The Kermit Principle

kermitElbows are not useful body-parts for the choral conductor. Or at least, they are not helpful if they assert their presence in the conducting process. Clearly, having a joint between shoulder and wrist is useful, not just for the choral conductor, but for any human being who wishes to do things like scratch their head or put on a cardigan.

But the moment the elbow starts to be perceptibly present - if it flaps or sticks out - it starts to spoil the choral sound. Conductors who have sticky-out elbows produce a sound that is shallow and unsupported, the upper parts shrill and the lower parts foggy.

Conversely, conductors whose arms operate as integrated units, a clean line from shoulder to fingertip, undistorted by the protrusion of intermediate joints, produce a clean, resonant sound, with all parts integrated into an undistorted sound.

Kodály Meets Barbershop

The Hayes Conference Centre: resplendent in the spring sunshineThe Hayes Conference Centre: resplendent in the spring sunshineEarlier this week I had the pleasure of delivering some sessions at the Britsh Kodály Academy’s Spring Course. I was there straddling my two worlds: delivering to singers and choral conductors from a largely classical barckground (several of whom I already knew, indeed, through the Association of British Choral Directors), but there as an expert in barbershop music.

My contributions included a lecture on the history and culture of barbershop - with the aim of helping people who had probably happened across the genre but knew little about the detail of either its craft or ethos make sense of what they heard - and two practical workshops on expanded sound. For these I stole Gage Averill’s rather wonderful turn of phrase ‘Romancing the Tone’ as my title, and focused on the lessons in practical acoustics and the kinaesthetic pleasures of harmony that barbershop has taught me and that I use with musicians from any and all backgrounds.

Musical Performance and Flow

flowThis article first appeared on Tom Metzger’s blog Owning The Stage back in January 2009. I am republishing it here because that site is currently offline - temporarily I hope, but in the meantime I’ll put this here so I can refer back to it, as I do periodically. I have left in the references to several of Tom’s posts as it was the dialogue between the two blogs that led this one to be written; should Owning The Stage come back on line, I’ll come back and add the appropriate links!

A ‘flow’ state is one where you are completely immersed in an activity, losing all sense of self-consciousness, with action and awareness completely merged. It’s what athletes mean when they say they are ‘in the zone’. We should care about it because it relates both to high levels of personal satisfaction in what we do and to the development of high-level skills. Happiness and expertise go hand in hand, it seems.

Please, No...

On the bright side, the debate has at least produced something of practical help to the musicianOn the bright side, the debate has at least produced something of practical help to the musicianLike others who blog, I was very torn about whether to comment on the recently-reported comments of Jorma Panula about female conductors. As one friend put it, 'Oh for God's sake. Why do the press even give these dinosaurs the publicity?' There is this fond hope that eventually we will outlive everyone who hangs onto these views and the world will be a more benign place, and in the meantime the kindest thing to do is just ignore them.

But the comments thread that ensued after the Artsjournal article suggests that this fond hope is but a delusion. I have a hunch that women of the 1930s were saying similar things about ageing Victorian relics even as misogyny was on the rise once again. So, sorry folks, but we're going to have to take a look at this. Not at Panula, who, frankly comes over as a caricature of himself, but at the arguments that emerged in the responses on the artsjournal report.

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