June 2012

LABBS Quartet Prelims

And at the end of the day, the draw for ConventionAnd at the end of the day, the draw for ConventionOn Saturday, the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers came to the Streetly Academy in north Birmingham to hold their preliminary contest round for quartets wishing to compete at the annual convention in the autumn. The really useful dimension of this event is not so much the competitive element (LABBS has not historically had so many quartets that we always need an elimination round for scheduling/logistical purposes), but its educational dimension.

Where Do I Start?

Every musician has to make this decision when they start a new piece of repertoire: in what order should I learn this? But it always feels like it matters more when you’re a making the decision on behalf of an entire ensemble: what approach will help the performers learn grasp it with most efficiency, security and confidence?

If you make a poor choice of strategy in your private practice, it’s only your own time and emotional energy you’re wasting. If you take a sub-optimal course of action leading an ensemble, not only are the wasted person-hours multiplied up, but you may create obstacles to your musicians ever really bonding with the piece. (No pressure.)

Boudica's Daughters

iceniphysMonday evening took me back to Essex for a repeat visit to Chorus Iceni in Colchester. I last saw them at the end of April, which is a long enough interval for them to have done a good deal of consolidation, yet short enough for me to have a clear memory of the level we were working at then. As a result, it was a delight to be able to tell them that I could really hear the difference they had made during the intervening rehearsals.

Two things in particular had clearly received attention since my last visit. The first was bubbling: not only was there a much greater continuity of airflow now, but everyone got on and undertook it with a sense of purpose. It is now an accepted part of the skill set rather than perceived as a difficult (and thus resisted) task. The second is that there is a noticeably more consistent sense of legato than before; given the benefits of bubbling, this is possibly not a coincidence.

On Conductor Stillness

In stand-up comedy, there are two schools of thought about the use of the stage. One is that you should keep moving as that forces people into maintaining attention - they can't drift off because they won't know exactly where you'll be when they look up again. The other is that you should stand still, as that is a position of power on the stage.

In conducting, there's only really one school of thought. Everyone agrees that getting rid of extraneous movement is the ideal, although every over-active conductor also remarks how hard this is to achieve.

Choir Recruitment: Organic or Factory-Farmed?

The email I mentioned in a recent post that asked about how to manage the distribution of resources to potential members who have not yet committed to join a choir also included another good question in a p.s:

Another issue is whether to grow a chorus organically or via open days... should there be a set quota, are open days good or bad ideas where you get an influx of new people who may or may not stay in the long run - have you wasted a precious rehearsal?

(By the way, the metaphor of factory farming in my title simply came out from the phrasing about 'organic' growth in the question. I don't really think that open days are comparable to keeping chickens in cages.)

Cheshire Chord Company

CCCSunday saw me up in Warrington to work with the Cheshire Chord Company. Our primary task was getting inside a new ballad they are learning.* It is a relatively recent arrangement by David Wright, and is chock full of the kind of harmonic twists and turns he uses to turn the purposely limited chord vocabulary of the barbershop style to surprising and original effect.

It was clear that there was more in the music than we were going to be able to explore in only one day – but then isn’t always the case? – so the goal developed into a kind of double vision: to use the work on this specific music as a way to learn about the kinds of things it is possible to find, so that the chorus had methods they could continue to use on the parts of the song we didn’t have time to examine in detail. And, indeed, on entirely different songs.

More Skype Coaching

Cleftomania on the small screenCleftomania on the small screenSince my post back in February about working with the quartet Cleftomania in Portugal using Skype, I have continued to have regular sessions with them - about once a fortnight up until the Spanish Association of Barbershop Singers convention in April, and once a month since then. As the initial shock to the system of the new medium has receded, and we have slipped into a sense of routine, I have started to notice some rather more subtle idiosyncrasies of the experience and their effect on what we do and how we do it.

Judy Pozsgay on the Integration of Voice and Movement

Sunday morning's workshop at the recent Sweet Adelines Region 31 Convention developed on from Sandy Marron's work on the vocal instrument to an exploration with Judy Pozsgay on how to effectively combine the voice with bodily movement. It's an interesting contradiction that, while there is a fertile theme in mainstream choral pedagogy around the use of gesture to facilitate vocal and musical skills in rehearsal, it is also a truism in more formally choreographed choral traditions such as barbershop that 'the singing goes as soon as the moves go on'.

Judy's approach is designed both to integrate the body so it is working as a unit rather than a set of atomised parts, and thus also to integrate the voice with bodily movement. The idea that the body needs to be integrated both for grace/ease of motion and effective vocal support is hardly controversial of course, but knowing that it is so and actually doing it are not the same thing. (I am reminded of Steve Jamison's comment that 'understanding is the booby prize'.)

Fauré into Lichfield

Wednesday evening saw me return to my friends the Lichfield Singers for a bespoke workshop on the theme of choral musicianship, with a particular focus on the Fauré Requiem, which they will be performing at their concert at the end of June. It was a good point in the rehearsal process to visit, as the singers were familiar enough with the music to have some spare attention beyond the sheer nuts and bolts of it, but were at that point where developing a clearer idea of the hows and whys of it all would help embed the music more securely.

We based the workshop around the three movements that they had identified as most needing attention, and drew out several themes that generalised across all three and indeed throughout the whole work.

'Prog Barb' in Southport

MIBLast weekend saw BABS heading to Southport for their 38th annual Convention under gloriously sunny skies.

The big story of the weekend was the presence of International silver medallists, the Musical Island Boys not only as visiting performers, but also as competitors. They had been unable to participate as planned in the Pan-Pacific convention earlier this year, and so the BHS had agreed to let them use the BABS contest as the occasion at which to compete for a qualifying score for the International Convention in Portland in July.

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