July 2013

On Duetting

After writing recently about the rehearsal device of the toggle-switch, on the grounds that it is something I mention frequently, so could usefully articulate in a single place to point back to, I realised that for all the times I have talked about duetting (29 times to date according to a search of this site), I have never done likewise for this most flexible and effective rehearsal method.

I am sure that this is partly because 'duetting' is a reasonably self-explanatory term for what it involves. You rehearse a piece two parts at a time, just like you'd have guessed. But that doesn't tell you why it's such a disproportionately useful device. It sounds as if it's going to be helpful rather than transformative.

Impostor Syndrome and the Director

In one of the comments to my recent post on becoming a director, Lynne alluded to that sense of 'not feeling like a proper director'. I am sure lots of other people will sympathise with her - either feeling like that now, or having felt like that in the past - and I thought it was worth spending a little time to reflect on that experience, why it happens, and what we can do about it.

The feeling that you're in a position that is not entirely deserved, that you are winging it by the seat of your pants, and the fear that you will be found out has a name. It is called 'Impostor Syndrome', and it is quite well documented in all kinds of professional scenarios. It helps, I feel, simply to know this is normal.

Balancing Structure and Texture in the Capital

Even more useful in rehearsal than duettingEven more useful in rehearsal than duettingWednesday saw the highest temperature of the year so far recorded in West London - which was where I spent that evening, coaching Capital Connection. I was fully prepared for it to be a bit of a steamy struggle, but the chorus was prepared. The combination of strategic positioning of the risers between open doors and windows, and two floor-standing fans kept the working environment reasonably civilised, and we were able to get on with making music without undue distraction.

We were working on the same material as in my last visit, but this time turning our attention to larger-scale structural processes, particularly in their up-tempo contest song. We started off considering the musical/emotional shape of sections of 16 bars - the span of the primary musical statements in this piece. By making the openings more narrative and less emphatic, there was room for a more dramatic growth to the arrival point of each phrase. Making the implicit shape more explicit allows the music room to grow and develop as it unfolds.

Tempo and Temperature

hothorpeWell, we in the UK have been enjoying a proper bit of summer for the first time in several years. I know that it is traditional in this country to start muttering and wishing for a change after four days of any one kind of weather, but I am not in a hurry for this to stop in the wake of the washout that was summer 2012 and the chilly winds we were shivering in right through May this year.

But with temperatures consistently up into the higher 20s, I am noticing a similarly consistent struggle in ensembles to maintain a tempo. On first sight, this looks obvious: everyone moves a bit slower in the heat to avoid working up a sweat, so of course music slows down too. And this is not always a problem. A short piece at a more relaxed tempo than usual might be more relaxing to listen to, though a long piece sung too slowly starts to become a bit too much of a slog.

Becoming a Director, Part 2: Before You Start

Not everybody falls into the role of a director through random circumstance. Some people aspire to it in advance. If you are singing away in the middle of your choir, thinking, 'it looks fun out there, I'd like to do that one day', this post is about the kinds of things you can usefully do to prepare so you are in a better position to start when opportunity comes a-knocking.


Becoming a Director, Part 1: In at the Deep End

This is the first of two posts that emerge in response to conversations at the recent LABBS Directors Day about the process of becoming a director. This one focuses on the experiences and needs of people who find themselves parachuted into the role without much warning; the next one considers what you might do to prepare to ready yourself for the role some time in the future.

I hope that for those people who found themselves becoming directors when they thought they were just going along to help out it was a comfort to discover how normal this is. While for the individual concerned it is definite shock to the system, sometimes involving a life-changing degree of overwhelm, as a route into the role, it is very common.

Singing Without Consonants

Today I am having a mull over one of those exercises that has more benign unintended consequences the more you think about it. The exercise is to sing a passage without any consonants - easy to say, rather more challenging to do.

The primary purpose of this exercise is to help develop legato. By taking out the word sounds that interrupt the flow of the voice, you can focus on producing a genuinely continuous vocal line. My first singing teacher used the metaphor that the voice is line a washing line and the consonants the clothes pegs: they articulate the line, but do not cut through it. When I found this metaphor a little too feminine-domestic for my liking, my friend Sarra provided the alternative image of cable clips over a wire, which is now my preferred image.

No Dark Sarcasm in the Rehearsal Room

There is a style of British (or maybe only English?) humour that takes the hapless idiocy of a struggling learner as the butt of its jokes. It is an old-fashioned mode of interaction in the classroom - I encountered vestiges of it in my own education, though mostly grew up in a more modern, child-centred world.

It is a masculine style of humour. You see it in fictional accounts of boys' schools of yesteryear, and, while a male teacher may apply it in a mixed classroom, the specific recipients of derision are more likely to be boys than girls. You don't hear it much from female teachers. John Cleese gives a good cameo of the style in The Meaning of Life

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