Bristol A Cappella

Assistant director James leading the warm-upAssistant director James leading the warm-up
Tuesday night took me back down to Bristol, this time to the heart of the University district, to work with a relatively new mixed group, Bristol A Cappella. I mention the university not because the chorus is particularly connected with it (though a handful of the members are), but because their rehearsal venue is within a very few minutes’ walking distance of two of my addresses from my student days. The journey there had that odd quality of deep familiarity and strangeness you get returning to places you used to know well but have not seen for a long time.

Anyway, once inside a building I had walked past hundreds of times but never previously entered, it became much more like any normal coaching visit, with a group of willing singers and the opportunity to mess with their heads.

In the event, the head I ended up messing with the most was their director’s. Iain Hallam had the personal courage and trust in his ensemble to put working on his technique firmly on the agenda as part of our work, and that turned out to be a most productive way in to helping his singers achieve more.

A Fascinating Rhythmic Widget

If you wonder why all my chorus pics are of warm-ups, that's the only time I have a moment to use the camera!If you wonder why all my chorus pics are of warm-ups, that's the only time I have a moment to use the camera!On Thursday I went down to Bristol for the first of two visits working with Fascinating Rhythm on music they are preparing for the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers Convention in the autumn. The main challenge for the song we were working on in this first visit was getting a handle on Latin rhythms. They were at that point where they felt they were finding their way into the musical world, but not with absolute confidence.

So, what they really needed was a sense of method. It was one thing to work on the rhythms there and then with them, but I wanted to leave them with a set of steps they could go through, both in individual practice, and at subsequent rehearsals, to reconstruct the process we had gone through and so be sure in their own minds that they were getting it right. For a convincing performance, everyone involved needs to know they can make the effect happen at will.

Creating a Charismatic Encounter: LABBS Directors Weekend, Part 2

Cause and Crisis


My last blog post for 2014 was about Facing Our Demons, which was eventually what became the central theme for the LABBS Directors Weekend in July. Looking back at it reminds me of how daunted I felt about putting that weekend together - it was the biggest and scariest thing in my Too-Hard Tray at that point.

Now, I’m not saying that the thought process behind making this the theme for the weekend was, ‘Well if I’m going to be terrified out of my wits I’m going to make sure that everyone else is too’ - though that thought did pass through my head at more than one point. But there was a definite and deliberate sense that I wanted everyone to extend themselves: to stretch beyond their comfort zone, to expand their boundaries. And that included both delegates and faculty.

Creating a Charismatic Encounter: LABBS Directors Weekend

Feeling the love: bestowing a hug and a box of Cadbury's Heros on our guestFeeling the love: bestowing a hug and a box of Cadbury's Heros on our guest


The weekend of 17-19 July was the culmination of my biggest project for 2015: planning and then leading a training weekend for the chorus directors of the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers. I didn’t do it all by myself - I had the support of the organisation’s fabulous events team, who managed all the logistics and communications with delegates, and of a glorious faculty drawn from LABBS’s most skilled and successful directors to help devise and deliver the curriculum. But, still, the project was my baby, and took up a lot of time and attention in the 6 months leading up to it.

Apologies if I sound smug at any point when talking about it. It is merely that I am immensely pleased by how it all went. The director education programme doesn’t get the budget for a big event every year, so it mattered to me that we made the most of it.

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