last coached back in June. It was cheering to see that they had retained a lot of the things we had worked on last time, and indeed that they were generally singing with more freedom and resonance most of the time. Helpfully, they’d sent me some recordings from the previous two rehearsals, so I was able to plan not only specific areas for coaching, but also – since they had asked me to take a vocal warm-up – devise preparatory work to introduce some specific elements we would be working on.

The work was significantly more detailed this time than last, as befits a more developed phase in the rehearsal process. In June we were looking at big-picture dimensions of rhythmic characterisation, melodic behaviour and airflow. These themes arose again on Tuesday, but usually in focusing in on specific passages or moments, to integrate them into a broadly successful approach to the songs.

JaZZmine and Musical Meaning

JaZZmine and GeorginaJaZZmine and Georgina
I spent Saturday working with JaZZmine in preparation for the quartet contest at LABBS Convention next month. This will be their first contest as a quartet, though all four singers have considerable successful experience with previous ensembles. Their qualification for convention at the Prelims contest in June came two weeks after the arrival of Paula’s daughter, Georgina, by caesarean section. That they were able to participate at all under the circumstances is impressive, though they tell me it’s not a timing they’d necessarily recommend!

Can You Teach Someone to be Charismatic?

If you read a certain subset of the self-help literature, you’ll be assured that charisma is something that can be yours by using certain techniques, and that your life will be transformed as a result. On the other hand, you’ll also find many people telling you that charisma is something in-born – you either have it or you don’t, and if you have to ask, you’re clearly in the latter category.

So, which position is right?

Well, neither, really. They’ve both got some elements of truth to them, which is why both points of view survive so healthily – they each capture something that plausibly describes the world as we experience it. But neither tells the whole story.

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