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Mark Williams coaches Just A CappellaMark Williams coaches Just A CappellaThe Treblemakers in performanceThe Treblemakers in performance


This my third post about the recent a cappella extravaganza I attended in Hounslow, and since I’ve used up all my well-developed conclusions from the event, but still have a note-book full of things I found interesting, this one is taking the form of a miscellany. I may come back to think about some of these in more depth when I’ve lived with them for a while.

  • The practice of coaching by jiggering with the arrangement is one that I sometimes have misgivings about (indeed, I have a post on that very subject scheduled for next week), but it makes a lot more sense if the arranger is part of the group. You then get a very interesting dialogue between the musical content and manner of performing it in the context of the goals of the people who made the primary musical decisions. It also helps when the people doing the jiggering have track records as arrangers like the educators at this event!
  • When arrangements move into more than four parts, you inevitably get more doubling than in arrangements with four or fewer parts. Hence, the relative thickness or density of chords starts to be a parameter worth manipulating.
  • Consanants in scat syllables were routinely softened during the coaching process in order to facilitate vocal agility: d’s became n’s, b’s became v’s. Indeed, even text was permitted to lose its clarity if it was moving out of sync with the melody (but not in homophonic textures). The consistency of these devices across the different coaches gave a real sense of how central they were to the Swingles’ performance techniques.
  • Bass ‘dm’s’ were a particular focus – not least because they turn up in a lot of arrangements. The emphasis was consistently on evoking the instrumental sound, rather than sound too much like singers. This is precisely the kind of thing that Chris Rowbury disapproves of, but interestingly it was achieved through quintessentially vocal techniques: increasing support and building the facial resonance of the hum.
  • Lovely image for the coordination needed when one part is moving and others need to join with it mid-phrase: ‘It’s like getting onto a moving roundabout’
  • I’ve just realized I have four different interesting comments by Jonathan Rathbone on breathing in my notebook. So that sounds like material for a themed post in its own right one of these days. They were all to do with the relationship between breathing and phrasing, and I have to say that Jonathan has as natural and elegant a sense of rubato as I’ve ever seen, so he’s probably worth listening to on the matter!
  • What is it with the ‘low emission zone’ as you get near London? Am I supposed to stuff a sock in my exhaust pipe or what? Or is it an exercise in irony, since the signs first appear on the slip road off the M4 that leads to Heathrow Airport?

The title for this post, by the way, is borrowed from an essay from ETA Hoffmann’s Kreisleriana. I’ve had a soft spot for this essay for years now, principally because it contains a sentence that starts with the improbable three words: ‘The uninitiated parrot…’. I stared at those words for some time in bafflement before realizing that the word parrot in this context is a verb, and not the subject of the sentence.

Ah, it's probably because of my tastes/background that I have such strong views on 'sound' syllables - which I've not had the nerve to bring up before!

Bit of a lightswitch has been thrown; thoughts coming together. Not sure whether to act on them, though :)

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