December 2008

Light Music

light musicLight has a funny dual nature: it is both particle and wave. I don’t fully understand how this is so, but I quite like the stretchy feeling my brain gets when I attempt to.

Music also has a dual nature. It is, on one hand, a static thing, as embodied in the written score; it holds still to be looked at and analysed. You can put it down and come back later and it’s still recognisably the same thing. You don’t even have to write it down for this to be true. Songs that you learn by ear have that same ability to exist as stable entities that keep the same form even if you don’t sing them for years.

Why do people miss rehearsals?

missing personIt is something that drives all choir directors batty: people saying, ‘Oh, I can’t come next week, because…’ Whatever excuse ends the sentence, the conductor thinks, ‘And why is that more important than my rehearsal?’

A couple of years ago, I did a quick and dirty survey among my students about this. I asked them to write down an event they considered completely unmissable (in the past, in the future, or in their imaginations), and why they felt they couldn’t miss it. About 50 students responded, and their reasons for valuing events showed several common themes. These themes in return give us as directors some clues as to what we can do to put our rehearsals higher up the list of our singers’ priorities.

The Arranging Process

I think of arranging in four stages. Three of them can be reduced to method, but one remains mysterious to me – though I always recognise when it’s happening.

Tom Metzger on the Inner Game of Music

Back in October, Tom Metzger published this post on Owning the Stage about the Inner Game of Music – or at least, about the first part of the book. Inner Game principles have long been near to my heart. I used them as an undergraduate to help conquer a serious performance confidence problem (at its worst I used to get nervous even *practising* anything more expressive than scales), and have built a lot of my teaching, coaching and rehearsal practices on them since.

So, I thought I’d respond to some of Tom’s points, because, while I think his critique makes some useful points, I think he’s also being somewhat hard on the book.

Soapbox: Against Note-Bashing

soapboxNote-bashing must be about the most unhealthy concept in common use among choirs and their directors. It evokes an image of rehearsals spent in dull, joyless grind, with frowning singers marking time doggedly as their conductor beats the rhythm to pieces. Pitch errors are punished by repeatedly hammering the correct note on the piano. There is no thought of beauty of tone or of projection of text or of shape in the phrases: all that is deferred until such time as the choir has earned the right to delight in the music by working through the purgatory of note-accuracy.

The idea of note-bashing arises from the notion that you have to learn the notes before you can ‘put in the interpretation’.

Dilemma: Singers with Colds

Every winter (and some summers too) we can guarantee that a certain proportion of our choir will get sick. If they are struck down with flu, there is no dilemma – there’s nothing for them to do but go back to bed until they feel human again.

But if they ‘just’ have a cold, what then?

What makes a good close-harmony arrangement?

tickI spend quite a lot of time helping other arrangers learn their craft, and one of the things they give me in return is the chance to reflect on what makes a good arrangement.

I think about this in three layers:

The Blue Paint Problem

blue paintEducational theory these days frowns down on models of learning that see the learner as an empty vessel into which the teacher pours their knowledge and wisdom. It’s patronising to the learner, and it fosters a belief that so long as the teacher is well informed, the learners will become so too. This belief is clearly belied by real life.

The problem with these models is the assumption that the vessel is empty to begin with. Sure, learners may know little enough about what the teacher is there to help them with, but they will have been experiencing and making sense of the world every waking moment of their life to date.

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