Swinging with Revival

RevivalSaturday brought Revival quartet over for a coaching session in preparation for the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers quartet prelims in June. This is a quartet that is recently formed, but brings together a lot of experience, each of the singers having sung in previous champion quartets within the association. Indeed, three of them had come here for coaching with previous quartets, so from my perspective it felt more like a reunion than a revival!

Our focus was on swing song that was in good general shape, both in terms of technical control and musical characterisation, and so ripe for bringing its detail to life. The starting-point for swing is inevitably rhythmic shape: back-beat, swung quavers, flavour/feel of the groove in dialogue with tempo. Interestingly, though, once that framework is secure (which, with a couple of momentary exceptions, it was here) you find yourself working a lot more with texture and orchestration.

So...What Do I Do With My Mouth?

silent_mouthThe benefits for a choral director of not mouthing the words are something that I have explored on several occasions in this blog over the years. Let's assume for now that we've covered those points well enough to make the point; I'll append a list of those previous posts at the end here* for anyone who's not seen them yet. For today, our question is the perfectly reasonable one of what to do instead.

It was asked by a conductor I worked with recently who found himself at something of a loss about how to use his face once he stopped mouthing the words. My first thought when he said this, I have to say, was admiration and delight that he had taken the advice seriously and acted upon it rather than the more usual response of making cogent arguments about why it is hard to do so. My second thought was that it's a good question, and one that other directors who grapple with this element of technical control might also be interested in, and thus a prime candidate for a blog post.

On Keyboards in the A Cappella Rehearsal

I recently participated in an online conversation about the use of pianos or keyboards in a cappella rehearsals - basically, are they a Good Thing or a Bad Thing? The debate covered the pros and cons pretty much as you’d expect, and it wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that I realised that behind my general que sera sera position on the question lay a more specific, and - to me, more interesting - point.

So the main argument in favour of using a piano is the pragmatic point that we should make use of any available tool that can be useful when helping people make music. Uncomplicated and to the point - not much that needs elaborating there.

ABCD Initial Course: Thoughts on Learning Structures

Justin Doyle's rather elegant illustrations of patternJustin Doyle's rather elegant illustrations of pattern

I spent Saturday up in Newcastle teaching conducting with Justin Doyle for the Association of British Choral Directors. This was the first of four full days, each a month apart, that makes up the abcd Initial Course. The course is very well established, though this is the first time it has run in this location and with this team. (The Newcastle course will also feature Martin Cook and Keith Orrell in future sessions.)

Regular readers will know that I like to think about the way the structure of events affects the learning experience, and there are several specific features of this course to reflect on in this context.

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