Bristol Week

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Thursday evening was the first of three coaching trips to Bristol in the space of a week. Entirely a coincidence as it happens, but I am going to feel properly up to date on all the news from that part of the world by the end of it. This first trip was to coach Bristol Fashion, with whom regular readers will know I have been working a couple of times a year for three years now.

I commented last time I worked with them how gratifying it is to have a sense of building on skills that have been embedded in the months between visits, and I couldn't help but notice them using exercises in their warm-up that we had introduced back in May. I'm sure they do this when I'm not there to see it too!

This was the first time I had spent an evening with the chorus rather than a full-day session - they are one of the Thursday club that I have been able to work with since Magenta's shift of rehearsal night. It was interesting that, having set up a norm of intensive, in-depth coaching in our working relationship, we carried the same kind of approach over to the different time-frame. It's relatively unusual to spend an entire evening session on a single song (one would worry about attention management and mental stamina), but in the context of our previous experience together, to try to cover more would have felt strangely shallow.

Our task for the evening was one of musical characterisation. They are working on a number whose drama emerges from a distinct contrast between the introductory section and the main body of the song - there's a sense of set-up and reveal. The general concept of the change in delivery was working fine, so our focus was on bring each more into focus.

The main body of the song, which we worked on first, was primarily about rhythmic character. But there was an interesting discovery moment about body-language, voice and emotion en route. There was a choreographic gesture at the start of the chorus that involved lowering the height, and we needed to do a little work to make sure the execution of this idea maintained support for the vocal mechanism.

The key point was to use the legs to create a partial crouch, rather than leaning over from the waist. This immediately brought a greater sense of presence and resonance to the sound as the body became much more fully integrated. But the interesting side-effect was the shift in the emotional experience of the singers. The felt more in control, more engaged, and frankly sexier through inhabiting the song this way.

Later in the evening, we went back to explore the contrasting characterisation of the opening section. The key was moving on from a concept that was based entirely within the narrative - speaking of the character as 'I' - to defining who that 'I' was. What year is this? Where does it take place? Thinking in concrete terms is what brought the revelation that the persona presented in the verse is quite different and gives no clue as to the way the story is going to turn once the chorus starts.

And it turned out that the persona could very easily and productively be imagined as portrayed by a specific actress. I'm not going to say who, as I know there are people reading who will see this performed in October, and don't want them to be distracted by the thought. I'm not sure actually, if you didn't know, you'd say, 'Oh that's just like....', but I am sure you'd find the consistency of characterisation across the chorus, and the continuity of characterisation through the verse, quite striking.

In particular, putting themselves into the skin of a specific person playing a specific type of role did wonders for the dramatic and convincing use of phrase boundaries. We didn't have to do any work on integrating the breath points into the narrative, or of using the punctuation to generate the next thought: the chorus just did it.

Once again, vividness and specificity of imagination takes care of a multitude of technical detail. I'm not knocking work on technical detail (as Bristol Fashion will attest on the basis of some of our other activities), but I do love it when we can sort it out efficiently through a focus on things the audience is most going to respond to.

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