What Your Notation Program Will Reveal to You, and What it Will Hide

I am of a generation to have gone through my student years, and indeed the start of my lecturing career, before notation programs were the normal way to write music. (I also wrote all my undergraduate essays by hand. Astonishing to think that I used to have handwriting that other people could read. Sort of; there were some complaints.) It used to take a lot more time to produce a score and parts back then. Oh my, producing parts was painful...but then again spare a thought for those musicians who lived before the invention of the photocopier.

Anyway, using a notation program is not only faster and more legible than writing everything out by hand, it gives you a different relationship with material. In particular, playing back what you’ve just written is fundamentally different when it isn’t you at the piano but a device that is not only external to you (and so will play what you actually wrote, not what you thought you wrote), but guaranteed to play it accurately.

So I am eternally grateful for the helpful people who invented this tool.

Exploring New Music with Affinity Show Choir

Action warm-up pic!Action warm-up pic!

Thursday evening took me up to Stockport to have an initial session with Affinity Show Choir on two new arrangements they have commissioned from me for LABBS Convention this autumn. We have a date in the diary for a full day on them next month, but they wanted and initial undergrowth-clearing session before then to get the big-picture issues identified so they could come into that day prepared and ready.

We’d already had a productive dialogue about how the songs wanted shaping during the commissioning process, as it was this package that inspired my post To Recreate or Reimagine?. Their director Andrew and I had had quite a long phone conversation that involved singing bits to each other to discuss phrasing, then he had put together a guide track to inform the person making learning tracks for him, and run that past me before commissioning the tracks. As a result I went in knowing that they had been learning the music from materials that made sense of the intended musical world, so we could get straight into refining the fit between musical detail and their expressive personality as a chorus.

On Replacement Cycles

Many years ago, someone told me that the average time that a professional comedian keeps any particular joke in their act is 7 years. Soon after that I went to see Hattie Hayridge for the second time – 7 years after I had first seen her. I recognised one joke from the previous set, and on the basis of that believed the factoid about joke replacement cycles.

I suspect that this is something that happens organically, as the comedian juggles the need for freshness with the need for well-honed material that can be relied upon to land well with an audience. Many jokes will come in and fall out again without making it past the tryout at a new material act; others may go on forever if they keep giving.

Winchester A Cappella Coaching Day

Traditional warm-up shotTraditional warm-up shotI spent Saturday working with Winchester A Cappella chorus on the music they will be taking to the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers Convention in the autumn. The chorus welcomed a new director last year after a period of some upheaval, and now that the working relationships are getting nicely settled in they were ready for some external input.

The ballad they are learning is one I arranged for a quartet back in 2011 without intending it for barbershop contest use, but the way that the Barbershop Harmony Society has deliberately relaxed its approach to judging style in order to encourage new repertoire in the last 6 years or so has moved it from the category of ‘not really quite barbershoppy enough’ to ‘actually, this will be fine’. So it will unexpectedly bump up my tally of contest premieres come October.

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