On Phrase-end Swipes

swipeSo, this is a fairly niche post. Not only are barbershop arrangers a reasonably niche interest group at the best of times, but to talk about one particular type of embellishment, in one particular point of the musical structure, is getting pretty specialised. But this post actually grew out of a conversation with a performer about issues they were having with a particular piece of music, so it matters. If in a rather niche way.*

For those dropping in from other musical traditions: the swipe is what we call it in barbershop where the chord changes within a held syllable. This may entail the lead holding a melody note while the other three parts change notes, or it may involve all four parts changing at once. In the latter case, the lead is often switching role from melodic focus to part of the harmonic background in the process, so these ones require rather more sophistication to bring off.

Time Management, Brain Management

intelligenceI was having an online conversation with some choral directors recently in which we were grappling with the perennial issue of how to fit in preparation of music. In particular, the issue was the prep needed for special events above and beyond your regular musical activities. The person who started the conversation is going to two training events over the summer that each require prior learning of music and was finding herself in a state of some overwhelm trying to fit this in around an already busy schedule.

This is in a music-specific version of the classic workflow issue of how you accommodate projects within a role that is already full-time. By their nature, projects are relatively short-term commitments that start, go through a period of focused activity, and then finish. So they demand considerable inputs of time and attention, but since they are inherently temporary, you rarely have that kind of time and attention going spare in your capacity. Take on two at once and you get a real bottle-neck.

Learning with Lemov: No Opt Out

One of the first techniques Doug Lemov introduces in his collection of classroom methods is the principle of No Opt Out - the notion that students don’t get to choose whether or not to participate, or indeed whether or not to succeed. It is interesting to consider, both because of the way it typifies his approach of finding practical ways to structure classroom interactions so as to embody a fundamental set of values, and therefore also as a case study for adaptation to the choral rehearsal. The specific form(s) of the interaction will change, but we can still find concrete, actionable steps to embody the principle.

So, the way this plays out in the classroom is as follows. The teacher asks a student a question. If they answer correctly, fine, carry on. If they struggle to answer, or try to slide out of trying to answer by saying ‘I don’t know’, the teacher finds a way to help them out of the impasse, but makes sure the interaction ends up with the student stating the right answer.

Values and Skills Audits with Bristol Fashion

BFjun15Over the last couple of weeks I have been helping Bristol Fashion with a similar kind of review/audit process that I undertook with Hallmark of Harmony back in March. As with that exercise, I am not going to share the detail of what the review produced here - as that is for the chorus use - but I would like to reflect somewhat on the process.

The review with Bristol Fashion worked as a two-stage process. It started off with a visit to observe their Music Team in action on a regular rehearsal night, which produced a report that identified things that are working well (i.e. to make sure they keep doing them!) and areas that can be developed as individuals and as a team.

This was followed, two weeks later, by a second visit in which I facilitated a values- and goal-setting exercise with the whole chorus. The aim of this was for the singers to articulate to each other the things that matter the most to them about their musical life together, and to generate concrete actions that each individual could undertake to enhance their shared experience.

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