Capital Connection, First Installment

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capconOn Wednesday night I was down in West London to work with Capital Connection in the first of a series of three visits planned for November. It's a chorus I know quite well, but it's been a little while since I've heard them, so found myself with a pleasing combination of a previously-established trust that comes from familiarity with a freshness of listening that comes from distance.

It also creates an interestingly different dynamic when you know you are going to be following up again shortly from when any repeat visit is going to be some months away. The process of prioritising changes when you can decide to pursue something now or to leave it until next time. You can have a sense of developing an agenda that spreads beyond the one session, setting some processes in motion to return to again, while reserving other things for later, knowing they'll respond more effectively to attention once the highest priority areas are more established.

The highest priority that emerged this time was work on the choral legato, to really dig into the detail of the continuity of sound. This is both a technical issue, to do with the continuity of breath and linking of word sounds, and a musical one, to do with conceiving the music in melodic as well as lyrical terms.

You hear this when people are singing on a vowel, or even more clearly when they are bubbling: there are no consonants to interrupt the flow of sound, and yet you can still hear little pulses of sound where the syllables fall. In a chorus with as well-established a vocal technique as this, these interruptions don't result from an insufficiency of support (though there is sometimes a tendency to a certain complacency of support...), but rather reveal the patterns of thought singers are using to store the music.

Now, lyrics are important of course, and there is some wonderfully expressive articulation of word sounds going on here. But this needs to ride on top of the musical flow. It is the tone that carries emotion, that moves an audience - the consonants that shape that tone into words add the explanation of why the music feels that way. So singers need to both dimensions built into their internal map of the song.

Other groups I have coached will know that one technique I use to bump people out of habitual responses and make them think the music afresh is to sing a passage in different keys and tempi. Faster tempi draw attention to bigger-picture units of music, while the slower speeds foster attention to detail of rhythm and word sounds. The different keys make people listen to the tonal centre rather than just singing along with their muscle memory.

You usually find that a semitone either side of the home key is fine, a tone starts to discombooble some singers, and a minor third either side needs more than one go to find it. Capital Connection managed a major third either way without breaking a sweat, which I have to say impressed me. It would have been getting silly from a range perspective to go any further, but that remains the tonal distance to beat.

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