On Self Care and Social Responsibility

I have a coaching report in hand to share from last weekend, but am interrupting usual service, on this day of the UK’s referendum on EU membership, to reflect on coping strategies in times of anger and anxiety. In recent weeks, both mainstream and social media seem to have been full of things that make me sad or worried or outraged or all three, to the point that it sometimes feels like I’m living in a work of dystopian speculative fiction. I can’t be doing with the emotional pain.

It is sensible in such circumstances to step back. Don’t keep reading the things that make you angry; turn away from the outrageous headlines; stop feeding the anxiety.

Yet, this approach to self care feels like a counsel of despair: turning away from the world, because the world is a bad place to be. Disengagement feels like giving up. It is also - I note because my empathy is still functioning after a fashion - a response available only to those of us privileged enough to lead safe lives.

Factors to Consider in Programming a Concert

Results of our discusion...Results of our discusion...

This is one of those posts that started out as notes for a particular group of people, but which I then realised will be useful beyond that cohort. In this case, it started out as a summary of a discussion amongst participants on the Association of British Choral Directors’ Initial Course in Newcastle. They had all prepared programmes for a short choral concert, annotated with the reasons for their choices. The discussion analysed the range of factors different people had taken into account

Musical Content

Everyone, unsurprisingly, commented on the musical character of the pieces - style, character, soundworld, - the things that an audience will experience directly. The discussion centred around the different ways people had grouped pieces together using these considerations. Some people themed by links between composers, others by common genre, others by common ideas in the texts.

On Voice-Testing New Choir Members

I had an email query recently that gave me one of those ‘this is not going to be the only person who wants to know this’ moments. So I thought I’d share my answer here, and also expand it a bit beyond the specifics of my correspondent’s particular circumstance for more general use.

The question was this:

We have a prospective new member coming to rehearsal tomorrow. If you can spare a minute, what would you suggest for voice testing for her range?

I can’t find anything on google or perhaps I’m looking in the wrong place

Now I am sure that if you did think of the right search terms, you would find quite a lot of stuff on this - at least there is quite a lot in the books on choral conducting aimed at students in training to lead choral programmes in US schools. If I wanted to find online resources I’d probably start with ChoralNet and work out from there.

Notes for Female Directors of Male Choruses

Linda Corcoran sets a good exampleLinda Corcoran sets a good example

Actually, directors of any gender, and of any kind of choir can follow this advice to good effect, but I am highlighting that particular profile for two reasons. Firstly because the gender norms of personal presentation make it more likely for female than male directors to run into these issues, and secondly because if they are only directing male singers, they are less likely to get helpful feedback on them from within the group.

These are all simple things to get right once you notice them, but there’s no reason why everybody has to discover them the hard way. So, one of the purposes of this post is to have a resource to share periodically to help people make good decisions about stagewear.

20 Years of BABS Conventions

The weekend's running joke...The weekend's running joke...Yes, I know the British Association of Barbershop Singers has been holding conventions for more than twice that long, but the last weekend in May marked 20 years since the first one I ever went to. Back in 1996, I had a recently-acquired PhD in Music, a job lecturing in higher education, and thought I knew a thing or two about music, and so rocking up to Bournemouth to discover a whole new world of which I had had no previous inkling was a bit of a shock to the system. You’d say I haven’t recovered yet...

(To be fair, I had an inkling or two that barbershop music existed, but the social world it facilitates was a complete revelation.)

How (and Why) to Identify Melodic Dissonances

I wrote in general terms last year about melodic dissonances in barbershop arranging as part of a wider discussion about the relationship between structure and ornament. I’m coming back to a specific, practical aspect of this today to try and help out with a something I see people struggling with in the arrangements they send to me for advice.

It is a reasonably common error to make an inappropriate choice of primary harmony for a whole bar through mistaking a non-harmony note in the melody for a note belonging to the main chord. And it matters because, while a very easy mistake to make, it throws the whole musical narrative off kilter. However well-controlled your use of voicing, tessitura and voice-leading is, life is more confusing for both singers and listeners when you get this wrong.

There are two conditions that commonly inveigle people into this mistake; when the non-harmony note is:

A More Helpful Post About Learning Tracks

Having been all grumpy at you again on the subject of teach tracks the other day, I thought it might be nice to make some positive suggestions about ways you can use them. The following three ideas are intended to preserve all the benefits that people identify whenever I go off on one of my grumps, whilst avoiding or at least mitigating the downsides I get grumpy about. These remarks are primarily aimed at the chorus director, but they will have some relevance also for individual singers, and indeed people for who make the tracks.

Do Your Prep Before Issuing the Tracks

If you put in the groundwork on the music before you let the singers loose on the tracks, you give yourself the opportunity to identify what the challenges are and put in the support your singers need before they spend three weeks practising all the obvious mistakes. If you wait to start your own prep until the singers start theirs, you won’t know what kind of messes they are likely to be getting themselves into until they are already well into those messes. Get ahead of them, and you can make sure they have the key skills they’ll for the song before they have to apply them.

Soapbox: Back on Teach Tracks

soapbox
Before you read this: I know everyone will hate me by the end of this post. So I'd like you to know a more helpful one is coming up next time

I know, I know, I have something of a downer on the whole thing of learning tracks, we’ve been here before. Though actually it’s not so much the tracks themselves that I have an issue with - even I am not so churlish as to deny their various usefulnesses - but with the lazy and unhelpful habits they facilitate in people who should know better. Today my gripe is with arrangers and chorus directors who don’t bother to do their jobs properly and expect teach tracks to take up the slack.

The fundamental point (and I had better get this out before I annoy everyone too much!) is that parrot-fashion mimicry is not the same as learning. And that even accurate mimicry is not possible if your brain hasn’t grasped the meaning of what you’re copying. You know how it’s hard to catch someone’s name if they’re from a country whose language you’re not familiar with? It’s like that. ‘Learning the dots’ has to involve making sense of the music if it is to succeed, and this is no more guaranteed through listening than it is through reading. We sing what we understand, not what we hear; and if we don’t understand it, we make inferences that may or may not end up being valid in the context of the whole.

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