Getting into the detail with abcd

Analysis of one of the MD's four roles: the others are leader, musician, and teacherAnalysis of one of the MD's four roles: the others are leader, musician, and teacher

I spent Saturday up in Manchester leading a day course for the Association of British Choral Directors entitled, ‘Choral Conducting: A Beginner’s Guide’. As the title implies, the participants were mostly conductors in the early stages of their journey – all already good musicians, but with varying amounts of experience leading choirs, and little or no prior formal training in technique.

There is of course far more to choral conducting than you can cover in a day (opportunities here to plug the longer abcd Initial Course which does a great job of laying solid foundations for onward growth!), but you can get people up to the point where they can be confident they can get a group of singers safely into the music and out again, which is the heart of the job.

Back in Bournemouth with BABS

Trailblazers blazing their trail: pic courtesy of the BABS social media peepsTrailblazers blazing their trail: pic courtesy of the BABS social media peeps

The British Association of Barbershop Singers’ annual convention this year was back on its traditional spot of the last weekend in May, and also back in the venue where I had my first encounter with the genre as a living tradition 27 years ago. Strange that I’m now one of the middle-aged ones who has been involved for years, but that’s apparently what happens when time passes.

Anyhow, this felt more like a ‘normal’ convention than last year’s. This was partly a function of the event itself – we had more choruses back in the contests, for example (though many still diminished in number). But it was probably more a function of how we are. Whether to hug or not is back to being a matter of the nature of a relationship rather than a negotiation of risk comfort levels, and we’ve gone back to only ageing one year between conventions, so the changes in our friends are more subtle, and of an order we are accustomed to.

Finding the Moments

I wrote a while back about the experience of listening out for our favourite bits in familiar music, and the obligations thus placed upon performers to make those eagerly-anticipated moments special. This opened up the question as to how we identify which moments these are if we’re new to the repertoire – either because we’re relatively junior in the genre or because the music itself is not yet widely performed.

That’s a good question, I thought, and then: hmm, that’s a really good question, how do we do this? What looked on first sight like a nice rhetorical question to which I thought I knew the answer actually had me more baffled than I anticipated.

On the Discomforts of Relaxation

There’s an anecdote in one of F.M. Alexander’s books in which he tells of a child he was working with who had had very restricted mobility because of extreme habitual muscular tension. Using the techniques he had originally developed to deal with his own problems with bodily coordination, Alexander unwrangled much of this tension, bringing her body into a much more neutral alignment. Her response was to complain about how strange she felt.

I have been thinking about this story recently in the context of my own challenges in rebuilding my relationship with the piano. Some of my technical work has involved refining what I do with my hands and fingers, but most of it is about not doing stuff with my shoulders, back, glutes, legs, and (more weirdly, as I have got deeper into this process) intercostals muscles and muscles deep in my abdomen.

Embracing our Superpowers with Fascinating Rhythm

Warming up with clapping gamesWarming up with clapping games

On Thursday I went down to follow up on the session I did with Fascinating Rhythmand their director Jo Thorn back in February. They have spent the intervening 10 weeks or so embedding the shift in dynamic between conductor and chorus, and the singers reported feeling both more secure and more personally expressive now that Jo is doing less, but with greater precision and nuance.

We started off by building on this work by clarifying some of the ways to think about the conductor-choir bond. Rather than thinking in terms of Jo ‘displaying’ how the music needs to go, we thought in terms of the chorus throwing the music into her hands for her to shape. The singers experienced this as being given more ownership over the expression, while Jo developed a concept of the music as a ball of energy in her hands. This shift in attention away from what her body was doing to what she was doing with the music helped her both relax more and hear more.

On Recordings, Post-COVID Vulnerability, and Overcoming the Fear of Being Heard

This is a long title, and it’s going to be a longer than usual post. But I felt it all belonged together rather than being chunked up, as all the different elements are related to each other. It’s partly about coping with human beings, and partly about the nitty-gritty of learning activities, but as we experience the two things simultaneously it seemed best to consider them together.

Conversations with a number of chorus directors at LABBS Harmony College revealed a pattern of common experiences of chorus members having unexpectedly strong negative reactions to things that in the past might have seemed perfectly routine. These often revolved around being asked to record themselves to check on their note-accuracy, and part of this post will be about managing that specific issue.

Back to BAC

BACMay23

Tuesday night saw me back with my friends at Bristol A Cappella for a final coaching session before their performance in the BABS Mixed Chorus contest at the end of this month. Since I saw them in January they have been doing a lot of work to develop their performance package, and a video of one of their run-throughs had revealed that they had lost some quality in legato and shaping in the process, so they asked me to come along and help reintegrate their singing quality with their performance.

Prioritising Connection at LABBS Harmony College

Leading a vocal development session with a laughLeading a vocal development session with a laughThe weekend saw the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers holding their first full Harmony College since 2019. It was fully booked before the closing date for registrations, confounding our expectations that numbers might still be a bit down, as they were for last year’s education events. It was superbly masterminded by its Dean, Debi Cox, who brought her deep understanding of both educational needs and logistical realities to the task. If you see her, tell her thank you again from us all.

Our guest educator this year was Kim Newcomb, and whoever had the idea to invite her also needs to feel pleased with themselves. Kim is not only highly skilled as a singer (most famous at the moment for being a reigning Sweet Adelines International quartet champion), she is also a professional educator, and, it turns out, profoundly encouraging as a human being. One has the sense that she has always been nice, but she has also developed a deep moral commitment to being kind and supportive that underpins her praxis.

...found this helpful?

I provide this content free of charge, because I like to be helpful. If you have found it useful, you may wish to make a donation to the causes I support to say thank you.


Archive by date

Syndicate content