Many Hearts Beating as One

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heartbeatI’ve just spent a happy weekend working with Heartbeat chorus at their retreat in rural Derbyshire. The chorus booked en masse into a small college about 40 minutes’ drive from their usual rehearsal venue to spend a full two days away from the distractions of everyday life focusing on their repertoire for the Sweet Adelines Region 31 Convention in May.

It was a wonderful luxury to have that much time available. It meant we could focus in on details and get them sorted out without feeling we were short-changing the rest of the song. We spent a lot of time exploring the arrangements by duetting, and as ever, the opportunity to hear and understand how the other parts interact with each other brought clarity and colour to the performance, as the singers intuitively let the detail of the arrangements through. Indeed, I felt that I came home a better arranger after having lived with the inner details of the work of David Wright and Ed Waesche for a weekend.

At the same time, the big challenge for an event like this is pacing ourselves. Intensive rehearsal is tiring, and there’s the risk of getting frustrated on the second day as the brains start to drop details they’d absorbed on the first. One way we dealt with this was to make sure we left sections of the songs untouched on Saturday to come back to, so that Sunday had a sense of covering new ground, not just trying to recreate the previous days’ achievements. We also played some silly games with the repertoire – activities that gave the opportunity to live with and embed the progress without either the psychological or physical pressure to ‘get it all right’.

A useful exercise towards the end of day 2 was to sing through a song in sections, taking each one two or three times to give the singers to spot things they’d missed and re-insert them. This meant there was far more singing than talking going on, but it was still active learning, rather than just singing on autopilot. And it proved quite satisfying for people to have the chance to fix things for themselves – people like getting things right, and taking the music in short enough sections that they had the chance to spot things they could improve and deal with them before they forgot again meant everyone could feel like they were on the case.

I had an interesting light-bulb moment during the discussion time on Sunday afternoon. A singer asked if I thought they were over-singing the tags. I had to think for a moment, as I hadn’t actually heard them that often – I was making a point during the coaching process to stop before the big finishes in the interests of both vocal and emotional stamina. But that meant that, on the few occasions when we did go right to the end, they were really up for it, and did a glorious job. This made me realise that the phenomenon of over-singing tags (as in forcing the sound) could actually be a result of over-singing tags (as in singing them too much).

At a personal level, it was a treat to hear to the chorus sing Moondance, which I arranged for them about a year ago. They sing it with a real sense of ownership – like the arrangement was made for them. Which of course it was – but it’s interesting that the literal fact of having a bespoke chart should translate into that sense of artistic aplomb.

Hey Liz!! Well what a fantastic weekend, You have tought us sooo much this weekend and really hope we can keep this hard work up and do you proud! It was a fabulous weekend all round and one of the best weekends of my life! The chorus thoroughly enjoyed themselves and learnt alot! You tought me so much personally and one of my favourite things i learnt at retreat is to really think about what the arranger is saying/writing about in these songs and to get that little bit more out of myself in every performance! Thank you so much and glad you had a fab weekend too & you liked Moondance, its a Heartbeat favourite! Lots of love Sarah xxx

Hi Liz

thanks for a great weekend and for helping us find even more Heart in Heartbeat ;-)

Your insights into how an arranger might go about arranging a piece was fascinating, and seeing your face as we sang Moondance was priceless.

I loved duetting all sections and listening to the other sections duetting helped me identify musical strands intertwining to reveal the mood of the story.

We rehearsed last night and lots of the stuff we worked on has been embedded, the rest we have as notes and will build in as we go on.

I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did ! Here's to the next one.

Dulcie

Hi Liz,

Thank you again for such a fantastic and inspirational weekend. It was a real treat to get inside the head of an arranger and learn how to feel a song from the inside out. The opportunity to do all the duetting and hear how the other parts work and affect your own part was wonderful and so beneficial. We managed to put a lot of it into play at rehearsal this week.

Thanks again,

Claire x

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