February 2022

More Director Coaching with Welwyn Harmony

All warm-ups should have a big mirror to help you get more people in the picAll warm-ups should have a big mirror to help you get more people in the pic

On Tuesday I was back with my friends in Welwyn to continue supporting their director development plan. This time I spent a good chunk of the evening working with each of their two Assistant MDs as well as doing some more work on their contest ballad with their front-line director. I do like teaching models that give people the chance to both do the thing and observe others doing it; the combination of direct experience and having the space to observe the effects of changes seems to help people acquire skills more efficiently than either in isolation.

Some of our work was refining technique: stabilising stance to make less of a moving target, connecting gesture level to the seat of the breath (or the ‘yo-ho-ho’ region to refer back to a pirate-themed warm-up exercise). Becoming more purposeful about the role of the non-dominant hand was a useful development for both AMDs: by giving it less to do as default, and only using it (either as momentary mirror to the dominant hand or to do something different) when you have a particular musical reason drastically increases your expressive range. As I say about writing: some days you measure progress in how much you write, some days in how much you delete.

Harmonic Explorations with Amersham A Cappella


I spent a happy Tuesday evening with my friends at Amersham A Cappella, working on the music they are preparing to compete with at the European Barbershop Convention in Helsingborg in May. It was probably the closest to a ‘normal’ experience I’d had this side of the pandemic. Aside from the open door for ventilation, and the need to wear a mic so those unable to be there in person could watch via livestream, it felt just like old times.

Familiar faces helped this feeling of course – we have a long-standing relationship that made it easy to slot straight back into the kind of work we do together. And the nature of the work – diving deep into musical detail - slotted us back into a familiar context of how the major contest of events of the barbershop world organise the experience of their participants over the course of months.

On Arranging for Female Voices, Part 2: Vocal Behaviour

In my previous post about the differences in arranging for male and female voicings, I reflected on how little opportunity you get for genuinely tight voicings for ensembles working in lower registers. One of the things that brought this into focus for me recently was a conversation about a specific arrangement written in the women’s key, explaining why I didn’t feel it would work transposed down for a men’s group. The closely-voiced chords that bring spritz and joy in the higher register would become cloudy and unclear lower down.

Today’s subject has also provided a reason to decline to transpose particular arrangements down for men, though I’ve tended to remain somewhat veiled in my explanations for the decision. ‘It wouldn’t work well in the lower key’ is a kinder thing to say than, ‘I don’t think men will be able to sing that’.

So, what is it that I doubt men’s capacities to perform effectively? And why do I harbour that doubt?

On Arranging for Female Voices

There have been a number of productive conversations recently in the Barbershop Arrangers’ Facebook group about arranging for women’s voices, and why you can’t just transpose an arrangement for men up a 4th or a 5th and expect it to sound good. We can thank Amanda Nance for starting us off, and a good number of my fellow female arrangers have piled in sharing best practice.

Examples of things to consider have included: voicing the chords more tightly than you would for men, keeping the bari line below the lead more than above it, and care of tessitura, in particular not keeping tenors in the upper part of the range all the time, and ditto for the lower 3rd of the basses’ range. Just summarising these here so that when the detail of the discussions have been buried under the weight of subsequent threads, I’ve got a record of the key things shared at the time.

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