Performing

Building Confidence with Celtic Chords

CCjun24

I spent a happy day on Saturday with Celtic Chords chorus down in Truro, with the remit to help them develop performing confidence. We approached this from a variety of angles; indeed it turns out that all kinds of development activities that you might think of in terms of vocal or musical skills can helpfully be addressed through the lens of how they contribute to performing confidence. And front and centre through all of them was the principle of why we perform: to share the delight that is music, to put joy into the hearts of others.

We started the day with a focus on vocal skills, since security in your technique facilitates security in performance. The essence of technique is being able to do something at will; having that sense of control over yourself means that you feel much less at the mercy of the vagaries of fate. And addressing this first meant that we continued to get the benefit of enhanced continuity of sound throughout the rest of the day.

On Getting Out of the Way

Sometimes you find a common theme emerging in a variety of different parts of your life, and it’s interesting to reflect on how the same principle plays out in different contexts.

While arranging

I’m looking at the most recent one first, as it was this that made me notice a pattern. I was working on an arrangement for barbershop contest, and was getting bogged down in chord choice. Everything sounded a bit mannered and awkward.

Eventually I thought to ask myself: if I were just arranging this as a song with no thought of style requirements, what would I do? And the natural chord choice revealed itself immediately. For sure, it was one of those permitted-but-less-conspicuously-ringy chords that the style guidelines discourage in excess, but it just sounded so much better than any of the other engineered solutions I had been playing with. And the right chord for the moment will always ring better on the voices in real time than a choice that is theoretically ringier but expressively counter-intuitive.

On Feeling it, or Not

I’ve had a few conversations recently about the principle that a performer should feel the emotions that the music they perform will evoke in their listeners. It’s a widely-promulgated view; I came across it recently in Joszef Gat’s Technique of Piano Playing, and a friend shared a quote from CPE Bach which I suspect might be one of the earlier examples, articulating what was then the new aesthetic of sensibility. It was readily absorbed into the Romantic tradition in formulations such as ETA Hoffman’s idea of music ‘speaking directly from the heart to the heart’, and, like much of that tradition has become pretty much a truism in general conceptions of musical performance today.

The principle articulates an aesthetic of authenticity, or honesty, in performance, the idea that the performer means what they are saying. It conceives of the act of performance as one of communication, as a transmission of meaning from one consciousness to others, and assumes that meaning is of a type that is personally engaging and generates mutual sympathy. If you have been involved in making or listening to music in the west in the 20th or 21st centuries, this will all sound sensible and very much what performance is about.

Making Connections with One Acchord

Traditional warn-up picTraditional warn-up pic

I had an adventure up to the Scottish borders at the weekend to work with One Acchord, based in Bowden. Like many LABBS choruses, they are preparing for this year’s Convention with a mix of well-established members with some prior contest experience, and a sizeable post-pandemic intake who will be on the big stage for the first time this autumn.

Our work was therefore based around both developing the musical and vocal skills their songs needed and understanding the processes of mental and emotional preparation to make the most of significant performance occasions.

Soapbox: Don’t Tread on Your Punchlines

soapboxThere’s a particularly annoying thing that happens every so often to a stand-up comedian: you’ve delivered a set-up and are leaving a beat of silence for the audience to absorb it before giving them the punchline, and some ‘wag’ in the audience (as in person who considers themselves funny, rather than your wife or girlfriend) shouts into the gap. Sometimes they guess your punchline, sometimes they make up a different one, but either way, they take all the comedic potential energy you have carefully built up and discharge it so that whatever you do next will fall flat.

Today’s soapbox theme is not to inveigh against them, as, although there are things you can do to reduce the chances of it happening, or to cope when it does, you can’t fundamentally control an audience’s behaviour.

Instead, I am going to be opinionated about people, in particular vocal ensembles (since that is mostly the social world of this blog), who effectively do this to themselves.

Humour in Rehearsals: Some Post-match Reflections

VHUlogoOn Tuesday evening I ran a session on Humour in Rehearsals: A How-to Guide for the Barbershop Harmony Society’s Virtual Harmony University. It was substantially the same in concept as the one I did last year, though of course these sessions never run the same way twice, both because rhe presenter changes and grows over time and because different groups of participants produce different collective insights.

One of the things that is both a great strength and slightly weird about VHU as an experience is that a large proportion of the people who sign up to a class may not attend in real time, but might choose to watch the recording afterwards. This is jolly useful for its international credentials – whilst the participant based in Australia was in great shape at 9 am her time, I had every sympathy with the European attendees who chose not to stay up until 10 pm or later for what was the first class slot in the day’s schedule. (If they could find a way to time-shift the experience for presenters too I might be tempted to offer more classes!)

Jubilation with LABBS

Thanks to LABBS social media team for the pic!Thanks to LABBS social media team for the pic!

Last weekend saw the Ladies Association of British Barbershop singers convene in Bournemouth for their first full in-person Convention since 2019. The theme for the event was Jubilation, and there was a lot of joy in evidence, both in the performances and in the social interactions around the venue. It was great to be back.

One of the features of the barbershop contest traditions in normal times is that the winner of the chorus contest each year does not compete in the year immediately following. This means they can spend their championship year focusing on performing as champions, and preparing something special to perform at the convention at the end of the year rather than leaping straight back into preparing for their next contest.

Coaching Conductorless Rubato

The main benefit of online coaching: good screenshots of people laughingThe main benefit of online coaching: good screenshots of people laughing

I spent a rewarding afternoon on Thursday with a quartet who had contacted me for advice about how to manage rubato in an ensemble without a conductor. They formed from within a choir they all sing in so are accustomed to using the visual signals from their musical director to coordinate them, and were finding the lack of this external guide one of the major challenges of singing in quartet, especially in music that isn’t strictly in rhythm.

We split the process into two distinct stages: how to rehearse, and how to perform. The former is where the group develops a shared understanding of musical shape and a shared awareness of each other in the ensemble. The latter needs a repertoire of interpersonal cues to transfer those understandings into the performance situation.

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